Pandemic and politics exacerbate challenges facing an Ohio church
MARYSVILLE, Ohio — This one-time farm town about 30 miles…
Chris McCurley has noticed something.
“People are angrier than ever,” he said.
That includes many Christians, said McCurley, who preaches for the Oldham Lane Church of Christ in Abilene, Texas.
“I believe it’s a combination of things: COVID, politics, etc.,” he said. “I think we would all be better off if we … turned off social media, opened our Bibles, got on our knees and kept ourselves busy with kingdom work.”
Dan Cooper, elder and retired minister for the Pitman Road Church of Christ in Sewell, N.J., shares McCurley’s concern.
“Both COVID opinions and political expressions have created greater division,” Cooper said.
Among Americans in general, growing shares of Democrats and Republicans “now describe those in the other party as more closed-minded, dishonest, immoral and unintelligent than other Americans,” a recent Pew Research Center survey reveals.
In 2016, 47 percent of Republicans and 35 percent of Democrats said those in the other party were a lot or somewhat more immoral than other Americans, according to Pew.
Today, 72 percent of Republicans and 63 percent of Democrats hold those same negative views, the latest survey indicates.
“I think we ought to be proclaiming the Gospel and inviting people to submit to the lordship of Christ in the fullness of that, and that involves behavioral and social implications,” Peterson said in an interview.
Related: Faith and COVID-19
“Maybe that leads us to tend to vote a certain way, and I don’t think that’s a problem,” he added. “But I do think there’s a danger with sort of overidentifying with a particular party, and that certainly seems to be happening to some degree.”
In light of the rancor, The Christian Chronicle asked a few ministers how they are — or are not — addressing politics ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.
Here are some of their responses:
“People are more volatile and aggressive. People are much more opinionated and expressive with those opinions.” — Jeff Dunn, Huntsville Church of Christ in Texas
“People are more easily offended when members of the congregation do not agree with their political ideas.” — Jake Perkins, Canadian Church of Christ in Texas
“It was building for a while, and then the elders and I started working very hard to remind members what our purpose is as a church. We made public statements that we are to love our fellow brothers and sisters and not let politics come between us. After a while, we finally got back to loving each other despite our political differences.” — Jim Dillinger, Rochester Church of Christ in Indiana
“We had people leave due to masks and due to the racial/social justice. I was personally accused of being a socialist because I would not come out and condemn Democrats. To some, we went too far with masks, vaccines (which we never required, only encouraged) and social justice. To others, we did not go far enough with social justice.” — Roger Woods, Walled Lake Church of Christ in Michigan
“COVID restrictions caused problems on both sides in terms of how we assembled. We followed local guidelines, which some thought were too restrictive (and they formed a house church), while others did not come for a long time because they thought we were not restrictive enough.” — Glenn Hawley, East Hill Church of Christ in York, Neb.
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“Things are different. I do not know of a congregation that hasn’t experienced some turmoil. People have strong feelings, especially concerning issues we deem as political. Unfortunately, we have made nearly every issue a political one. … I encourage Christians not to look at everything through a political lens but instead look at things through the lens of Christ.” — Scott Elliott, La Grange Church of Christ in Texas
“The tension seems to exist between older Christians (over 40) and younger ones (under 40). They seem to have very different perspectives on most issues. It seems very difficult for them to see the issue from the perspective of the other. That will be a crucial first step in bridging the generation gap.” — Tim Tripp, West Side Church of Christ in Russellville, Ark.
“I have been increasingly disheartened by the toxic partisanship, polarization and rancor I’ve seen from Christians over the last few years. I am beginning to lean more and more in the direction of what David Lipscomb described in his book ‘On Civil Government.’” — Wes McAdams, McDermott Road Church of Christ in Plano, Texas
“I try to steer clear of the rocks and the shoals. I believe the Gospel touches everything and so is necessarily political, but I steadfastly stay away from the specific struggles of the moment and attempt to address related issues from whatever text is being addressed. If I sense my own bias heating my teaching, I will release it until I can pick it up again without burning anyone.” — John W. Moore, East End Church of Christ in East Hampton, N.Y.
Related: What is Christian nationalism?
