David Shelley, Ph.D.

I suppose we all know the old saying that you don’t talk about religion and politics in polite company. Both religion and politics are about truth claims, and truth claims tend to be divisive. So, when we begin to talk about political things in the church, people can become very uncomfortable.

I have been a pastor and a political activist for a long time, and I frequently hear ministers say, “I agree with you on your positions, brother, and I applaud your work, but our church tries to stay out of politics because …” [insert here any number of reasons]:

  • They perceive that politics is worldly and think that Christians should have nothing to do with the world.
  • They think that politics is all about partisan bickering, and this just turns them off.
  • They believe there is a constitutional separation of church and state and take that to mean that the church should refrain from impacting the state.
  • They fear the possible backlash from the Internal Revenue Service and losing their church’s tax-exempt status.
  • They are afraid of offending members of their congregation, or visitors to their churches, who don’t hold to a biblical worldview about cultural and political things.

All of these perceptions are understandable, but they are also all based on false information. I haven’t the space here to fully address these concerns, but please consider the following truths:

Politics is not worldly. God created the institutions of government and law, and the Bible speaks volumes about how governments should uphold justice, commend righteousness, and punish evil.

Consider passages such as these: Genesis 2:16-17; Genesis 41:37-41; Exodus 1:8-1; Compare Exodus 5:2 with Exodus 9:27-28; Exodus 20:1-17; The entire book of Leviticus; Deuteronomy 11:26-28; Judges 2:10-16; I Samuel 8; Job 12:13-24; Psalms 2, 19, 24, 58, 82, 90; Isaiah 9:6-7, 45:22-23 and 59:14-15; Jeremiah 1:4, 6:13-14,22:1-5; Daniel 4: 17-37; Hosea 4:6; Amos 5:14-15 and 21-24; Matthew 5:13-16, 22:15-22 and 25:14-30 (voting is a “talent”); Mark 10:1-10; Luke 18:1-8 and 19:11-27; John 18:36-38; Acts 17:24-27; Romans 1-2 and 13:1-10; I Timothy 2; Colossians 1:16-17; Revelation 22:13.

Our political involvement should reflect the love of Christ. The enemy is not mankind or a political party, but it is Satan, who has taken others captive: “And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:24-26).

The words “separation of church and state” are never uttered in the U.S. Constitution or any other of our founding documents. The idea that religion should be erased from our government has been thrust upon Americans only since the 1940s. Colossians 2:8 warns, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.”

Only since 1954 (with the Johnson Amendment) has the IRS prohibited churches from engaging in political campaigning. For more than 50 years, with hundreds of thousands of churches keeping silent out of the fear of the IRS, not one single church has permanently lost its tax-exempt status due to a violation of the Johnson Amendment/IRS rules.

When a preacher proclaims the truth of Scripture, it is inevitable that some in the audience, both members and visitors alike, will take offense. This happened to Jesus and all the early disciples as well. In fact, Jesus said, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. … All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:16, 22).

If the devil were the offensive coordinator of a football team, his smartest play would be to persuade the defense to sit on the sidelines. When the church is silent, or absent, in the marketplace of ideas, Satan has an easy shot at the goal line. “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings” (1 Peter 5:8-9).

Many ministers say, “Our church tries to stay out of politics because …” But when the church is silent, or absent, in the marketplace of ideas, Satan has an easy shot at the goal line.

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David Shelley is a pastor, the former director of church and community relations for FACT, and author of Church and State: Being Salt and Light in the Public Square.