The Partisan Church Divide
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This is the longest piece I have written in a while. I blame William Wolfe who challenged me to put my thoughts on the subject in writing since I admitted they were more than I could tweet. But in all seriousness, I thank him for pushing me to focus my mind on this topic. Without his encouragement, I’d have just kept stewing on it.
Now, a true story.
When I was in college, I started the College Republicans at Mercer University. None of my friends were political — none. But I was a political junkie. the Dole-Kemp campaign sent Jack Kemp to Middle Georgia to campaign. I got a call and the GOP asked me to organize a motorcade of drivers. I roped in as many students as I could find and had to get my roommate, Brian, involved.
I drove the lead car behind Kemp’s limo. It was fascinating to watch as the police blocked off the interstate and we got to drive up I-75 with no traffic. In the spirit of “It’s a Small World,” I drove Ed Feulner, who was Kemp’s guy on that campaign. I didn’t even realize it till years later.
We were parked at a local restaurant in Macon, GA called The Bear’s Den. Kemp had his rally there highlighting small businesses in cities. Those of us driving had to sit in the cars. My roommate came up and tapped on the driver’s side window. PHHHHHSSSSSSTTTTTTT the window sounded as I rolled it down.
“This is really something else,” Brian said. Then he looked kinda sheepish. “So who is this guy exactly?”
I laughed. “Jack Kemp. He’s running for Vice President,” I said.
Brian returned a blank stare. “Vice President of what?”
“Of the United States of America,” I laughed. His eyes got as big as saucers.
Did I mention my friends were not political?
Later, I was talking to a friend of mine. “I got to drive Jack Kemp in his motorcade,” I told her.
“Who’s that?” she asked.
“He’s running for Vice President,” I replied.
She was silent for a minute. Then she got a quizzical sound in her voice. “Uhhhh…you have to campaign to be vice president of the university?” she asked. I wound up marrying her a few years later.
Did I mention my friends were not political?
I tell these stories because of a divide shaping up among people I know and like on Twitter. Tim Keller started it. Well, really he didn’t, but he spoke on a subject as others were hammering out how you can’t be a Democrat if you’re a Christian these days because the Democrats support abortion on demand, transgenderism, etc. as a party platform.
As an aside, I tend to agree with that. The reaction to Tim Keller’s tweet is something I need to bring up here. Here’s one of the tweets in question:
And it originates in this long thread that begins here:
Timothy Keller @timkellernycChurches must not maintain unity at the expense of the gospel. Churches should not destroy unity or fellowship over political differences.
Let me just cut to the chase — my friends who are partisans and involved in politics were rather angry and going after Keller and attacking his point. My friends who are not involved in politics were so happy someone of Keller’s stature said something they agree with. I tend to agree with what Keller is saying, but also think you can’t really be a partisan Democrat these days and be committed to Christ. I also have a dear friend who is an elected Democrat where I live locally and he shares Christ’s gospel better than most of my Republican friends. He’s also an excellent fisherman and perhaps the two are connected. Frankly, I’d rather hang out with him and talk Jesus and fishing than with many people who’d want to talk politics. I am negligent in our friendship and don’t spend enough time with him.
Let me also say there is a cottage industry of Christian twitter personalities who like to scream about Keller’s tweets and more often than not willfully interpret his tweets in the worse possible way in order to justify their attacks.
Kudos to Tim Keller for continuing to engage the medium when so many people just want to nitpick his tweets to puff themselves up.
All that said, I have a number of very well meaning friends in politics who genuinely disagree with Tim Keller and are very insistent pastors need to forcefully denounce the Democratic Party and its platform over social issues and make clear one cannot be a Democrat and a Christian.
Keller, I need to note, is ardently pro-life, against abortion, publicly professes the Biblical sexual ethic, has written one of the best critiques of critical theory explaining how it is incompatible with Christianity, and has done far more to lead people to Christ than probably any of his social media critics. He has been assailed by the left, after years of accolades from them, for daring to defend the Christian sexual ethic. Keller even believes in an actual, factual literal Adam and Eve, though some of his critics insist he does not. I constantly run into people who insist Keller does not believe in Adam and Eve. I know he does because he and I have actually had a very long talk about it.
Here’s the problem with the church making an attack on the Democratic Party. I beg you to keep on reading because what I’m about to say is really going to offend some of you and I don’t mean to. So please read on past it.
If you’re going to, as a Christian, insist that people cannot be a Democrat because the party supports abortion on demand and transgenderism, you’re more often than not trying to steer people into a party whose present leader cheated on three wives, the last of which was pregnant when he was having sex with a porn star. That very man has repeatedly claimed he has never had to repent of anything in his life, which definitionally makes him fall outside the church. So you’re presenting people with a choice between a godless party and a godless leader whose party has for decades continued to fund Planned Parenthood, helped create Common Core education requirements, has come across as very hostile to immigrants legal and illegal, and has regularly put in positions of leadership within the party pro-abortion and transgender supporting consultants, lobbyists, leaders, etc.
