Should the church be a political organization?
I am going to adopt the Christ transforming culture model for the remainder of this essay. Most Christians would agree that the church is responsible for being salt and light in our world, to be God’s transforming agent in the fallen culture that is our missionary assignment. We’ll not be Amish, withdrawing from the culture, or adopt the classic liberal position that jettisons biblical truth for cultural relevance. We’ll not live in two worlds or confine our preaching to salvation alone. We’ll try to bring Jesus’ word and grace to bear on every issue we face, as he did.
The question is, how are we to do so? On one hand, churches in Europe have a long tradition of organizing political parties to further their aims. Most of these parties are called “Christian Democrat.” Such parties were founded in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands after World War II. Similar parties have existed in Hungary and Poland. This approach has not been followed in the U.S., however.
Our history has seen Christians rather than churches or denominations creating political movements. For instance, the National Association of Evangelicals was formed in 1942 to oppose the secular shifts it perceived in American culture. It became active politically as a result of three Supreme Court decisions: in 1963, the Court banned Bible reading and public prayer in public schools; in 1971, it prevented public funds going to nonpublic schools; and in 1973, it ruled that the constitutional right to privacy extends to a woman’s decision whether or not to have an abortion. These decisions shocked conservative Christians.
As a result, the Moral Majority was formed by Jerry Falwell in 1979 to campaign on issues which conservative evangelicals cared about: outlawing abortion, opposing gay rights, and advancing their vision for family life. In 1980, Pat Robertson and Bill Bright sponsored the “Washington for Jesus” rally that brought half a million evangelicals to Washington, D.C. In 1988, Pat Robertson ran for the White House. The next year, he founded the Christian Coalition. The Council for National Policy, Legacy, and Renaissance Weekend are other networks for Christians who wish to engage actively in politics.
However, such political activism by Christians and churches does not seem to have advanced biblical morality in our culture. One could argue, of course, that we would be even worse without their influence. But most of these organizations have now ceased or are significantly less active than they were.
Instead, Christians are gathering for events and conferences intended to encourage them in staying biblical in an unbiblical day. The Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission sponsored a conference last week for three days in Nashville to consider the issue of homosexuality. They called on Baptists to hold the line biblically while offering God’s love to all.