One of the things I most appreciate about my heritage in Churches of Christ is their generally apolitical stance. While other conservative sects were cozying up to their favored politicians, our congregations usually felt it was best to keep that outside the walls of our assembly. “If you want to talk politics, the coffee shop is available tomorrow, but this is the Lord’s Day. We’re going to focus on Jesus.” This posture was, I think, an unconscious remnant of a theology that emerged during the strife of the Civil War. Leaders like David Lipscomb, watching as the conflicts of the day drove families and churches apart, decided that the higher ground was to be above it all. Lipscomb’s reasoning was straightforward: going to war to kill other Christians is a moral atrocity. Christ called us to lay down our lives for others, not to take lives! But if going to war is a grievous sin, it is no better to cast the vote that would send someone else to war. “What I lead or influence another to do, I do through that other,” wrote Lipscomb. And there’s no escaping things by casting only votes you think will prevent war, because you have no way of knowing what the future will hold. A politician who pledges peace may resort to arms as circumstances change. Best not to entangle oneself with the mechanisms of earthly government at all. Let others vote and petition. We will focus on prayer and good deeds.
I don’t know how many believers Lipscomb persuaded to join him in his radical anti-civic-entanglement stance, but Churches of Christ developed a notable pacifist strain for a couple of generations, and a century and a half later, still have a slight allergy to politicking in the sanctuary. It happens, but seldom and half-heartedly. We are, after all, “citizens of heaven,” as the apostle wrote.
Having seen the moral rot caused by worldly influence-grabbing in other Christian circles, and being susceptible to a certain amount of political tribalism myself (see the Limbaugh/Huckabee/Buchanan/Buckley section of my bookshelf for proof of my youthful zealotry), I appreciated being a member of a generally apolitical fellowship, even if our practice was driven more by inertia than careful reflection.
In the cultural climate of 2020 inertia is no longer adequate. In truth, it never was. There is an enormous gulf between a healthy, vigorous, *informed* detachment from partisan squabbling–what we should have–and a vague sense that talking politics in church is rude or divisive–which is our current posture. The problem is that in the highly partisan atmosphere of the present, anything that *can* be politicized *will* be politicized. For almost any conceivable question, there is now a Democratic answer and a Republican answer. This means that if your practice is “we don’t talk about politics here,” the number of moral issues about which the church can take a stand is vanishingly small, because the donkeys and elephants have placed their stamp on any remotely consequential matter.
The demands of the age require a painful shift. We must relearn that the actual value of an apolitical stance is that, free from partisan blinders, we open up the possibility of learning to see the world around us through the eyes of Christ. The point of avoiding secular power-grabbing is that we may speak and act from the power of the Holy Spirit within us. By rejecting obeisance to any earthly ruler and claiming God the Father alone as our King, we might have, at long last, the wherewithal to pick up the dusty mantle of the prophets. We might find it within ourselves to point to the place where the crowds gathered in Washington and cried out that justice finally roll down like mighty waters in this parched and arid land. We might open our eyes and see the president of the United States of America unleash tear gas upon his own peacefully petitioning citizens. We might witness him stride across the street to a church he’s never worshiped in, pick up a Bible he’s never read, and hold the pages of our sacred scriptures aloft for a photo op. We might, by the power of Holy Christ our Savior, find our tongues loosened enough and our hearts brave enough to call this out for what it is: utter, utter, blasphemy.