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Christian politics – extended interviews

Read additional thoughts from professors interviewed for ‘Christian Politics’ story

By Erik Tryggestad
The Christian Chronicle

August 02, 2004

Following are excerpts from responses sent to The Christian Chronicle for the August Currents story “Christian Politics: Right, Left or In Between.”
The Chronicle contacted several sources and asked questions about relationships between faith and politics. Respondents included instructors of political science, history and Bible at universities, colleges and preacher training schools associated with churches of Christ. In addition, the Chronicle solicited comments from professors outside churches of Christ who have authored books on the intersection of faith and politics.
The participants quoted here are:
Steven Guy, faculty member, Heritage Christian University, Florence, Ala.
Jerry Gaw, professor of history, Lipscomb University, Nashville, Tenn.
Andy Olree, associate professor of political science, Harding University, Searcy, Ark.
L. Edward Hicks, chairman of Social and Behavioral Science, Faulkner University, Montgomery, Ala.
Mark Elrod, associate professor of political science, Harding University
Matt McCook, assistant professor of political science, Oklahoma Christian University, Oklahoma City
Bill Bagents, vice president of Academic Affairs, Heritage Christian University
Brian Simmons, professor of Communications, Cascade College, Portland, Ore.
Richard Wightman Fox, professor of history, University of Southern California, Los Angeles
Marc Schwerdt, assistant professor of political science, Lipscomb University
Malcolm Hill, president and founder, Tennessee Bible College, Cookeville, Tenn.
Coy Roper, faculty member, Heritage Christian University
1. Recently, on a church of Christ Internet discussion group, someone posted the question, “Can a Christian vote for a Democrat without sinning?” To what extent do you think this question represents the political views of people in churches of Christ?
Steven Guy, Heritage Christian University: A Christian can be Democratic, Republican, third party, or a non-voter. This is a matter of conscience. A Christian should investigate the political stands of the candidates and vote his/her conscience.
Jerry Gaw, Lipscomb University: I do not think many members of churches of Christ would say that one was committing a sin if he or she voted for a Democrat. However, I have heard that comment twice myself in recent years …
Andy Olree, Harding University: I think it is hard to know what “most people” in our fellowship think, especially since our fellowship is not organized at any level above the individual congregation. In order to answer any of these questions, I depend on my personal experience, which may not be representative, and a few nationwide surveys conducted by religious sociologists. (Some of these surveys are now 10-15 years old.)
Having said that, my impression is that our fellowship is increasingly affiliating (collectively and individually) with the Republican Party as a matter of religious conviction. In other words, individual members are increasingly concluding that their religious convictions require them to support Republican candidates and Republican policy positions, especially in national elections. This support is often reflected by elderships and congregations acting collectively as well.
At the same time, and somewhat inconsistently, most will still affirm that political choices (like whether to vote or which political party to support) are matters of opinion that the Bible does not speak clearly about and should therefore be left to each individual member to decide.
I have spoken to many in our fellowship about these matters, and I think most would affirm that a Christian CAN vote for a Democrat without sinning, if that’s the way the question is worded. They would also agree that “in Christ there is neither Democrat nor Republican, for we are all one in Christ Jesus.”
At the same time, most would also affirm that they support the Republican Party as a moral matter, and for them voting for a Democrat for U.S. President would be immoral, because of what the Democratic party stands for.
L. Edward Hicks, Faulkner University: This question assumes that the Democratic Party is a monolithic institution and that everyone who votes Democratic supports all its professed policies. Political parties are diverse institutions with membership with wide-ranging views on a number of issues. Even when the party platform emerges from the convention committee assigned to construct it, not all Democrats support all its planks and I dare say that all of its members reject at least part of the platform.
Mark Elrod, Harding University: I think that question represents what many Christians think and, as a Democrat, I resent it every time I hear it. In my community (Searcy, Ark.) the conservative worldview has associated the Democratic Party with at least four issues: abortion, gay rights, women’s rights and the separation of church and state. In each of these cases, many members of the church have been unable to make a distinction between private (religious) life and public (political) activities of other members. This means that the public lives of both voters and candidates are frequently evaluated in terms of how closely they adhere to what we believe the Bible says on these issues. It would seem that many members of the churches of Christ are attracted to the Republican Party because the G.O.P. represents certain “family values” that in turn promote the church’s doctrinal positions.
To be a Democrat or Republican does not mean to embrace everything that party stands for. I believe that it is no less inconsistent to be a pro-life Democrat than it is to be a pro-choice Republican. I could make the argument that a Christian can’t vote Republican without sinning because the G.O.P. represents corporate greed and rape of the environment, but I don’t because I know that Christians who vote for Republican candidates are not voting for them for those reasons.
It is unfortunate that we let temporal and material considerations such as party affiliation be the basis for calling someone’s spirituality into question.
Matt McCook, Oklahoma Christian University: While members of the churches of Christ, particularly white members, are predominantly Republicans, I don’t think most see voting for a Democrat as a sinful act. The fact that this question is raised occasionally, however, illustrates the disturbing degree to which the church has wedded itself to secular institutions, even political parties that do not wholeheartedly share Christians’ views.
