6 Ways Your Church or Seminary Can Contribute to a Healthier Public Discourse

Paul D. Miller, professor of the practice of international affairs at Georgetown University, recently authored a white paper for the ERLC on “Faith and Healthy Democracy.”

At the end of the study, for which he served as the lead researcher, they write:

We sketch here an initial draft of recommendations to structure future conversations. We do not mean to bind the conscience of any believer and we recognize that most of the issues we address here lie in the realm of wisdom and prudence. We put forward these ideas as the best practices from what we have seen, observed, and heard during this project. These are not rules for righteousness, but practices of discipleship and character formation we think are uniquely suited to the challenges of the age we are living through.

I have already posted their seven encouragements for individuals and families to be healthier contributors for the common good.

What follows are their six suggestions for churches and seminaries.

1. Seek out difference.

If your church members or seminary students are all of the same race or ethnicity, the same political party, or the same income and education level—and especially if your demographic makeup is disproportionate to your neighborhood or your city—you have created a bubble and are depriving yourself and your members of the opportunity to grow. Ask a fellow believer of a different background to examine your church to see if you have wrongly conflated your culture with biblical teaching. Consider changes in your church’s or seminary’s programming, liturgy, music, service, or outreach to better reach people from all backgrounds. You are likely to encounter opposition if you do so, but responding to that opposition is precisely when you have the opportunity to emphasize the difference between your majority culture and the gospel of Jesus.

2. Talk about politics—but talk about it holistically.

The gospel has political implications. Do not avoid politics and do not avoid controversy. Doing so only cedes the ground to secular sources of commentary. Your members and students will hear about politics somewhere, so you should be a part of the conversation. When you address controversial issues, you are likely to be the only or the best place that models to your congregation how to talk about such issues with truth, grace, wisdom, and compassion. But be careful of talking about only your favorite political issues. If abortion or religious liberty are the only political issues you ever mention from the pulpit or in the classroom, you probably have a blind spot. The same is true if race or poverty are the only political issues you discuss. Be especially attentive to teaching about human dignity and human flourishing. Teach a full, complete political theology, one that reminds us that we will never achieve complete or perfect justice in this world. Teach the doctrine of civil government: that government is ordained by God to keep order and execute justice, but that government also has limits ordained by God.

3. Don’t just talk about politics.

The mission of the church is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, to reflect the character of God, and to carry out his mission of reconciliation and renewal to the world. If political activism has become your primary focus, you have lost your focus and your political talk will eventually become shallow, partisan, or uncharitable.

4. Experiment with different methods of teaching.

For many churches, the Sunday morning sermon is the only means by which it seeks to transmit knowledge, wisdom, and exhortation to its members. But a 30- to 60-minute lecture once per week is inadequate to help form the worldview and lifelong habits of a people. Churches and seminaries might try supplementing the sermon, as resources permit, with adult Sunday school classes, discussion groups centered around a book, small groups that meet during the week, service to the community (because oftentimes we learn by doing, not by hearing or studying), podcasts, book stalls, voter education, and more.

5. Foster civil society in and around the church, but don’t let it replace the gospel.

Form partnerships with local organizations, or create your own, like veteran’s groups, scouting organizations, neighborhood schools, tutoring programs, prison ministries, homeless shelters, and others. Advertise their events and encourage your members to get involved. Offer the use of your building as a meeting space, if you have one. You can organize, fund, or endorse such activities if you have the resources and time. Just as usefully, however, you can make it a point to just be aware of such organizations, share the information, and share space when possible. Make your church part of the rhythm of activity in your neighborhood to make it easier for your members to get involved and make it easier for your neighborhood to get to know you. Be the polity that we want to see in the world. If churches choose to organize programs devoted to meeting specific needs, such as a crisis pregnancy center, participants would benefit if their churches are able to explain why this church is suited to meet this need.

6. Model the life of the mind.

Teach your members what it means to love God with our minds. Preach against anti-intellectualism. Hold up wisdom as a model and an aspiration. Have a bookstall or library stocked with quality books. If you have the resources, consider programs to fund seminary studies for your members. Invite members in your congregation whom God has gifted in this area to speak or to organize an event.