When someone mentions the church and politics in the same sentence, the picture most people flash on is a pastor standing in the pulpit, waving a red or blue flag, and telling you why it would make Jesus happy if you voted for a particular candidate or a specific proposition. It is an off-putting image for many, and accusations of preachers exceeding their authority or manipulating congregations often follow. To avoid this, then, churches swing all the way in the other direction, to where we do not want to talk about politics at all in the church. Keep church and state separate, as they ought to be. There is, however, a middle ground between littering the church lawn with campaign signs and making politics a taboo subject.
Extreme polarization and a cancel culture have created a political climate in which rational discourse is not only disregarded, but in many ways discouraged. There is no attempt to find a common ground from which to launch a respectful debate. To openly voice a dissenting opinion is to risk ridicule, ostracization, ruined relationships, and economic boycott. Who would take that chance? So, we become isolated in our own ideologies. We share our thoughts only with those carefully vetted and decisively of the same mind as us. Our political conversations no longer involve debating various ideas or challenging our own beliefs, but a parroting back of our current thoughts, validating our existing biases. This is where the Church really has an opportunity to bring value into the political realm.
Too often, as Christians believe that our conversations with one another, particularly on church property, must be sanitized, that there are proper topics of discussion, and improper ones that ought not to be broached. This should not be the case. When the people of God gather together, there should be no topic that is out of bounds. Politics are messy and ugly, but the Church is where we should be free to gather and work through that messiness. It should be the place where respectful debate and dialogue are encouraged. It should be the place where we learn to root our discussions and opinions in our knowledge of the nature of this world and the gift of the gospel.
The Church does not need to tell people how to vote, and we do not need to be overly concerned with how political issues ultimately play out. We need to create the space within our communities to have the difficult conversations, to work through the ugliness we see in the world, to learn how to listen to a different opinion, and to disagree with a friend and still see them as a child of God. This is how the Church will most effectively contribute to the political conversation…by fostering it.