If you’re going to argue abortion means you can’t be a Democrat, there are a lot of pro-abortion Republicans, many of whom have had the luxury of hiding behind Roe v Wade to avoid outing themselves.
Again, I agree with you actually, but I have a ton of non-political or apolitical friends who I and you would be hard-pressed to convince of that point and I cannot express to you how much damage Trump as party leader did on that point. Also keep in mind that for all the policies of his on which we agree, a lot of really good Christians, myself included, still think character matters greatly and they have continually seen a lot of Sunday in the bass boat evangelicals behaving like they’d choose Barrabas over Christ these past few years. I write as someone who spends most of his time surrounded by believers who are friends who loathe politics.
In that spirit, I would offer a few things here.
First, the church had Mary, Martha, and thirteen Apostles excluding Judas, including Matthias and Paul. Each had a different personality. Each shared the gospel in distinct and unique ways. Of the Apostles, all were martyred save John. Thomas, who doubted, went all the way to India to share the gospel of Christ. He was outside Rome and Roman persecution and still got killed for his beliefs.
A whole lot of us are willing to kill for Christ, but I’m not really sure how many of us are willing to be killed for Christ. The Apostles were.
Not only that, the Apostles themselves evolved over time. Their gospel message did not change. But the younger Paul of Galatians is far less nuanced than the Paul of Ephesians. The message does not change, per se, but age and ministry over time brought more to Paul’s writings.
So, I would stop venting that others are doing it badly or differently or not focused on politics enough or focused on politics too much. On Twitter especially, half my friends think others are not political enough. The other half of my friends think both me and the others are too political.
We can share the same gospel and have different approaches.
Second, remember the cities. The theology of cities in the Bible is actually pretty bad, but God will eventually build a new city that is perfect. In the meantime, there are a lot of people in a lot of cities who are trying to live quietly, glorifying God and they’re not really into or able to be into politics. They’re just keeping their heads down avoiding as much persecution as possible, even though they’re still getting it.
Let’s get back to Tim Keller. He pastored Redeemer in New York City. There are probably more Christians in New York than there are Republicans. Both are outnumbered by secular Democrats. Those Christians can probably moderate New York City’s Democrats better than they can elect a Republican. Would you prefer they work to moderate the Democrats or unite in failing to get a Republican elected? I venture to say a lot of Christians in New York voted for Eric Adams in the end not because he was good on their issues, but because he was the least bad option.
If you prefer that they do focus on getting Republicans to lose less bad or maybe occasionally get one elected, will you at least concede that the issue of Christian liberty might allow for others to arrive at a different conclusion?
Now, I must say something harsh here — if you disagree on that point and insist there is only one way, I must part ways with you here and suggest you repent. You’ve had the deceiver enter your heart now and he has deceived you into thinking your way in politics is the only way and soon you will be asking “Did God really say” or adding or subtracting from what God actually did say to win an argument about which there is truly not a single right answer. Christian liberty, in fact, does permit us to arrive at a different conclusion on how best to navigate secular politics even if you might doubt the authenticity of someone’s faith if they’re partisan Democrats.
I’m going to stop here and confess something: I have a hard time writing that because really? You’re going to be in a party with those people?!?! — the ones who think boys can become girls and it’s okay to murder a baby as a healthcare right? Ugh. Just keep bearing with me here, but this is really me talking to myself along the way. “You’re in the party of “Satan controls the church said Marjorie Taylor Greene” and “I banged porn stars while my pregnant wife was at home watching TV,” the other crowd yells back. Again, ugh. Maybe we have to give each other room to navigate in politics.
We must move on to the third point.
Third, preach the gospel. If I, formerly elected Republican Erick Erickson who has never and will never vote for any candidate who is pro-abortion and once filibustered a resolution to make Barack Obama an honorary member of my city council before advancing legislation to privatize the local police force when it tried to unionize, were to sit in a church and have the pastor tell me to vote Republican, I’d have to leave the church. I know some people go to church for political rallies. I go for Jesus. For a pastor in a pulpit to tell me I must choose one group of sinners over another because the sins of the Democrats are so much more at war with Christian culture than the sins of the Republicans, the pastor would still be telling me to choose a sinner instead of Jesus. Preach the gospel.
But preach the gospel in such a way that convicts the congregation of their sins. Preach Christ in such a way that there is a clear alternative to the world. Preach on the sins and do not shy away from them. I suspect if a preacher does this, he will be pulling people out of allegiances to sin and allegiances to politicians who are hostile to the things of God without turning them off over partisanship.
