I was saved in an independent, non-denominational evangelical church. That particular church was very involved in social issues. They had a social issues committee that would try to influence culture and a letter writing committee that would meet to write letters to elected officials and tell them what church members think about cultural issues. At no time did they ever endorse a political candidate, but they did advocate for moral positions. They were very active. Since this was the only church I knew, I thought that all churches did such things.
It was only when I moved and joined another church did I learn different. In the many years since I was saved, I have visited many churches, been a member of several, been to seminary, and have been actively involved in ministry where I meet people from many backgrounds. For most of the years since that first church, it has been my experience that social action has been fading or non-existent in churches. Just this year, the largest protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, made a lot of fanfare about a new generation of leaders taking over. There were a lot of headlines about this new group of leaders wanting to leave politics behind.
I find this interesting because in the churches I’ve attended, I have never once seen a candidate recommended from a pulpit. There have been Christian leaders who have endorsed candidates, but not from a pulpit, or at least from any that I have attended, and I have attended very many. Compared to the overall population of protestant pastors and leaders, ones that endorsed candidates have been a significant minority. Further, protestant action has decreased on issues such as abortion, sexual morality, marriage, and divorce. When the Southern Baptists say they want to leave politics behind, many church members understand this as saying they will not be making statements on moral issues such as abortion, homosexuality, or marriage. I have heard evangelical ministry leaders specifically speak against mentioning abortion at Christian meetings because they did not believe in getting political.
Compare this to a hundred years ago, when conservative denominations such as Southern Baptists, Pentecostals, and Nazarenes were quite vocal about ills such as card playing, dancing, alcohol, and women’s clothes.
So we have a clear, conscious walking away from culture wars in protestant evangelical churches.
Change the channel to the modern black social justice movement. Today a black member of my church sent me an article from the New York Times that explained that black people are leaving mainly white evangelical churches because they do not speak up about black people and the police, immigration, and racial overtones in recent presidential elections. It would seem that white evangelical churches are criticized because they were silent about social justice issues.
So at this point I admit confusion. Is it not the case that race and ethnic based problems are moral issues? Is not abortion a moral issue? Is it not a social justice issue to keep marriages together so that parents can teach children to be effective members of society? Is trying to stop parents from voluntarily killing their children somehow a conservative cause? Is advocating public sexual modesty somehow helping candidates running for office? Is advocating help for destitute people arriving at our borders somehow more moral than stopping violence to a beating heart inside a womb?
Many, if not all, of these issues are moral issues that are distinct from political candidates. No political party has a corner on honesty and morality, and no political candidate has a verse in the Bible with his campaign slogan in it. Yet we are indeed called to be good citizens, which in our country means being educated on the issues and the candidates. That we should vote is a command, not an option, but there are no purely Christian political parties. That we should take action on social issues is expected, and indeed cannot be avoided, for to be silent on an issue is to make a statement about the issue’s relative importance. It seems odd to be expected to make social justice stance on racial issues while being silent on abortion.
Can we be more sensitive to white and black issues? Certainly. Should church leaders endorse candidates from their official positions? It is a bad idea, and I advise against it, but they are citizens and do not give up their rights when they become church leaders.
I fail to understand how we are wrong for advocating for some social justice issues and wrong for not advocating others. Perhaps we have been imbalanced, perhaps hypocritical. However, we cannot be active on police violence against 20 year old black males while being silent on violence to 20 week old black fetuses.