Reaching the Liberal Next Door: Are conservative politics a barrier to the gospel?

Last March, the conversation on Ur heated up when Greg Boyd posted excerpts from his book The Myth of a Christian Nation (Zondervan, 2006). Boyd believes the mission of the gospel is jeopardized when we confuse God's mission with our nation's mission. Wading into the turbulent political waters this time is Wes Haddaway, pastor of evangelism at Harmony Bible Church in Danville, Iowa. Haddaway sees an urgent need to create Christian communities that transcend the Blue State/Red State divide.

Two years ago our church was growing at the rate of about a hundred people per year and we were all very excited about what God was doing. As the pastor responsible for evangelism and assimilation, I had a unique perspective. One night after visiting a family that was new to our church, it occurred to me that no matter what walk of life a person came from to our church, there was one thing that I could be sure of; they had all watched the O'Reilly Factor on Fox News within the last week. They all voted for the same candidates and had conservative social views.

This bothered me because while I was very excited about what God was doing at our church, it was puzzling to me as to why God would do this. "Why would God build the church of people who all thought the same?" The fact is that there are a lot of people in our community that will never come to our church, and it isn't because of Jesus - it's because of us. Somehow we've mixed politics, ideology, and our vision for our country, with who we are as Christians. This is a barrier that causes many people who are not Christians to not even want to be around us.

How can we be a church that allows people to have their politics and ideology, but also welcomes people from other viewpoints to be a part of the same church? (All of this assumes we want to reach those who are unlike us, which for some may not be the goal.)

The early Christians had to struggle with this very kind of dilemma. As a Gentile, I'm really glad they worked through it. Our challenge is very much the same. Our challenge is to not allow ?who we are' to prevent people ?who are not like us' from becoming Christians. If the early Christians had not worked out the 'Jew versus Gentile' issue the results would have been catastrophic. If they had not worked it out it's hard to imagine how a Jewish-based church would have even survived.

Again our dilemma is no less serious. We are drawing a circle around Christ that includes pro-life but excludes an economic system that is generous to the poor. It is fearful to speculate what could happen to Christianity if we don't work through this - after all, our political and socioeconomic views are fleeting compared to the eternal work of God. We need to face the fact that many people of our community and our world will not even listen to the gospel because of the political and ideological bias of the evangelical church.

July 21, 2006

Displaying 1–9 of 9 comments

Fearful Agnostic

July 24, 2006  1:01pm

Somehow we've mixed politics, ideology, and our vision for our country, with who we are as Christians. This is a barrier that causes many people who are not Christians to not even want to be around us. The above statement says it all. I'm only now beginning to have any appreciation for Christianity now that I periodically read the Bible. Much of what I read was never imparted to me in the Sunday School I attended as a child. When I got old enough to have a say, I steered very clear of the church because the entire message from the pastor on down was one of hatred and exclusion. Once I left, I would continually hear Christians calling down woe and doom and hellfire on people like myself generally for petty things like an interest in roleplaying games or believing that gays are human beings. If you ever wonder what makes people who are not in your church avoid you, it's this message. The message that if you're not of Us, you are wholly evil. The message has become steadily more unsavory as Right Wing Christians have mixed politics and faith. The message is rapidly becoming that if you aren't one us, then you are a target. The sad part is that I myself will not live in many states because of the overt hostility of the Christians living there. This is something that you Christians need to be aware of: We don't hate you. We are desparately afraid of you.

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July 24, 2006  8:20am

I am quite offended by this quote in the final paragraph in the above article: "Somehow God will save those people around the world, including our liberal neighbor..." I identify myself as both a liberal and a Christian. In fact, I am in my 20s and have been a Christian my entire life but was not liberal until a couple years ago. My political identity changed when, while on a quest to lose weight and become healthier (which I did successfully, losing 60 lbs ~5 years ago and have kept it off since), I realized that it is large corporations who are producing food of dubious quality, destroying the environment and basically enslaving massive portions of the third world in sweatshops while most Americans eat fast food, drive fuel-inefficient SUVs and wear Nikes. How can Americans (let alone Christian Americans) support such practices? The answer is simple, we've been tempted by these luxuries and have become very attached to them; ignorance is bliss. Case in point: the megachurch with a built-in Starbucks. Most of my family cringes when I bring up a small idea like changing their lightbulbs to CFCs; they simply do not want to consider that what they've been doing the past decades has been harmful, even though my suggestion makes economic sense it has the label of somehow being "progressive" or "liberal". That said, I am a fan of Ayn Rand and believe that companies must make a profit. But that profit should include the costs for providing health care for people who get sick from bad food, cleaning up the environment destroyed by harmful products and recycling of cheap, plastic junk. Here is something which calculus students may find interesting. It's not the profits of a company that are important but the increase in profits. If profits stay the same from quarter to quarter, the stock price will not increase and so the shareholders become upset. This means that in order to satisfy the shareholders, the profits must constantly have an increasing derivative. Which is why, no wonder, corporations do some of these horrible things. Making the quick buck has become of utmost importance to millions of Americans whose retirement funds are the markets. My question is addressed to the author of this article. Have you ever been to the church I attend, Park Street Church, in Boston? My guess if that you have not, otherwise you would have written something different. As an American, we should read Thoreau's "Walden", Lester Brown's "Plan B 2.0" and Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged". As a Christian, we should read C.S. Lewis's "Mere Christianity" and Thomas a Kempis's "The Imitation of Christ". After reading these, how can you not have the same political transformation which I've had?

