I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to think about something other than politics, read something other than politics, breathe something other than politics.
Before I go any further, it bears repeating: politics matters. As a pastor, I am eager for Christians to be informed and engaged in politics. In fact, after theology and church history, I probably read more on politics, political history, and political philosophy than anything else. I am not against reading, writing, thinking, and speaking on politics.
And yet, I can’t help but question the wisdom of so many Christians—in particular, Christian leaders whose ministries are ostensibly not about politics—voicing specific opinions, sometimes passionately and sometimes frequently, about every political person, place, and thing. I understand that some Christians do punditry, advocacy, and opinion journalism for a living. I’m not surprised when they comment on political matters or weigh in on the events of the day. That’s what they do, and some of them do it really well, helping Christians think Christianly about what they are hearing and reading in the news.
So, again, I’m not against Christians offering cultural and political analysis. I’m not against discipling Christians to see all of life through the lens of Scripture.
What I am against is the instinct shared by too many Christians, including pastors and leaders, that assumes, “If everyone is talking about it, I should probably say something too.”
I worry that people will not first think of gospel convictions or theological commitments when they hear of our churches and ministries, but they will first think of whether we were for or against a certain candidate.
I am nervous that our lines of Christian fellowship will be drawn not according to Reformational principles of ecclesiology, worship, and theology, but according to current expressions of cultural antipathy and identity politics.
I am concerned that weighing in with strong public comments—from both the left and the right—about everything from voter fraud to judicial philosophy to energy policy to why we should all celebrate (when my candidate wins!) and come together in unity (when your candidate loses!)—does nothing to persuade our foes, but much to alienate our friends.
More than anything else, I fear we are letting the world’s priorities dictate what the church is most passionate about.
This isn’t a blanket denunciation of ever saying anything about political issues or political candidates. I have before and probably will again. But perhaps there are questions we should ask next time before joining the online cacophony.
Am I making it harder for all sorts of people to hear what I have to say about more important matters? Think about it: most of us are annoyed when athletes and movie stars feel the need to enlighten us with their political opinions. At best, we roll our eyes and still watch their movies or their games anyway. At worst, we turn them off for good. People will do the same to us. It’s good to think twice before we cash in our goodwill chips, doubling down for or against a particular candidate.
Is my online persona making it harder for my in-person friends to want to be around me? You may feel like, “I only post a few things each day on social media. There is so much more to my life.” True, but what you post on social media is the only part of your life that most of the world knows and sees. People don’t see your fully formed, full-orbed personality and personal life. They see the fifteen things you posted last week, ten of which had to do with politics, seven of which drove half of your friends absolutely bonkers. At the very least, we should consider if adding this stress to family and friends is really worth it.
Am I speaking on matters upon which I do not have special knowledge and for which no one needs my opinion? If my knowledge about something is limited to the three minutes I’ve been angry, or even the 30 minutes I’ve been surfing online, I probably don’t need to download those thoughts to the world.
Am I animated more by what I am reading in Scripture or by what I am seeing on the news and in social media? I’m convinced one of the biggest ways the world is currently shaping the church is by simply setting the agenda for the church’s concerns. We may think we are transforming the world by offering around-the-clock political commentary, but if all we talk about is what media outlets are already talking about, who is influencing whom?
You may argue in reply, I hear you, but the issues are too important. Christians can’t sit on the sidelines as the world argues about the important issues of our day. Fair enough. But consider: is posting your quick thoughts on the daily news cycle really the best way to make a long-term difference? Why not slow down and read some books and comment on those? Or write something online that goes back to first principles? Or write a book if you have opportunity? Or invest in liberal arts education that draws from the best of our Western tradition? Or simply and gloriously disciple young believers to know their Bibles, bear the fruit of the Spirit, and be committed to their local church?
American culture is incredibly diverse. We don’t all watch the same movies or television shows. We don’t all go to church. We don’t all read the same thing or listen to the same music. The one thing that we can all get into is politics, and that’s not healthy. Politics has become the national pastime that brings us all together, only so it can drive us all apart. The task of the church, in this polarized environment, is to slow down, set our minds on things above, and stick to our own script. To be sure, we should not always be silent. But neither should we be the noisiest people in the room, especially when the room tries to tell us what we should be talking about.
Brothers and sisters, it’s OK to have an unarticulated thought. It’s OK to go about our lives in quiet worship and obedience. It’s OK to do your homework, read your Bible, raise your kids, and make your private thoughts prayers instead of posts. Alison Krauss was right: sometimes you say it best when you say nothing at all.