The Political Temptation Facing Churches and Ministers
USA Today (7/15/19) reports that an ELCA bishop in Baltimore together with a network of interfaith leaders “monitor ICE activity.” A Lutheran bishop monitoring a federal government agency carrying out its governmental duties. What’s wrong with this picture? Such activity reveals church representatives basically coopted by the Democratic Party, an activist effort that owes more to the 1960s civil rights movement than to the church’s mission. Yet I bring it up not only as a critique of liberal Protestantism today but also as a warning to conservative churches and ministers, including those of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod.
Politics dominates the United States, the 24-hour news cycles, the mass media, the entertainment industry, even sports. We can’t get away from it. As my brother Tom Raabe quips, about the only politics-free zone left is the weather (Tom Raabe, “Leaving Politics,” The American Spectator). The all-consuming power of American politics threatens to politicize conservative churches and ministers as well, to make them an arm of the Republican Party. In this overly-politicized environment we all need to take a step back.
We all need to return to the mandate and mission of the Lord, who is the crucified and risen and exalted Lord of his church. The church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus as the chief cornerstone. Let’s take our cue not from the 1960s but from the first-century apostles themselves as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. The apostles were not about changing the laws of the Roman Empire. They had “other fish to fry.” The Lord has clearly stated his mission and mandate for his church and ministers in Matthew 28, Luke 24, Acts 1, and John 20. With his powerful Word and Spirit, he calls all of us to be his churches and his ministers in the U.S., but not of U.S. politics.