mixing politics and religion

Being part of Facebook has provided me with opportunities to re-connect with high school and college classmates, as well as some other WELS pastor’s wives across the country.  Last week, as one pastor’s wife and I corresponded back and forth, she brought up the topic of whether or not we, as pastor/wife couples, publicly endorse any one political candidate.  I said that as far as my husband and I go, no we do not.  We don’t put up yard signs or bumper stickers on our car.  And my husband certainly does not use his position of authority in the church to officially endorse any candidate.

While it seems that many pastors of various Christian denominations use their pulpit to further political ideas, my husband does NOT talk about politics in the pulpit.  He does offer up prayers for all the leaders of our government, regardless of party affiliation, praying that those leaders would govern diligently, honestly, and for the good of all citizens, but he doesn’t pray for legislative bills to pass or not pass, or for candidates to win or lose elections.  My husband, and most of his fellow WELS pastors, believe that the job of a pastor is to preach about Jesus and his work as the Savior of the world, not to hold up Jesus as merely a good teacher or a good moral example for people to follow, or to use Jesus to further a particular political campaign.

(A digression: “Jesus was a community organizer. Pilate was a governor.”  What a STUPID comparison!!  It’s wrong on so many levels, but the biggest way it’s wrong is that Jesus was NEVER a “community organizer.”  He was Savior.  People who think that Jesus was in ANY way an “agent of change” are completely missing his whole point of coming to the world, which is “to seek and to save what was lost.”  (Luke 19:10)  What was lost?  We were!  Mankind was!  THAT was Jesus’ point!  He was NEVER merely a community organizer.  To be fair, even Jesus’ own disciples were, at times, confused about why he came.  Near the end of his ministry, they were still asking if Jesus was going to overthrow the Roman government or not, so Jesus had to explain to them, one more time, the reason he came into the world.  I guess people are still confused today, despite having the Bible readily available to them, with the whole story of salvation laid out in it.)

I know that “staying out of politics” goes against much of mainstream Christianity today.  For example, within the last ten years, Dr. James Dobson left his job as the head of Focus on the Family to start a political action organization, Focus on the Family Action.  While his motives were good, I think that’s the wrong way to go about it, and here’s why:

One could pass legislation to create a highly moral society.  Laws, practices, everything could reflect a super-moral code of behavior by its citizens.  But, that wouldn’t move people one step closer to Jesus, because none of that would necessarily change people’s hearts.  The way to create individuals to truly WANT to act in a moral way is to change hearts, and the way to change people’s hearts is through the Gospel.  Focusing on the Law, thereby MAKING people behave, doesn’t bring anyone closer to God, but knowing that Jesus died for your sins is what truly changes hearts and provides the proper motivation necessary to lead a moral Christian life.

So, while I appreciate the efforts of people like Dobson and others like him, who are trying to “legislate morality” by passing pro-life, anti-gay, pro-marriage legislation, I think their efforts may be somewhat misguided.  Furthermore, I wonder what would happen to the Christian church if all their efforts were successful.  Would we become a society of people who acted like Christians on the outside, but whose hearts were far from Christ-centered on the inside?  Would we become like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, who followed complicated laws and rituals to show their devotion to God, but yet inside they were only proud of their own perfection and cared nothing for God?

Remember Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:9-14:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

No matter how Christian of a life we may think we lead on the outside, we must never forget that we are all “poor, miserable sinners” at our core.  We sin EVERY day in thought, word, and action, by what we do and by what we do not do.  Because we are all sinners, we need that gospel of Jesus, that forgiveness that he promises, that knowledge that “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our sins from us.” (Psalm 103:12)  If we ever start thinking that we don’t need that forgiveness, then we’re truly in trouble.

Don’t get me wrong: I support living in a society that is pro-life and pro-marriage, and I support a society that is anti-gay in that it recognizes homosexuality as a disorder and treats it with love and compassion, similar to substance abuse and alcoholism.  But by focusing on the end result of behavior rather than focusing instead on the root cause of sin, I think that even if the desired outcome is reached, it will still have problems.  I guess that’s life in a sinful world.  There’s no way to change everyone’s hearts.  The world is very evil, and it is going to continue to be more so as the Last Day approaches; the Bible says that that will happen.  But I do wish that more dollars were spent on mission work rather than on legislation — I’d rather see people’s hearts changed than just merely their actions.

Because, like my husband says, it all comes down to the gospel.