To what extent should churches and pastors engage in politics?

Each day, I have a short (“short” is relative) discussion with the junior high pastor (Jack) at my church about any topic related to theology, culture, or practical living. We rotate who chooses the question every day. Today, the question was the title to this post. I plan on posting one or two takeaways from the better discussions we have.

The posts will be abbreviated, and I realize I risk oversimplifying the answers to these tough questions in a 500-word-or-less post. But I hope these short blogs are an appetizer to fruitful debate that can happen in the comments section.

Jack and I agree on most subjects.  Hopefully we won’t someday and it will turn into a swashbuckling bar-brawl, Indiana Jones-esque fight scene.  Okay, maybe not.  Nevertheless, when we disagree, I hope to faithfully represent the other side of the debate here.

Now on to today’s question. To what extent and degree should churches and pastors engage in politics? Specifically, should local churches or pastors “show their hand” as it regards particular candidates or legislation “from the platform”?  The platform being the pulpit, church website/blog/Twitter, newsletter, published books, position papers, etc.

There are two key elements to keep in mind when considering today’s question:

1. God’s kingdom reigns supreme. Thus our ultimate allegiance should be to Jesus Christ, not our particular country’s domain, for his kingdom will never be shaken (Heb. 12:28-29).

2. When our life on this earth is over we will not cease to be American or Korean or South African or Chinese. For we were made with our ethnicity and nationality for a purpose, namely to reflect God’s creativity and diversity.  We will worship Jesus for eternity as a part of the great multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language (Rev. 7:9).

A church or pastor should engage politics in public ministry when it concerns what is directly stated in the Bible. For example, the Bible’s stance on abortion, homosexuality, and treatment of the poor and oppressed are clear. It is less clear (silent?) on the amount of taxes a government should charge, immigration, health care rights, gun control, and a number of other issues. However, for a pastor to “name names” of candidates to endorse or reject would be playing a role a shepherd should not play.

What is important to remember is that legislation or a candidate cannot change a heart. As wonderful as it would be to make abortion illegal (and I doubt that will happen) the truth is that a person with a heart that values convenience, comfort, and freedom more than a baby will get an abortion regardless of the law. A pastor and church’s job is to get to the heart. Putting a band-aid on a knife wound to the chest will not save anyone. From the heart of man comes wicked thoughts (Mark 7:20-23), and no law will fix that (cf. Rom. 3:20).

A pastor and his church should be joyfully and faithfully engaging in the political system they find themselves in. If you are an American, don’t resent that you are one, for God “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him” (Acts 17:26-27). It is a mercy of God to be alive; don’t resent your nationality.

It is also a God-ordained thing that you find yourself in the context you live in. So engage in politics, all the while remembering to point people to the God who institutes governments and to the True King who is and will be all that every earthly king has failed to be.

What do you think? How should churches and their pastors engage politics?