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Jonathan Schellack

July 23, 2006  7:30pm

The early church's struggle with "Jews versus Gentiles" concerned the question of how far the Gospel should extend. Jesus's charge was to "go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that" he commanded (ESV). People have always been predisposed to divide themselves into groups, whether based on nationality, ethnicity, race, or political bent. Perhaps we just like order; we all long to have an identity. The current divide between conservatives and liberals in the United States is, for the church and for its constituents, a distraction from Jesus's commission to his followers. The great identifier of a Christian is that the Christian is a follower of Christ. After that affiliation – and being a Christian is certainly more than just an "affiliation" – can/should come other distinctions.

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July 23, 2006  4:00pm

This assumes that our politics are merely a function of choosing our preferences rather than being informed by our faith. Could it be that many Christians have similar political views because their views are shaped by a common understanding of scripture and who God is. My life is not compartmentalized into faith/politics/ideology so that these things can get "mixed". They are all part of a whole. I strongly believe in helping the poor but I believe the lead on that should be taken by the church not the government. If Christians, conservative and liberal, were doing what they should through the church in caring for widows and orphans, the government wouldn't even need to consider caring for the poor. I don't believe that the government should be about wealth redistribution. Also, I think this incorrectly assumes that conservative Christians don't want to see liberals come to know Christ. In most cases I don't think that could be further from the truth. However, I don't think believers should compromise convictions to become like the world in order to reach the world. I try to live my life open to those God places in my path to be a witness to and I have shared a witness with many different kinds of people - from a recently paroled ex-con, to a poor woman sharing a small room with her boyfriend, to middle-class soccer moms - but I don't have to become like them in order to reach them, simply willing to share Christ in a loving, non-judgmental way. (And it is possible for conservatives to be non-judgmental).

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July 23, 2006  8:58am

I think a critical issue has been raised in this thread. The question is when and how will the profetic voice be raised to address the threat of "Christian nationalism". I think the 'Christianity Today' community and editorial staff sees the problem but is too careful not to offend those who give them financial support. I have seen several instances of positive steps, for example, Yancey's "The Lure of Theocracy". But this is just a first baby step. Much more is needed to be said. I look forward to future articles.

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July 22, 2006  2:07pm

Jesus made a delineation between the state and following Him, "Render unto Ceasar ..." Does Paul address the governmental situation at all? Seems he far more focused on the church, irrespective of the government. We are strangers and aliens with a citizenship in heaven. I love America, and I'm proud of my citizenship, but I'm only passing through. I think we get far too entagled in civilian affairs (2 Tim. 2).

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July 22, 2006  12:01pm

Our propensity to identify ourselves politically, all the while proof-texting our ideology with our pet scriptural passages identifies us as being somewhat akin to those Jesus lambasted as "White-washed tombs filled with the bones of the dead".

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July 21, 2006  9:50am

I had a pastor tell me years ago that the church needs to be a prophetic voice to both Democrats and Republicans. I think the Church compromises that call when we identify wholeheartedly with either party. I think both parties are seriously flawed from a biblical perspective and we need to maintain our neutrality, calling both sides to morality and righteousness. Thanks for writing about this. I hope a dialog opens around this issue for both "liberals" and "conservatives."

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July 20, 2006  9:53pm

I'm so glad people are giving this some serious thought. Just a little over thirty or forty years ago the church did a lot of its social work, what they thought was right in the of God, in alliance with more liberal politics. Remember civil rights movements? Remember Jimmy Carter? Then society changed. More people became outspoken about questioning or even rejecting the traditional "church values" and it became a big social movement. I think that's what freaked the evangelicals. They jumped over to the conservative side to try and preserve those values in society and look where we are now. A conservative party that has used the evangelical bloc for votes for over 25 years to further its own ungodly political aims. Sad.

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