The Five Camps of Modern Politics Taking Over the Church
America is increasingly divided now into a few political camps which are starting to really struggle to speak to each other or even care for one another’s existence.
At the same time, the Evangelical church in America is falling apart as a result of politics taking over everything. What is happening, and what to do about it?
My own division goes like this:
There is Trump Right who believe the election was stolen, Democrats are of the devil, and America is going to hell unless we can get the right man in charge again. These folks suspect anyone not of the Trump Right, including Classical Conservative Right. They do have some conservative values that overlap with classical Conservative Right, but are more concerned with the cultural wars of the day than smaller government (President Trump increased federal government spending on par with his predecessors, with a huge leap for COVID). They like flexing federal power to counteract anything to the Left of them culturally. Exemplified by: President Trump, Rep. Gaetz, etc.
Classical Conservative Right believe in traditional conservative values in some mixture: smaller government, traditional family structures, pro-life, strong military are all in the mix to varying degrees. These folks are despairing of having a true political home because many of them do not believe Trump is a conservative but also do not believe that Biden / Democrats / Leftists are good for America. They are politically homeless in many ways right now. They generally care more about economic programs than cultural ones, but not all. Exemplified by: Senator Romney, Governor Hogan
The Pro-Life Whole-Life movement is growing but still pretty homeless. This includes many Catholics and a rising group of Evangelicals. These folks cannot be usual Democrats because of the Democratic Party’s obsession with abortion with zero restrictions, but cannot be usual Republicans because Republicans want to get rid of robust social programs and are generally pro-death penalty. They actually overlap in many ways with populist Trump ideas (expanded social programs, isolationism, for example) but find Trump morally repugnant and are concerned 1/6 is an indicator of the weakening of American democracy. Some of these folks are pro-life socialists but others are more moderate pro-life Democrats. Exemplified by: Senator Manchin, American Solidarity Party,
The Traditional Democrat is pro-choice, pro-bigger-government, pro-taxation, pro-social transformation toward women, minorities, and sexual minorities. Democrats are working to expand the government on a large scale while pulling back from military conflicts internationally. They overlap with Trump on the scale of government and on many military issues (the Iraq withdrawal began with Trump), but not on any social issues whatsoever. They want police reform in a big way but are also beholden to unions across the board. Exemplified by: Representative Pelosi, Senator Schumer.
The Far Left wants radical social change including ridding America of police such as they are, downscaling of the military, European-style womb-to-tomb government funding, universal healthcare, and rapid social change for minorities across the board. Some of these are outright Socialists. Exemplified by: the Squad, Senator Sanders.
The Trump Right sees everything to the left of them as being the Far Left. The Far Left thinks that anything to the Right of them is Trumpism. Democrats and Republicans might could get along but are being tugged to their furthest extremes through the threat of primary challengers.
In the middle are a great many people who really are just exasperated with both sides, longing for a more pragmatic approach to incremental change in politics, something the far sides on Right and Left abhor. It is Go Big or Go Home season in American politics.
The Camps Want Your Church — and Your Soul
All this means that everything — EVERYTHING — is suddenly political. Churches are being asked to show videos by politicians or host political events. Parishioners are wondering why pastors are talking about THIS or THAT political subject in the pulpit. Some pastors have become enslaved to political ideologies right and left at the expense of the Gospel. Entire denominations are being divided by politics. Anger reigns supreme.
The Government, such as it is, has done little to help itself. Because every political conflict becomes an immediate national issue in the media and on the internet, no one is really focusing on or caring about the places where actual good work gets done: on local elections and such. Politicians are seeking the national spotlight to gain attention for any reason provided they gain your eyes and ears. They largely focus on the cultural issues because those issues strike closest to our heartstrings.
The winner in all this, as usual, is the News Media, Right and Left. The further divided we are as a nation, the more we watch the news to soak in the madness. The Media utilizes the Inverse Anger Rule to manipulate all of us into forming false opinions about breaking news stories. Everything gets shoved into a political categories to be used as a weapon. Commentators blatantly lie to you in order to gain and keep your eyes so advertisers will pay them more money. Those commentators don’t care about and don’t really care about our country. They lack standing in our lives but we give them our attention nonetheless. The politician-to-media channel reveals that these folks want to win so they can get… more money! Money, its a gas, for sure.
