What a conversation I had this morning. There’s an invitation to me to join a group of churches that are coming together to research and discover a ‘justice’ need for the city of Topeka. Then have a focus group that will next come up with a plan of action. Then they move to garner support from the community to implement that action. The examples that were given consisted of holding rallies to support the cause then lobbying the government to make changes in favor of that cause.
But here’s the conflict of the American church experience. As an American citizen, I have a right and responsibility to participate in government. That includes voting, debating, standing up for the things I am for, standing against the things I am against. That’s the system we work with. We are not a monarchy or dictatorship – we are a democracy. As a citizen, I have the responsibility to petition and lean on my government when they are leading in a way I do not agree with or spending money on stuff I don’t want. I get that on an individual level.
But this sounds a lot like what lobbyists do, doesn’t it? Common interest with a common agenda form a group that tries to influence policy and decision makers. Is this what Jesus intended for the church to be involved in?
I do understand the intent – one church might be able to help 25 but a whole community of churches can multiply that by thousands. Add in the political sway to change the system and the influence could be limitless.
However, I wrestle with two HUGE issues.
ISSUE 1: Identity Confusion
Reality paints a different picture when church and politics mix. It seldom goes well. The Religious Right may have won a lot of battles for morality but it could be argued that it did just as much damage as it healed. Folks don’t look at those kind of churches as places of hope and healing, but of moral judgement and condemnation. In the effort to afford some kind of political power and leverage, the church sold out on the opportunity to minister to real people with real hurts.
Is it the church’s role to influence policy? Civil Rights don’t happen without the church involvement, slavery doesn’t end without church involvement. Those are great examples of the church doing what is right versus what is just politics. But there are also the examples of the Salem Witch Trials, Women’s Rights, and Prohibition to counter that.
But even these examples aren’t that clear cut. There were Christ-followers that fell on both sides of all of those issues. Who was right? That’s not exactly an easy question to answer. We can tell you who WON but that’s a different question than who was right.
As a pastor, I know that my ultimate hope for healing and life change is in Christ. And the organization that God chose to work through is the church. He loves the church, gifts the church for this purpose. So no government agency or policy – as well-intended as it may be – will ever completely solve any of our social problems. And to be fair – our governments were never designed to function in this role. That’s a whole other conversation.
I’ve heard the rhetoric that if God’s people would tithe – the church would have so much money to minister to the world, governments would have no need for social services. I’m not really sure how accurate that is – but it’s a well known fact that over 75% of churchgoers do NOT tithe. Of course not all churches think to minister to those outside their walls. So the church is flawed in her delivery system of social ministry as well.
My point is this – it is clear in scriptures the church is a light house, a house of prayer, a place for healing and restoration. The question becomes does a church’s involvement in politics hinders her from accomplishing her first mission, her first calling? Or is her involvement in politics because she is being hindered by the government to do them?
ISSUE 2: Core Solutions
There is also the whole sin nature problem. No matter what the issue is, we are all sinners with a HUGE selfish streak in us. No program or system can solve that. Only Christ. The backsnacks program we do is great but…that program in and of itself is not bringing anyone to Christ. We don’t have a stack of cards with decisions for Christ because of the BackSnacks program.
So why do it? Why not just join a focus group and start holding rallies and leveraging our government to start spending money and passing policy on social justice issues?
I think one of the reasons God calls us to serve is that there are some areas in our character that He can only change in the lab of serving others. To not serve would be to miss out on our own spiritual transformation journey.
I also think that when the Church serves, she is showing the culture the true heart of God. It does more than thousands of sermons.
So I’ll go to a couple of meetings. I’ll listen and ask questions. I’ll listen some more. But this is where I am today.