“It’s been difficult, but we primarily say that Jesus reigns regardless of who is in office. We have members on both extremes of the political divide. Generally, I side with David Lipscomb, (who said) that as far as the church is concerned, the government is going to do what it is going to do, but we should stay focused on the kingdom of God.” — David Shaner, Bellevue Church of Christ in Washington state
“I work hard at being neutral in the pulpit on politics and encourage members to remember we are citizens of heaven above any other allegiance.” — Jim Dillinger, Rochester Church of Christ in Indiana
“I am navigating the current political division by keeping us focused on our kingdom citizenship. While most of the congregation identifies as Democrats, we do have some Republican members. I encourage the church to look at the world around us from the perspective of the Lamb, instead of the perspective of donkeys and elephants. We encourage members to be engaged in their communities, which includes participating in civic processes of voting and even protest. We encourage them to do so in a way that honors God and reflects kingdom values.” — Lamont Ross, Marsalis Avenue Church of Christ in Dallas
“Some days are better than others. I have learned to keep to the subject and be careful with my application. In other words, I let God through the Word and Spirit do the convicting.” — Roger Woods, Walled Lake Church of Christ in Michigan
“I preach love and unity within the challenging and divisive political climate. I instruct Christians how to love and treat with respect those with whom they disagree.” — Tim Tripp, West Side Church of Christ in Russellville, Ark.
“I am striving to encourage our spiritual family to pray for insight and direction. We are Christians who need to be concerned about God first and then vote according to what spiritual direction we should have as his children.” — Britt Farmer, Aledo Church of Christ in Texas
“I teach about character and being like Jesus. I do not address political division.” — John Dobbs, Forsythe Church of Christ in Monroe, La.
“I try to reason through issues using the word of God as my guide. I try not to make an issue political, but I try to make our will fit God’s will. On one occasion, I admitted to the congregation my failure to pray for the president. I stated that our failure to pray for him could be the very reason there’s so much conflict and turmoil in government.” — Edward Cribbs, Oakland Church of Christ in Southfield, Mich.
“That we need to not allow it to divide or discourage. Kingdom pursuits should be our focus. Politics typically corrupts. We are in the redeeming business. … Only Jesus saves.” — Danny Dodd, Levy Church of Christ in North Little Rock, Ark.
“Simply, I am telling the congregation to not divide along lines of political affiliations as we are ultimately under the leadership of Christ. I am also teaching us to accept brethren of different political views as there is no way to reconcile opinions of the brotherhood. In doing so, we just cause more division.” — Anthony Norwood, Henry Street Church of Christ in Gadsden, Ala.
“Vote the way you believe God would vote.” — Britt Farmer, Aledo Church of Christ in Texas
“As a citizen of the kingdom of heaven, I do not address politics. Only insofar as the character of Jesus, fruit of the Spirit and praying for all world leaders to touch the hem of that garment.” — John Dobbs, Forsythe Church of Christ in Monroe, La.
“I’m reminding our folks that our kingdom is not of this world. While we may have a vested interest in politics, we must avoid making it an idol.” — Chris McCurley, Oldham Lane Church of Christ in Abilene, Texas
“That Jesus reigns over all. We need to stand up for what is right regardless of politics. I do encourage people to be careful in using social media so as not to be influenced by what you hear. It is so easy to not understand what is really going on. We need to let our light shine even when darkness reigns. Then your light will shine even brighter and be clearly evident.” — David Shaner, Bellevue Church of Christ in Washington state
“Our allegiance to Jesus is more important than any election.”
“Our allegiance to Jesus is more important than any election.” — Scott Elliott, La Grange Church of Christ in Texas
“Don’t allow your politics to supersede your faith.” — Edward Cribbs, Oakland Church of Christ in Southfield, Mich.
“I will talk about some of the social issues as social issues, not political issues.” — Jim Dillinger, Rochester Church of Christ in Indiana
“I try to focus a lot of attention on Christian virtues, like the fruit of the Spirit and the Sermon on the Mount. Even if the worst thing people believe about their political opponents is true (and it’s probably not), they are still called to love them, be kind to them and be gentle in their approach toward them. I also try to focus a lot of attention on kingdom loyalty that supersedes national loyalty.” — Wes McAdams, McDermott Road Church of Christ in Plano, Texas
“Preach Jesus. He didn’t come to build a nation. He came to build a church.” — Jake Perkins, Canadian Church of Christ in Texas
“Ground the discussion thoroughly in the biblical context. This is primary. Let the Bible speak to it first. Then honestly understand that we will have differences — and that is all right — while understanding our bond in Jesus is stronger than any political party affiliation.” — Danny Dodd, Levy Church of Christ in North Little Rock, Ark.
“Teach the word of God. People devoted to doing the Father’s will should not be entangled with divisive rhetoric and/or divisive politics.” — Edward Cribbs, Oakland Church of Christ in Southfield, Mich.