Breaking out of Camp
What’s a Christian to do? What’s an American to do? How do we respond if politics is taking over our pulpits?
I — Do Politics right
First, it is good to voice your political opinions in our system of government. Flex that First Amendment. But do so by focusing on the issues that are closest to your heart, on the basis of fact, having researched, prayed over, and studied the ideas you believe on your own, without having just received them from a TV commentator. Watching television or hearing commentary or scrolling Facebook is not research. Pro-life? Look at what actually works to stop abortion and help at-risk mothers. Against drug use? Look at what actually lowers drug usage and helps addicts. For a smaller government? Look at what programs should actually be cut and who is advocating to cut them. You can make your own Top Ten List of your political priorities.
Second, find people you support based on those opinions. We are wallowing in cults of personality right now on the Right and Left when we need cultures of ideas. We need big ideas for big problems in America, not just big personalities. Find the individuals who actually agree with your policy priorities, people with good character you would be proud to support, and support them. Go for it! I mean, you can even run for public office! Why not!
Third, Participate in political parties so long as they align with your policies. Don’t blindly be partisan lest you bear a badge that eventually deviates from the Name Above All Names. Party membership can be good and can be necessary for doing politics, but Party membership is not participation in the Kingdom of Heaven. There are no Republicans or Democrats in Heaven, only people who bear the name of Christ.
Fourth, reject those who have an obvious love of money. The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, and rarely has anything hurt a government more than money. When Jethro tells Moses how to select people to help run the Israelite government in Exodus 18, he tells him to pick people who hate bribes:
But select from all the people some capable, honest men who fear God and hate bribes
Finally, do not let your Camp become your Identity. Our identity is in Christ. We live by his Spirit. Camps come and go. Political realignments happen every 20 years or so. Democrats become Republicans and vice verse. Your chosen hero today might become your enemy tomorrow. Don’t try to mold your church in to something other than Christ’s Bride, and don’t try to run your denominations like political parties.
II — Let the Church be the Church
There are a great many good things a church can do that are not the one thing that makes a church a church.
A church can be a relief organization, loving the world by doing good. But this is a nonprofit
A church can get lots of followers and have big bands and rake in a lot of money. But this is an entertainment business.
A church can be a political organization that rallies people to bible-informed causes so they vote for the right people. But this is a political party.
None of those are churches!
The church is the people of Christ pursuing the glory of God according to the Gospel spreading among peoples and nations. The message of the church is the Gospel. The goal of the church is the worship for God. The method of the church is discipleship. Anything else might well be good or justified, but it is not the church.
The church ought to have people from every camp because we ought to be converting people from every walk of life, of every opinion, from every socioeconomic and ethnic background. We can work on certain issues as part of discipleship — issues of justice, life, care for the widows and orphans, abhorring violence, loving our neighbors — but a great many political issues are not ever matters of discipleship. Where the call of justice requires a public voice from the pulpit, chances are it will offend both parties and all five camps to some degree. Jesus delighted in offending Pharisee and Sadducee alike, for the benefit of those who needed freedom from their dividing lines.
A large government is no holier than a small one. A democracy is not more sanctified than a monarchy. We might have pragmatic reasons for wanting this or that political outcome, but much of that work comes through personal persuasion, publications, and education, not through the church. Any books which argue for comprehensive biblical politics usually abandon the cross entirely. Let’s not trod that familiar path.
If politics takes over pulpits and political divide ruins our churches, who will be left to actually be the church?
No. Let politics be politics. Argue over it. Have fun with it. Support this or that cause or this or that politician. But when we gather to worship, we have only one name by which we will be saved. And when we speak of our highest good, we have only one God we worship. And when we seek to live life to the fullest, there is only one Spirit who gives us that life in abundance.
The best thing is God — Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Everything else is a fading whisper of time that will pass into nothing in due time.