Political and Apolitical Church

I don’t think it is any secret to anybody what my particular political views are. Whilst I don’t go out my way to trumpet them around, I equally don’t make any secret of them. You can read the ‘about’ bit of this blog and see my broad position. You can search this blog and see things I have written about it too, how and why I work things out this way. I don’t think there is anything wrong with this.

I know the political views of various people in my church too, mainly because they have told them to me. Sometimes it comes out in relation to political issues. Sometimes it is just around elections. Unsurprisingly, not everyone sits exactly where I do. But I don’t think it is any sort of problem that people (if you want to tell them) know what other members’ political views are in church. We all have political views and I don’t see any problem with individuals within the church knowing what each other’s respective views are so long as it is all kept civil.

But I do think we need to be very careful how political the church is as an institution. By which I mean, I think it is a problem if a church gets pegged as toeing a particular political line. I may have my opinions as a pastor, my members may well have their particular views too (which may or may not be anywhere near mine), and this is precisely why the church as the church ought not to hold to any particular political line.

When we are leading from the front, we need to make sure we lead in ways that unify God’s people. When we insist on particular lines – especially if they are party political or ideological positions – we are necessarily wondering into the waters of division. The church, as the church, is supposed to provide a welcome for all regardless of their particular political persuasion. If we are leading in such a way that certain people who hold different political views feel decidedly unwelcome, despite subscribing to the same gospel and all the same doctrines as we do, I suspect we are not leading in a way that promotes the unity of the Spirit to which we are called as brothers and sisters.

I think there can be a particular danger in the language we use around certain issues too. Now, I recognise there are some issues where there is a clear and direct line from scripture to a position on the matter at hand. It bears saying though, whilst such issues do exist, typically the presenting matter is not so clear and direct but concerns a matter of outworking. But most issues we might address are not this at all at any rate. They are issues that Christians no doubt bring scripture to bear upon them and work out what they think right in all sorts of ways, but they are not the kind of issue on which scripture says X therefore this is necessarily right/wrong directly. We may do some work to get to our position and consider it biblical, but if the line is not overt and direct, we need to be careful making pronouncements that others may have worked out differently and still consider (legitimately at that) to be biblical too, even if mutually exclusive with your position.

I am also minded to have an ear out for what others will hear specifically in what we say. When there are believers on two sides of an issue, landing very hard on one as specifically Christian will inevitably alienate other believers. When there are visitors and unbelievers, what they may hear in what we are saying is that we are politically partisan. When there are sensitive issues going on, we need to careful what we say communicates what is specifically Christian and not just our own political proclivities.

When there are issues going on politically, nationally or internationally we need to be careful that our prayers, the things we say, what we communicate is clear that we are not “taking sides”. Where we lament, we need to actually lament what scripture laments. It seems right to pray concerning war-torn situations and for innocent loss of life wherever it occurs. It seems less prudent (though I don’t deny some exceptions may exist) to pray for particular actors and specific outcomes beyond those the Bible would expressly call us to seek, such as peace. When there is political turmoil in our politics at home – think of after the Brexit referendum or following a general election – we need to lead and pray in such ways that builds unity, in ways that all sides can affirm, rather than trumpeting the wonderful win of ‘our team’ when others will clearly think differently. We need to see that where one believer laments a result another may rejoice in it and neither may be being unbiblical. We need to be careful how we are heard lest our church is seen not to be the united body of believers, but political partisans. We need to beware the barriers to the gospel – for believer and unbeliever alike – in some of our political pronouncements.

I think much less is at stake in our personal relationships than in the formal apparent (if not actual) position of the church. In fact, I think it is a specifically good show of unity when individual members are open about their political differences but the church itself is formally in nobody’s particular political camp. It should be a source of great joy that the lordship of Christ united together Labour, Lib Dem, Tory et al without any giving up their political views at the door and yet with none reckoning such allegiances to be ultimate. This allows people to genuinely see that here is a unified body of believer who, though they clearly disagree politically in all sorts of ways, they love one another and care for one another as a family united in Christ. Instead, the only political statement binding them altogether is this simple one: Christ is King and we belong to him.