In an election year, political strategy is an important topic. You have to determine the right path to take to accomplish a certain goal, whether it is an election victory or to pass a piece of legislation. Political strategy is also important for articulating the message that will be used that will define an election or the reason for a legislation’s passage.
Political strategy is great for politics. Unfortunately, the practices of our partisan election process continually finds its way into the life and ministry of the church. Too often, the church takes on and uses the same words, strategies, and practices that define our partisan world.
Especially in the United Methodist Church, which is my denomination, I have noticed a trend where political strategies have defined the engagement of various groups in attempting to accomplish different agenda items. This is true of evangelicals and progressives. These practices work well in an election year, but have no place in the church.
For too long, the church, regardless of its denomination, has been too interested in making disciples of the Church of the Republican Party or the Fellowship of the Democratic Party. The same talking points, strategies, and arguments that have led to a polarized political landscape too often find their way into the church’s theological and practical engagement.
This leads to a broken and fractured church. Speaking strictly about the United Methodist Church, the utilization of political strategies and rhetoric have created a sense of distrust throughout the denomination. This was evident at General Conference and it has been on display, in some cases, during this week’s Jurisdictional Conferences. When we are defined more by political realities and theory instead of the reality of Jesus Christ’s love and grace, we pave the way for bitterness, brokenness, and resentment.
It may make for great political theatre, but political strategies make a poor witness of the Christian truth. A campaign may thrive by using class warfare tactics and offensive language, but it makes for poor theology in the church. A politician may be elected by announcing his or her victories against an opponent, but it causes divide and separation in the church. A political group may succeed in calling the other side “evil,” but it destroys the body of Christ.
We are all guilty of this – old and young, clergy and laity, left and right. We all must repent of how we have led the church to be more political than theological. No one is immune from the blame.
As leaders in the church, let us move away from being like the world and our obsession with being a representation of our favorite political theory. Let us embrace the difficult call of being Christ followers, who express the truth in love with compassion and desire to lead the entire church to the mountain tops of faith.