Bill Bagents, Heritage Christian University: “Can a Christian vote Democrat without sinning?” While I’ve heard this question asked, the tone has tended to be thoughtful and good-natured rather than accusatory. Many Christians are deeply concerned about the future of the Democratic Party, chiefly because of a few key moral stances officially advocated by the party. Still, most brethren whom I know vote for the person rather than the party.
Brian Simmons, Cascade College: I cannot see how voting for a certain party or candidate is “sinning.” It might be ill-advised and a bad idea, but to categorize it as “sin” is going too far. One can make the case that the Democratic Party (like the Republican Party) has at one time or another advocated a number of things that are well in line with New Testament principles.
Likewise, one can make the argument that BOTH parties have at one time or another advocated things that seem to be in conflict with New Testament principles.
Richard Wightman Fox, University of Southern California: I doubt that many Christians — liberals or evangelicals — think that voting for a Democrat is sinful. The Republicans among them know full well that many of their own ancestors voted Democratic, and the less wealthy among them know that the Democrats often espouse economic policies that help lower-income Americans.
Of course a much higher proportion of African-Americans (who as a group measure highest of all demographic groups in the intensity of their Christian commitment and participation) vote Democratic than Republican.
Marc Schwerdt, Lipscomb University: I think this is a very isolated view. The shift among evangelical Christians (which in political science fits the church of Christ) to the Republican Party begins about 1980. The proportion of evangelical Christians in the Republican Party continues to increase throughout the 1980s and 1990s. But in the South especially, the Democratic Party was dominant for many years. The shift from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party by Christians says more about the way political parties adjust to win elections than anything else.
I think that anyone who questions if a Christian votes for a Democrat is sinning, is really making a much more narrow statement. “Can you vote for a party that supports abortion and be Christian?” or “Can the party that seems to separate religion from public life represent a Christian?”
The more appropriate question before a Christian is, “Does the Republican or Democratic Party represent me better?” Political parties in the United States are too broadly based and have too many conflicting positions to ask if voting for one is a sin or not. They are not consistent enough to be judged that narrowly.
2. To what extent are churches of Christ politically active? Do they get involved in political issues?
Bill Bagents, Heritage Christian University: As a rule, the short answer to this question is, “Not very.”
Elected officials and voters are included in prayers. Individual Christians speak to other individuals in support of certain candidates. Occasionally, a minister or other church leader will send a personal letter in support of a candidate. Several local candidates have visited the monthly preachers’ luncheon at Heritage Christian this spring. All have been welcomed, regardless of their party affiliation.
While a few church leaders do participate in various petition drives, these almost always center on key moral concerns rather than specific candidates or party affiliation. In our area, most brethren still consider it quite improper to bring political activism into the church building.
Malcolm Hill, Tennessee Bible College: In churches of Christ (there’s a prevailing belief that) “the church building is not for that. Let it be done at the courthouse.”
I don’t think that members of churches of Christ get as involved as they need to be (on a personal level). … I wish that every member of churches of Christ would vote.
Coy Roper, Heritage Christian University: I don’t think that churches “as such” should get involved in politics, whether on the Democratic or Republican side. And I think they should be very cautious about taking sides in social or ethical debates/issues that appear to make the church into a political body.
I believe that each Christian has the right to determine, based on scripture, what he or she ought to do on questionable issues — and that includes how he or she should vote.
Jerry Gaw, Lipscomb University: (There) is little political activity at the federal level by churches of Christ. A number of congregations participated in the “Clean Up TV Campaign” of the 1970s, and even more joined the “One Nation Under God” Campaign of more recent years, but the former was for social reasons and the latter was for evangelism.
Petitions are circulated from time to time, and just last Sunday members where I preach were told of two letters in the foyer they could take, sign, and mail. The letters were to Lamar Alexander and Bill Frist, Tennessee’s senators, asking for their support of a constitutional amendment to ban all marriages other than between a man and a woman.
Most such petitions, which are very rare, pertain to local issues. I know of no demonstrations or congregational support of particular candidates. Separation of church and state still seems to permeate our fellowship.
L. Edward Hicks, Faulkner University: On a political involvement scale of 1 to 10, the churches of Christ as a whole still fall somewhere between 3 and 4. I believe that the old belief that politics is a dirty business still prevails within churches of Christ … (Even) in Montgomery, we have very few state legislators or local officials who are members of the churches of Christ.

  • Feedback
    How can we, members of the Church of Christ, say that some can be Republican party and some can be Democratic party? Is God’s family divided? What about the scriptures that tell us tell have the same mind and the same judgement? Walk by the by the same rule, let us mind the same thing! Philippians 2:2; 3:16-21. Is anyone of the candidates Christ like? Are they looking to God for guidance? How can we look over these verses? God has not changed!
    Wanda Kennedy
    West End Church of Chrit
    Terrell, TX
    May, 11 2012

    Should members of the Church of Christ claim to be or vote for, republican or democrat? Especially, for people that do not know God, nor trying to do his will. The two men that are running for President or no where close to Godly! Should, Christian’s be voting for ungodly men?
    Wanda Kennedy
    West End Church of Christ
    Terrell, TX.
    May, 11 2012

Filed under: National

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