Religion & Politics

This column appeared in the May 27 Fairmont Sentinel:

Welcome to election year.

And not just any election year, but election year in the 21st century – the age of non-stop mass-media delivered to your door, your television, your smartphone, your Facebook news feed.  

Together, you & I have been wading through a sea of information, a slew of videos, a dumpster of sensational nicknames and slanderous accusations.  And before you double-check . . . yes, this is the religion page.  Can churches talk politics?  

The answer begins in the media.  Whether you watch cable news, or read the paper, or get all your news through online sources (including the omnipresent Facebook), our concept of “religion” is shaped by how it is presented in the media.  By and large – aside from this page – religion is only discussed or mentioned when it touches on “real” events.  As Terry Mattingly put it on a recent “Issues, Etc” podcast: “Religion is seen essentially as a matter of opinion.”  

Religion is pushed to the side, unworthy of air time in its own right; but when Hobby Lobby or The Little Sisters of the Poor stand up to the Obamacare mandate, they may receive some press.  When marriage laws & abortion laws are challenged or changed, the religious angle receives a few precious moments of primetime coverage . . . if only to highlight the unenlightened viewpoint held by such backwards, extremist Christians.  Perhaps a variety of Muslim voices are interviewed whenever the topic of terrorism or immigration rises to the fore; then the religion of Mohammed recedes to the background.  Notice how much press the Pope gets when he speaks about marriage & family, or any other topic that touches on “political” events.  

Why?  Because religion is only seen as real when it touches on the “realities” of the political fray.  And to an industry driven by advertising dollars, readership, viewership, and online clicks – religion is only important to the degree that it resembles politics.  As Monica Lewinsky described this phenomenon in her fantastic TED Talk: “Money is made by clicks.  The more shame, the more clicks.  The more clicks, the more advertising dollars…”

In this relentless news cycle, driven by readership and advertising, Bible-believing Christians have been relegated to the sideshow act – trotted out only when the public’s attention needs to be re-captured after some other competing sideshow act has stolen the limelight.  And churches across the country have complied by relinquishing their God-given responsibility as salt and light.  

Granted, silence on some issues is encouraged; after all, the issue may be seen as too “political,” while social issues may “offend” if a stance is strongly defended.  Christians worry that taking a strong, vocal position on a delicate "political" issue may turn people away from the church – and, as a result, Christians often fall silent.  

But what is that silence, except for lack of trust in the Word of God?  Some Christians may be under the wrong impression that their beloved congregations could lose tax-exempt status; the reality is far different.  (In 1992, one church ran a full-page ad in the USA Today telling people to vote for Bill Clinton’s opposition.  Even that church did not lose its tax exempt status!)

So please, search the Scriptures.  You’ll find our three-in-one God, who sent the Son as our substitute and today sends his Spirit to call, gather, enlighten, and sanctify Christians.  You’ll find a God who is unapproachable, terrifyingly just, absolutely holy; at the same time, this God continues to come to us in Word and Sacrament.  

Even today, Jesus retains his humanity and divinity.  He was in the world, yet not of the world – but even he did not refrain from speaking God’s inspired truth as it applied to the family, politics, society . . . how can we Christians remain silent, when God’s Word speaks so clearly on the topics that confuse our politicians?  

Serving as salt and light in this world (see Matthew 5) requires knowing the inspired, inerrant Word of God as found only in the Bible; salt and light must also provide flavor and light by speaking up about topics that this dark world wants to keep shrouded in darkness.