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.
Guillaume John July 17, 2019
On the one hand I agree. Politics is not the primary or any part of the Church. Sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ and his reign in the world to come is our mission. On the other hand the apostles had no voice in the Roman Empire as to its laws. We Christians in the USA on the other hand have a voice in our land being active members of a representative government. As such, individual Christians must and should be involved in politics under the fourth commandment to the best of their ability to promote and enact fair, just and merciful laws.
Also even weather is now political with the “man-made climate change” politics.
Thanks for reminding us to keep Christ the focus in the Church
John July 17, 2019
Thirty years ago American Evangelicals were a surrogate of the Republican Party. Today’s hipper Evangelicals now swing left. When will Christians learn that political parties treat them as paramours? They merely court them to get their vote.
Rick Strickert July 29, 2019
Prof. Raabe’s warning seems a little late given the cover display of the October, 2004, Lutheran Witness, and the four-page article, “Bush, Kerry and the Christian Voter” starting on page 6. Or after the letters to the editor starting on page 4 of the December, 2004 issue, along with the editor’s admission that an official publication of the Missouri Synod, upon the advice of legal counsel (rather than 2 Tim. 4:2), had censored a clear proclamation of the LCMS position that murder by abortion is contrary to God’s Word.
Rick Strickert July 29, 2019
In his article, “Unsere Distriktsynoden und die Munitionslieferung an die Kriegführenden” (Der Lutheraner, 72:4, February 15, 1916, pp. 63-4), Missouri Synod President Friedrich Pfotenhauer stated:
“On the one hand, experience teaches us that the necessary separation of church and state is easily missed by well-meaning people. Memories of caution are probably in place here. On the other hand, experience also teaches that the charge of mixing the church and state, or religion and business, is often wrongly levied…. Where is the right boundary here? It has to be said that the sphere of the church extends wherever morality is concerned, that is, right or wrong before God.”
Alan Piotter August 12, 2019
Thank you for your perspective on church/state relationships. Dare we forget the devastating consequences of the silence of the church in Nazi Germany? Dare we forget the the silence of church goers when the children of God were taken from their homes, communities and families to be killed in concentration camps? Is not Jesus, the Christ, the Lord of our whole life? Quoting from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Jesus calls a person not to a new religion, but to life.” In the process, religion had produced a distorted view of God, enshrining God in a world of metaphysical abstraction to be spoken on only at the edges of life: sin, guilt, and death. And the clergy used this view to blackmail their people with the threat of hellish consequences for those sins the clergy were adept at sniffing out, all the while ignoring the real evil beyond their cathedrals and churches. (Editors of A Testament to Freedom) “The church stands, not at the boundaries where human powers give out, but in the middle of the village.”
Paul Raabe August 13, 2019
A left-wing secularist and a right-wing secularist are both still dead in their sins. In the U.S. in the year 2019 there are scores of political action groups for Christians to be active and carry out their vocation as citizens. But if churches and ministers don’t preach the biblical gospel, then who will? The Democratic Party or the Republican Party? Civil religion whether left or right is just that, civil religion and not the holy, saving gospel of God.
Paul Raabe August 13, 2019
In the U.S. in 2019 governmental-political-economic discourse dominates and controls almost all discourse.
Our situation is not much like Germany in the 1930’s-40’s. It’s more like the time of the Renaissance popes
who became thoroughly politicized. At our present time and place churches and ministers are in danger of becoming
politicized. We need to stress the distinction between the city of man and the city of God, between the governments of the world and
Zion, between what the Creator does with his left hand through the coercive power of government and what he does with his right
hand only through the biblical gospel.