These are Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words. The entire quote is “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
I have been haunted by this quote lately. I see a lot of “evil” in the world, but some “evil” bothers me more than others. Perhaps the most bothersome “evils” I see in the world today would involve issues of the church. Foremost among them is when the church acts more like a political party than the bride of Christ. I have seen more discussion on issues of politics by “church folks” than most. I have seen many representing Christ, but caring about things that seem counter to the gospel message. I will get to these things in a moment.
Confession: I have tried to publicly remain silent on anything that could remotely resemble political rhetoric. For years I have seen the rhetoric, the divisiveness of political labels finding homes in the church. Personally, I think the church has no business being partisan or having visible political leanings. The good book tells the church to not allow unwholesome talk to come from our mouths, that the tongue is like a spark that can set a forest on fire and that we should avoid stupid, divisive arguments*. That last one may be a little subjective. Regardless, for me, this last election cycle has made it all the more difficult for me to remain silent.
The reason? Political leanings have become entangled with faith… in the worst of ways. It is no longer clear if faith influences politics or if politics influences faith. I feel the latter is more common today. This is the “evil” I am most concerned with.
A word on politics: These issues I will bring up have no stake in any political party or agenda, they have everything with the church and the witness it has been choosing to give. In fact, my denomination has a statement on this sort of engagement and I will do my best to remain within their framework for engaging with issues that could be seen as political. Here it is:
Do Nazarenes take official positions on social or political issues?
We express our opposition to underlying evils such as dishonesty (Leviticus 19:11; Romans 12:17), slander and vengeance (2 Corinthians 12:20; Galatians 5:15; Ephesians 4:30-32; James 3:5-18; 1 Peter 3:9-10), and sexual immorality (Exodus 20:14; Matthew 5:27-32; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Galatians 5:19; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-7). We also affirm our support for good actions, such as helping those in need (Matthew 25:35-36; 2 Corinthians 9:8-10; Galatians 2:10; James 2:15-16; 1 John 3:17-18), being courteous and helpful (Romans 12:13; Galatians 6:2, 10; Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:12-14; Titus 3:2; 1 Peter 2:17; 1 John 3:18), and honoring God (Exodus 20:3-6; Deuteronomy 5:7-10, 6:4-5; Mark 12:28-31).
The Covenant of Christian Conduct in the Manual of the Church of the Nazarene provides guidelines concerning Christian conduct on some specific matters. Rather than taking official stands, on most issues the Church of the Nazarene encourages its members to apply God’s principles and act accordingly. All Christians are promised God’s guidance when we truly seek it (John 16:13; 1 Corinthians 2:16; James 1:5).
For me, I am convicted to speak out against dishonesty, to abstain from slander and vengeance, to call out sexual immorality, and to do good by helping those in need. Above all, I seek to honor God with my actions, even if that means calling the church to redirect and align once again with His will.
Here It Goes
Political narratives and theology never seem to mix. This was further evidenced by this past presidential election cycle. I heard all sorts of disheartening words and deeds from people of faith. What I had never heard until then was the phrase “well I voted for the lesser of two evils” uttered by so many as they made public the candidate they voted for. That just doesn’t make sense, we are called to do good, not side with a lesser evil. I hate to break it to you, evil is evil. Saying “lesser” doesn’t change that. Never before have I seen such double standards implemented by people of faith. These people of faith, more accurately referred to as “Evangelicals” ended up having their voice heard above all else in the end. As a pastor, this isn’t some great feat I revel in. I don’t align with labels that are politically charged. I do my best to align with Christ alone, and Him crucified.
Evangelical once meant a person who proclaimed the truth of the gospel, who aligned with Christian teachings. I’m not sure that’s what it means anymore. Now, it seems to mean “Republican” or “Conservative” or maybe even “Trump supporter.” Don’t buy it? Take our last president, for instance. He was regularly attacked and critiqued by evangelicals, but now those same people speak of forgiveness, of having grace for our current president. I’m sorry people, that’s hypocrisy. That is political. That is a double standard. Both Obama and Trump have done similar things but Evangelicals have given completely different responses to the same actions (i.e. invading Syria). At first they condemn one president, then a couple years later they praise the other.
This is politics at its worst. Christians, Evangelicals, whatever you label yourself, you don’t get to pick and chose who gets forgiveness, favoring those who are in the same political party as you. That is just wrong.
If Obama Said “Grab them by the P***y” Evangelicals would have literally lost it!
But Trump is a Republican so it’s ok.
If Obama cheated on his wife with a porn star, Evangelicals would have called for his impeachment. They would have spoken all kinds of terrible things about his actions, about how horrible it is for our president to act in such a way. The truth is that Obama did nothing like that, but Trump did and instead of condemnation, evangelicals have rushed to his defense. I have seen pastor after pastor appearing on TV and speak about how we are a people who forgive, that Trump is a Christian and that God is working on him. Trump himself claims that he reads the bible more than anyone (I will be honest, I am more than slightly skeptical about that claim), so maybe some of it is sinking in? His actions speak differently…
You know what, maybe God is working on him, but that doesn’t let him off the hook. If anything, that means those of us who believe Jesus really meant what He said need to hold our President to an even higher standard. If our president claims that He reads the Bible more than anyone, I am going to hold him to that. More than that, I am going to call the church, Evangelical or not, to that same level of accountability, taking seriously the words of Jesus and living them out.
I am all for forgiving our president, for helping him reconcile if that’s what he seeks. What I am not ok with is the church rushing to one president’s defense because he is a Republican… especially since it spent eight years critiquing and condemning the last one because he was a Democrat.
