The flood of articles predicting what's going to happen in 2012 has begun, so I thought I would throw in a small-church perspective.
With Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman running for the Republican nomination, Mormonism has moved into the public consciousness, Warnock observes. (Left photo: Gage Skidmore)
Interestingly, I think 2012 will bring us to a unique intersection of faith and politics.
Here are the top five issues your members will be discussing in 2012:
Religious pluralism. Your members may not use that phrase – "religious pluralism" – but their conversations will be sprinkled with talk about the rise of other, non-Christian religions in the United States.
With Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman running for the Republican nomination, Mormonism has moved into the public consciousness.
Do we take the position that Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, took when he publicly labeled Mormonism a "cult"? Jeffress was condemned roundly for his intolerance by other Republicans.
Your members will want to know about Mormonism – particularly if Romney is the Republican nominee. Of course, Muslims are also a hot topic as Christians struggle to understand how we should love our neighbors, some of whom wear hijabs.
Extremism. Many in media acknowledge that the popularity of conservative talk radio and TV news commentary has moved the country further to the right than it has ever been.
Extreme views are now becoming mainstream views. Some of your members will applaud the rhetoric about arresting sitting judges, isolating our nation from international conflicts and ending entitlement programs.
Ron Paul's blatantly racist 20-year-old newsletters will continue to be an issue. Some will see no problem with them while others will believe those views disqualify him from nomination.
Extreme views are often fear-based and designed to get media attention, but they find resonance in the frustrations of those who feel marginalized. As church leaders, our task is to let the Gospel inform our civic dialogue.
Social economics. This year, politicians are not only touching the previously untouchable "third rails" of Social Security and Medicare, some are proposing ripping them up.
Churches need to have conversations about the role of government and the local church in caring for the poor, hungry, sick and incarcerated.
Matthew 25 might be a good place to start because Jesus has some pretty harsh words for those who do not care for the "least of these."
The question for Christians is not should those on the margins of society be helped; the question is how and by whom. Your members will have a variety of opinions, and all of them strongly held.
Immigration. Alabama, Georgia, Arizona and other states have passed tough anti-immigration laws.
But in Alabama and Georgia, farmers are complaining that their laborers have left the state out of fear.
How does the story of the Good Samaritan square with the actions of these states and of popular opinion?
Some of your members may want to "fence them out," but the Bible does have a great deal to say about "the stranger within your gates." Balancing the rule of law and Christian hospitality can be tricky business.
Hierarchy of beliefs. In 2012, evangelicals will face the challenge of having to rank their beliefs in a hierarchy of importance when making political choices.
Which is more appealing to evangelical Christians – voting for a candidate who has been faithful to his marriage vows but who is a Mormon (or liberal Christian in Barack Obama's case); or, electing a repentant serial adulterer and former evangelical-turned-Catholic?
Of course, I'm not the first to point out the contrast between Romney and Gingrich, and some evangelical leaders have made their choices public.
But, there are other areas in which we are being forced to choose one value over another, and these cut across party lines.
For example, is President Obama's use of drones to assassinate individual terrorists more or less acceptable than using U. S. troops in traditional combat roles, both of which result in loss of life?
Does the sanctity of life extend from the issue of abortion to capital punishment, or is a convict's life not included in that which is sacred?
Your members will want to know if some of our Christian values should take precedence over other values when making decisions.
These five issues provide church leaders with opportunities for discussion and Bible study.
Of course, these are hot-button issues and emotions can run high even in church conversations, so tread carefully.
But if we do not offer our members the resources to explore these issues in order to make decisions informed by their faith convictions, then we are missing an important opportunity.
Chuck Warnock is pastor of Chatham Baptist Church in Chatham, Va. He blogs at Confessions of a Small-Church Pastor, where this column first appeared.