How do we keep toxic politics out of the church?

If you, like me, have the great misfortune of being interested in the news, you have noticed a major problem with our political dialogue. It is way too intense. This is not a good situation, but it is not an irreparable problem either. What concerns me most is that I see it starting to make inroads into the church. This can, and must, be stopped; but to do that we need to understand what makes our political dialogue so toxic.

The first thing that makes our national dialogue so nasty is that people, mainly the Left, have made politics central to their lives. This turns every issue into a major issue for them, to the point that they won’t eat at restaurants whose founder doesn’t agree with them on an issue. Every political position is personal for them, and disagreement is a personal affront.

This leads into the second element, which is the equation of politics with morality. When this happens, your political opponents are not just incorrect, they are evil. To be clear, I’m not saying that politics and morality are completely unrelated, but disagreement on a political issue does not necessarily make someone evil; people can arrive at wrong positions out of ignorance. We can see an example of this in the debate over gun control. Nobody wants more mass shootings, but if you don’t agree with the leftist position they will accuse you of being complicit in murder, wanting to kill kids, and the like. 

The third element, flowing from the second is that those who disagree must be considered the enemy, because they are, supposedly, evil. When you view someone as an enemy it becomes acceptable to you to disregard their opinions, disrespect them, and generally be awful towards them. This is why groups like Antifa (where the ‘fa’ stands for fascist and the anti stands for nothing) are at least tacitly embraced by the left; they hurt the ‘bad’ people.

The fourth element of our caustic discourse is the substitution of feelings for facts. This makes reasoned discussion virtually impossible. You can’t convince someone you’re not Hitler if they won’t admit any evidence other than how they feel about you. Without objective facts that can be agreed upon by both sides, it becomes a contest of who can make the other side look the worst to onlookers. Naturally, this will breed no small measure of enmity.

Now that we know the main cause of nastiness in discourse in the culture, what can we do to keep it out of the church?

First, don’t take it personally. If you feel insulted by someone’s disagreement with your pet position, examine your heart. You may very well have made politics into an idol. It’s easy to do in this climate. Tone it down. A person’s opinion on Trump is not something to break fellowship over.

Second, and this is crucial, we need to not assume bad motives on the part of those who disagree with us. Attributing the worst motives to someone who disagrees with you is not a Christian attitude to have. Just because someone thinks it’s a bad idea to pay ‘reparations’ for something that other people did over a century ago, that doesn’t mean they’re a racist. Using a translation of the Bible that uses modern English doesn’t make someone a heretic or a liberal. Instead of assuming another Christian is terrible, set aside time to discuss the issue graciously. Even if neither of you changes their mind, you can gain a better understanding of where they’re coming from. This will also help us to not see each other as enemies.

Third, we need to prioritize facts over feelings. Our culture is all about feelings. “I feel” has become the preface for what would have been, in the past, claims of fact. Truth has been replaced by emotion, which certainly contributes to people becoming  more emotionally invested in an argument. More importantly, feelings change and are easily manipulated by cat videos, pictures of crying children, and the like. Facts, on the other hand, are not so malleable. Facts are true no matter how one feels about them. (In other words, they don’t care about your feelings.) Because of this, we can have a productive discussion when we debate facts in good faith.

Fourth, we need to have more grace with each other. Sometimes, people will just be wrong. Unless it’s a major point of theology on which they are wrong, he or she is not a heretic. If you know someone is sound on core theology, give them time to come around. This doesn’t mean that you have to agree with their erroneous positions (although you should be willing to listen and discuss graciously), but you don’t immediately reject them as a heretic. Full disclosure: this doesn’t mean that the relationship will be unharmed. If someone gets ‘woke’, they very well might start demonizing anyone to the right of Obama. If that happens to you, don’t retaliate; tempting as it may be. Hope and pray that they come to their senses. If the relationship is destroyed, it shouldn’t be you that does it. As Paul wrote in Romans 12:18:

If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.

Finally, leave the power games outside of the church. This is perhaps the most concerning part of the politicization of the church. When believers abandon persuasion and grace in favor of using political tactics to gain power and push an agenda, the unity of the church is greatly imperiled. If a leader demonizes Christians who disagree with him, he should be removed; likewise if he is unwilling to engage in good faith discussion with other believers. If a leader has decided that he is so right that any means are acceptable in advancing his agenda, he has become full of pride and disqualified himself. It is best for him and for those he leads that he be removed from authority until he repents and humbles himself. Not only does it protect those he leads from being drawn into error or silenced for their disagreement, but it protects him from abusing his office.

To summarize, we need to love each other and keep our unity in Christ at the forefront of our relationships with other christians. That will help to guard against most of what is dividing our country. Christ died for us, regardless of what positions we may hold on political and social issues. So long as we keep things in this context, it’s fine to discuss these issues with other Christians.

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