How the church responds to leaders, especially those claiming to follow Jesus, reflects more on the church than the leader itself. We expect politicians to lie, to steal and to cheat, but we don’t expect the church to turn a blind eye out of political allegiance. We expect back door deals, and for politicians to sell their allegiance, but we don’t expect to see the church be in full support of these less than honest dealings.
That’s hypocrisy… that’s evil… that’s not how Jesus called the church to live.
Just this past week our President said that children of immigrants “aren’t innocent.” This was in light of the poor treatment immigrant children have been receiving under his administration. Stories of mother and child being separated at the border when seeking asylum and accounts of children being mistreated and abused have been surfacing on a regular basis. An article just came out today exposing how over 1,400 children have straight up been “‘lost” in the system. Are federal government may have actually been responsible for young children falling into the hands of sex traffickers. I don’t care which president implemented what border control policy, or what political party they are part of. This is evil. Destoying families is evil. Misplacing children, whether born in the USA or not, is evil. Letting children be abused based on where they were born… evil. In light of this evil our president responded in regards to the plight of the immigrant child saying:
As a person of faith, which our president claims to be, defending the abuse of children is inexcusable. Sure, you could say something about their status and as about whether they are illegals, but these cases are happening at the border. These families haven’t even made it into to country yet to break its laws. Many are simply seeking asylum, which is a legal option, and want a shot at a better life. Instead, because of a political agenda, their families are being destroyed, their children are being abused, and our leaders defend these injustices. What’s more, the church, or at least the Evangelicals in it, are defending these evils as well.
Now, for one reason or another, the issue of immigration has been the biggest for this administration. Border security has been a priority, safety our number one concern, “Making America Great Again” the mission statement…
but I ask at what cost…
Are we ok with children being abused in the name of border security? Is safety such an idol that we will turn a blind eye to evil and injustice? Are we so concerned with making this country great again that it becomes a literal idol, an obsession, that we must achieve this goal at all costs?? Has America become more important to us than our faith, than following the words of Jesus and taking them seriously? Why is it that Evangelicals are becoming more and more known for being the least compassionate people group in this country, especially when it comes to refugees and immigrants, despite how Jesus speaks of treating the needy and unloved?
Is the church called to take part in this type of politics? Or did Jesus say something else…
John 13:34 (CEB)
34 “I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other.”
For how much the Bible is brought up, for how often issues of faith are discussed by our leaders and their supporters, you would think Jesus’ own words would be taken more seriously. It’s not as if He said this sort of thing only once. He told His followers they would be known by how they loved, He told them to treat others how they wanted to be treated, to love their neighbor as themselves and that we must deny ourselves and remember that the first will be the last**.
That doesn’t sound like any political party I have ever heard of. It also flies in the face of the MAGA mentality I have seen of late. So let’s take a look at the churches stance on this issue for a moment. Again, this is not a political statement but is instead a statement about an issue made in light of a professed faith.
This was written a year ago by the leaders of my denomination in response to an executive order written to hinder immigrants and refugees access to this country:
In light of recent executive orders issued in the United States and decisions by other world governments regarding the status of refugees, the Board of General Superintendents for the Church of the Nazarene urges governments everywhere to quickly put into place systems whereby eligible and legitimate refugees can find refuge and safety in our countries. Further, we urge the President of the United States, Congress, and other state departments to make this temporary order a matter of urgency so that the United States may continue to be known as a nation of compassion and hospitality to those who are oppressed, vulnerable, and marginalized.
We echo our statement from November 2015, when significant global immigration in many nations compelled us to speak clearly and biblically to this challenging topic, inviting all Nazarenes to express Christian love to immigrants who live among us:
The Hebrew word, gēr, and the Greek word, xenos, can be defined as “immigrant.”
“If an immigrant dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. The immigrant who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:33–34, NKJV). Our Lord quoted, “Love him as yourself,” as part of the Greatest Commandment!
Jesus said: “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was an immigrant and you invited me in” (Matthew 25:35, NIV).
“Do not forget to show hospitality to immigrants, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels” (Hebrews 13:2, NIV).
While we recognize the complexity of immigration laws in various nations, the Board of General Superintendents calls on Nazarenes around the world:
To treat immigrants with love, respect, and mercy.
To participate sacrificially in local, national, and global compassionate ministry responses to assist refugees and immigrants.
To encourage their respective governments to approve equitable laws that will allow for family reunification, legal work permits for productive immigrants in the workforce, and pathways for undocumented immigrants to be able to obtain authorized immigrant status.
To follow the clear biblical mandate to love, welcome, assist, evangelize, and disciple the immigrants near us.
–Board of General Superintendents
This is what it looks like to deal with a political issue without getting political. This is what it looks like to be Christian first and foremost, and let your nationality take a backseat to your faith. This is what it looks like to take Jesus’ words seriously and put them into practice, despite any political ramifications that might take place.
One last note… for those who may dislike my critique… I am a fan of this country. I like freedom, I like hamburgers, and camping and all that other jazz that is “America.” What I don’t like is when the church chooses to be American first, letting a nationalistic allegiance decide and determine what its faith put into practice looks like. As a Christian, my allegiance is to the cross.
It’s simply idolatry, and I will no longer remain silent in light of that evil.
Until next time…
* Ephesians 4:26, James 3:5 & 2 Timothy 2:23
** John 13:35, Matthew 7:12, Luke 10:27-28 & Matthew 20:16