Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Churches should stay out of politics

It is common for church leaders of many different denominations to make statements about political issues. It is my belief that this is inappropriate and unhelpful. To help explain why let us imagine that the Southern Baptist Convention of America issues a statement supporting universal free healthcare:

"We the Southern Baptist Convention believe that the government should make available free healthcare to all American citizens."

Now I happen to think that free healthcare is a good idea and that it would be nice if the majority of Southern Baptist leaders did support it. However, there are a number of reasons why the SBC should never issue such a statement.

Firstly, as Bible-believing Christians, we hold that churches should look to Scripture to define what their activities should be. We would look in vain to find any indication that the Bible tells churches to speak out on political issues. The apostles never talked about politics. They preached the Gospel. They made disciples out of men and women. They baptized people. They taught the Word of God. But there is not the slightest hint that they offered opinions about what governments ought to do.

If we hold that the church's mission is to make disciples out of men and women, then we must question whether churches are being true to their purpose in making political statements.

It might be argued in response that preaching the Gospel has political implications. That is that being a disciple of Christ should affect one's political views. Thus, the SBC ought to tell Christians to support free healtcare because it is right. Later in this post I will deal with the question of the rightness of the position. But this is not what the hypothetical statement does. It does not tell Christians what to do, but rather it addresses the men and women in government, believing and unbelieving, telling them what policies they should follow.

It must be asked why such a statement is necessary. If free healthcare is a good idea, why has not the US government adopted it? In advocating a policy that is not supported by the US government, the SBC must make either of two claims:

1. They have a greater expertise about policies than the government.


2. They are more compassionate than the government.

Either way, they having to adopt a position of superiority to the world. They would be abandoning the humility that should be the character of the church. The church is not to flaunt some supposed superiority of wisdom or holiness, but is rather to proclaim that they are sinners who have found grace and that other men and women too can find that grace.

Politicians who seek power must forever present themselves as better than their opponents. But this is not the way of the meek. Yet if the church is to speak out on political issues it must adopt the stance of the politician.

Finally, in making such a statement, the SBC would be claiming that the position of supporting free healthcare is the only valid one for Christians. Yet is that so? Surely it is obvious that there are many opinions on this issue among Christians. Are those Christians who deny the value of free healthcare lacking in compassion? Or are they ignorant of Scripture? We must answer no to both questions.

Support for free heathcare is nowhere mandated in Scripture. The Bible says nothing on the subject. Personally, I would suggest that there is no real support in Scripture for any particular political system. There are some Christians who argue that some political ideology such as libertarianism or socialism is biblical, but I believe this is unsound. The cultural gulf between the biblical and the modern world is so great that it is impossible for us to say what kind of political system the prophets or the apostles would have favoured.

Nor is it necessarily a question of compassion. Those Christians who oppose free healthcare may have very sound reasons for doing so. They can point out the long waiting lists for operations in the UK or the high cost to the taxpayer. Those are all issues that have to be considered. Thus, if the SBC were to issue a statement in favour of free healthcare, it would have to grant its own position a status of privilege above that of many sincere believers.

Thus, churches should keep out of politics.

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