“I recommend that preachers preach the Word. It is not our job to preach CNN, Fox News or MSNBC. We preach God-breathed Scripture. Remember that neither party is the church. In preaching the Word, you will sound like a Christian from the pulpit. Some days that may sound like a Democrat. Some days that may sound like a Republican. The man of God stands in the tradition of the prophets of God who spoke truth, even when it was unpopular.” — Lamont Ross, Marsalis Avenue Church of Christ in Dallas
“Do not be a participant in the name calling, the spreading of untruths (lies) and adding to the divisive, polemic rhetoric. … When you disagree with a policy, person or law, you have the right as a U.S. citizen to express your opinion, as do those with whom you disagree. Yet as a Christian, we should avoid degrading those with whom we disagree. As children of God, we must lead a return to civil dialogue. Remember our life here and now is not about the elephant or the donkey but about the Lamb.” — Scott McCown, Central Church of Christ in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
“Leave it alone! Preach the Gospel, and strengthen the congregation from a biblical standpoint only. We are not here to promote the agenda of political parties. This is nothing but divisiveness.” — Anthony Norwood, Henry Street Church of Christ in Gadsden, Ala.
“We are called to be people of peace. Even when we can be sure we have the right answer on the issue — to be right in a way that is unloving and unkind is still wrong. I often speak of social media and how often Christians ‘lose their Christianity’ in their comments and shared memes. I remind all those I can that social media is still a holy space where people should see Jesus in us. I encourage the use of Colossians 3:12 for every post. Is it compassionate? Is it kind? Is it gentle? Is it patient?” — Tim Tripp, West Side Church of Christ in Russellville, Ark.
“Let your congregational gatherings be a refuge from the divisive political polarization. When you hear something that you disagree with, move the conversation to Jesus and away from the corruption of our political system.” — John Dobbs, Forsythe Church of Christ in Monroe, La.
“Let your congregational gatherings be a refuge from the divisive political polarization.”
“First advice is that we all need to pray more and post less. While I do not agree with Andy Stanley on many issues, I believe his book ‘Not in It to Win It’ is definitely worth the time to read it.” — Dan Cooper, Pitman Road Church of Christ in Sewell, N.J.
“Address it in context. Keep politics in its place. I personally feel that Christians should be involved in the political process. However, we can quickly move from involvement to idolatry. Our faith should saturate everything we are and everything we do. Therefore, Christ should shape our political views and how we respond to those who disagree.” — Chris McCurley, Oldham Lane Church of Christ in Abilene, Texas
“We are called to preach the kingdom, not the nation. While advocating and voting have their places, our greatest influence in this world will be through reaching individuals with the Gospel and letting Christ change them.” — Glenn Hawley, East Hill Church of Christ in York, Neb.
“In a divided church that was in a divided city, Paul determined to know nothing except Christ and him crucified. We should do the same. People are divided over so many things. It is up to us to focus on Christ and call others to do the same.” — Scott Elliott, La Grange Church of Christ in Texas
“Preach Jesus Christ and him crucified. The greatest commandments for God’s children are to love God and love our neighbors. I believe if we do this, God will be glorified, and we will have the correct look at truth.” — Britt Farmer, Aledo Church of Christ in Texas
“Leave it to the side discussions, but be ready to address it. No matter what you do, you will not please all, and you will lose some.” — Roger Woods, Walled Lake Church of Christ in Michigan
“Our kingdom is not of this world. As long as we look for salvation from Washington, a political party or our own country, we will fall short. We need to be about the business of pointing people to Christ. It’s hard to do that when we are too busy pointing fingers.” — Jeff Dunn, Huntsville Church of Christ in Texas
“Our kingdom is not of this world. As long as we look for salvation from Washington, a political party or our own country, we will fall short.”
“Keep your political view out of the pulpit. Deal with social issues fairly as both parties have important things that Christians need to be committed to. …We are Christians, not Republicans or Democrats.” — Jim Dillinger, Rochester Church of Christ in Indiana
“Like Paul, I believe our preaching must be ‘nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified.’ But that message, if preached faithfully, will challenge political idolatries, the fleshly desire to win at all costs and the rampant fear and animosity. Many of our brothers and sisters are being emotionally manipulated by social media and cable news on a daily basis. They need constant reminders that ours is ‘a kingdom that cannot be shaken.’” — Wes McAdams, McDermott Road Church of Christ in Plano, Texas
BOBBY ROSS JR. is Editor-in-Chief of The Christian Chronicle. Reach him at [email protected].
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