Why Unbelievers Say Christians Are Too Political, and How to Answer (Part Two)

By Tom Gilson Published on March 15, 2024

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Are Christians too political? Nonbelievers complain about it, with new (and false) alarms constantly being raised against “Christian nationalism.” For many Christian leaders, it looks like we’re harming our witness by taking a stand on issues, so they warn us to tone down our politics.

Don’t be taken in. If it isn’t their ignorance speaking, it’s intentional, deceitful manipulation. My opening article on this topic looked at four sides to this complaint, none of which turns out to be what it seems. None of it justifies our backing away one bit. The same goes even more for reasons five and six as we pick them up here today.

5. “All You Ever Talk About Is Politics”

“Politics! It’s all you Christians care about!” So goes the complaint.

I won’t deny it: From where our detractors stand, politics might indeed be the only thing they ever see us caring about. That observation tells them something about Christianity, or so they think. But they should know better. What they’re observing isn’t some truth about Christianity, but about politics.

Granted, other than religious broadcasting (by which they would never let themselves be tainted), publicly visible Christianity is almost entirely political Christianity. What else would it be? Did they expect anything else? Why would they?

Politics is a public activity. Christians advocate publicly for life, for families, for freedom, for economic sanity, and more. Those are public policy matters, carried out — sensibly enough — in public.

Somehow for a lot of these complainers, it seems like that’s all we do, and it’s all we are — because it’s all they hear about. We don’t write press releases for every baptism, so they don’t think it’s real. We don’t broadcast every small group meeting or counseling session, so to them those things doesn’t exist. They don’t hear us blowing trumpets every time we give food to the hungry or practical assistance to expectant young women; therefore we “hate women” and “despise the poor.”

I can understand it when people say they never see us doing anything that isn’t political. (I’ll share a quick suggestion on that near the end.) But when they extend that to thinking politics is all we care about, that’s when they really go off the rails. Apparently if they don’t see it, it doesn’t exist.

“It’s Only Real if I See It”

It’s a strangely self-centered blindness. It was almost funny, in the days before the Supreme Court settled (for now) the political question of same-sex marriage, when people would say, “Why is it you Christians only talk about same-sex marriage? If you really cared about marriage, you’d do something about divorce, you hypocrites!”

I don’t know how many times I heard that challenge, but years later I still have my standard answer memorized.

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“Do we do anything about divorce? Seriously? Do you have any idea how many sermons pastors preach on marriage every year? How many marriage counseling sessions they lead? Do you know how many Sunday schools and small groups do extended studies on building strong marriages? How many marriage conferences take place every weekend? How many books are published every year on that topic? How many hours of podcast and radio broadcasts are on healthy marriages? That’s about divorce prevention. Then there’s all the divorce recovery groups and counseling sessions churches lead.”

Christians spoke up publicly on same-sex marriage because — news flash! — it was a public policy issue. Behind the scenes, though, we put far more time and energy into quietly building strong marriages and families.

How Would We Alter It?

Suppose we wanted to alter the balance, to make our public face less political. We could do it by advertising everything else we do so people could see it in proportion. We could broadcast those baptisms, and issue those press releases every time we hand out some food or care for a young woman. The public might appreciate us more for that. We would certainly have our reward, just as Jesus said in Matthew 6:1-4. But it would be the wrong reward, earned the wrong way.

Or we could quit politics. We could abdicate the creation of public policy to godless people with godless values. But that’s not loving our neighbor, and we’re not about to do it.

What They Don’t See (Because They Aren’t Looking)

I’m not saying we get it all right all the time. Theoretically, I’m sure there must be churches that flip it completely upside down, actually putting politics ahead of Christ. It’s wrong, and they need to get their priorities in order, their truth and their worship realigned with Christ.

That’s theory, though. I’ve never seen it in reality. What I’ve actually seen, in dozens of churches I’ve visited and attended, has been believers teaching and studying, caring and giving, praying and worshiping, mentoring and counseling, celebrating and sometimes grieving, loving one another and reaching out in love.

Do we do that perfectly? No, but the question isn’t about quality, it’s about quantity: whether politics occupies too much of what we do. I don’t see that at all. In fact, it’s so crucial to the lives of people we care about that love for our neighbors means we should be doing more in politics, not less.

6. “It Doesn’t Have to Be True if It Works”

Finally, for my sixth and last reason why people complain we’re “too political,” we need to step back a short distance and ask, “Who exactly do they complain about?” Is it all Christians? Every church, and every church group? No, it’s only conservatives. They never complain this way about liberal or progressive churches. That tells us a lot. If they had a real problem with “too many Christians in politics,” they would give progressives equal time.

We’re talking about the view from outside, remember, where left-leaning churches look just as religious, and use “Christian” names just as much as conservatives. And — pardon the understatement — it’s not as if they don’t do politics. Indeed, the more liberal the church, the more likely it is that politics is their main reason for existing.

Unbelievers’ machinations do not determine believers’ mission.

Still, the complainers single out conservatives and ignore progressives. The explanation is easy: They’re playing word games. They say they dislike too much politics in religion, but what they mean is they don’t like politics they disagree with.

They’re savvy, too: They know how much we care about our witness for Christ. So they mix that in, telling us how ugly it makes Christianity look. They figure some of us will say, “Oh, no, we can’t let that happen! We have to change our politics or else shut up about it. Otherwise our message of salvation will fall on deaf ears!”

Wrong. They’re just using rhetoric on us. Strategic, manipulative, deceitful rhetoric. People don’t say it because they think it’s true, they say it because they think it will work to shut us down. They don’t mean it at face value, and for that reason you have no business taking it at face value.

Clearer Thinking

Here’s a clearer-thinking answer. First, recognize the dishonesty. If our detractors really cared about religion mixing with politics, they would attack progressives the same way they attack conservatives. They don’t. So we know the reason they hit us with that charge isn’t because they think it’s true. It’s because they think it might work.

Second, remember Jesus’s example, and remember that He is still in charge. You won’t find Him adjusting His mission, methods, or identity to accommodate manipulators or deceivers. We shouldn’t, either. Do you want to maintain a strong witness? Then follow Jesus in truth and integrity, share His message with love and joy, and let Him worry about who likes it and who doesn’t.

Do Not Accommodate, But Do Feel Free to Explain

You can still talk it through, naturally. If people say politics hinders your witness, ask whether they say the same thing to progressives. If they say it’s “unchristian” to talk as you do, find out what they mean by that, as I suggested last time, and turn it into an opportunity to share the true gospel with them. If they say it’s all we ever do, invite them to church and let them see the rest of it.

Otherwise, stay the course. This election year is a time to pick up the pace, not to cower in fear from every eyebrow raised against us. Unbelievers’ machinations do not determine believers’ mission.

We belong in politics because we can bring God’s principles into public policy. Others may not like it. Stay the course anyway. If they say it’s all we do, explain the truth, even show them the truth if you can, and stay the course. If they say it harms your witness, watch your witness by all means. But stay the course.

 

Tom Gilson (@TomGilsonAuthor) is a senior editor with The Stream and the author or editor of six books, including the highly acclaimed Too Good To Be False: How Jesusโ€™ Incomparable Character Reveals His Reality.

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