Fourth, remember God is sovereign. A lot of my friends who have seen their own churches collapse into wokeness or lost friends to wokeness are truly upset at what they see around them. Outside of my friends who inhabit the political realm, these are my friends most prone to say there must be bright lines and fights. I understand this more than you realize. And I am notoriously prone to setting those bright lines and throwing the rhetorical fists in form of tweets. But ultimately, God is sovereign. He’s got this. You don’t need to fight. You’ve got an angel army already on the field you do not see. The Holy Spirit is moving. You cannot lose a friend to wokeness without God allowing it. You will not gain a friend from wokeness without God destining it. God is sovereign and works, returning his workers to the dust of the earth, raising new workers from the dust of the earth, and always working toward His promised return. Trust Him.
Fifth, your charge is to love God and love your neighbor. Your charge is to glorify God in everything you do. Your charge is to seek the welfare of the community in which you live and pray for it. You are in exile heading home to eternity. If you’re in politics, do that all in politics. But don’t expect everyone to be as committed to your fight as you are. There are plenty of Christians offline and out of politics who will get up this week, stand in a soup kitchen, and feed God’s people. There are parents who will get their kids up, pray with them, and send them to a public school because they cannot afford private school. When their kids come home, they’ll work with them, share Christ with them, and pray over them as they sleep. They’ll trust God to be with their kids when they cannot be. Be the Christian who loves his neighbor so much that the gay family across the street from you leaves a house key with you when they go out of town. Be the Christian who is bold for Christ and understands not everyone is bold in the same way or comes to Christ the same way.
Sixth, we must be prepared for the fall of Roe v Wade. The Christians of Rome were persecuted, in part, because they would go out to the Roman trash heaps and rescue the Roman babies who had been left to die. I read once the Roman citizenry referred to the trash heaps in their vernacular as the aboriri. Their abortions were to place the unwanted unborn there to die. They loathed the Christians for rescuing and caring for the children. In this country, we are weeks from Roe v Wade ending or being severely curtailed. Some states will aggressively become pro-abortion. In those states and all others, we must defend the unborn and those born. We need to aggressively lower the costs of adoption, streamline adoptions, assert strong rights for adopting parents, provide incentives to adopt, etc. Involve the Christians who are in the Democratic Party into the process of the pro-life cause. Encourage churches that eschew politics to help. Use Christian pregnancy centers as ministry outlets to churches that have shied away from the issue and call the Christians of those churches to help.
As an aside, I really do think one problem we are dealing with is some pastors are so loathed at all to even sound political that the moment an issue gets politicized, they stop talking about it. Pastors, the world will politicize everything (some would say it has) if it will discourage you from preaching on a topic. I encourage expositional preaching of the word but don’t shy away from passages that put you in conflict with culture and the present age. Help your congregation to think like a Christian, not a partisan, on topics some perceive as political.
Seventh, preach the Book of Amos. It’s my favorite book in all of scripture and the one I am most prone to preach from if invited into a pulpit. Its first two chapters reveal the God of Israel is the God of the world and will judge everyone. He will judge the world for, basically, not loving their neighbors. He will judge His people for not loving Him and not loving their neighbors. He used a farmer willing to preach a hint of the gospel. He sent him to a people with existing preachers who had the ears of the leaders they placated instead of sharing God’s true word. Amos spoke to a wealthy society that interpreted that wealth as a sign of divine blessing. Amos told them it was actually a sign of divine mercy because God’s judgment was coming soon against them. Amos is perhaps the most relevant book speaking into our present culture and it is almost exclusively used by progressive theologians to preach on social justice when the real message is God is bringing justice to society.
Lastly, I think if we as Christians attack the Democrats from a Christian perspective instead of attacking sin, we risk being unable to glorify God to someone in whom God is working, but just isn’t with us yet. Christians, I think, need to call out both parties for their sins and not be so allied with one tribe of sinners that we pull our punches inside the tent.
Now, this is the most important point. So I’m going to put a heading here.
The Most Important Point
The Democrats got to their present point of godlessness because the Christians of the sixties who joined them as allies during the Civil Rights Movement started pulling their punches inside the Democrats’ tent. The next generation lost faith because their forebearers were no longer bold for both Jesus and repentance inside their own tent. They were only bold standing outside their tent yelling into the Republican tent.
I fear for the Republican Party when my Christian brothers and sisters who allied with the GOP over abortion or sexual ethics get so focused on the sins of the other party that they, in allyship, are not as bold in calling out the sins inside our own tent. We will become just like the Democrats over time — a party without God convinced we carry His banner to deliver a false heaven of idolatry to this earth of idol worshippers.
We are pilgrims passing through. Share the gospel. Share Christ. Share both with everyone. God’s got this.