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4 Ways to Handle Political Tensions in Your Church

Raise your hand if you thought the political tensions within your congregation would subside after the November election?

Think again. Those tensions have simply morphed, creating a different focus.

Post-election, the tension centers around our biblical mandate to pray for all duly elected officials, including our new president, while reserving the right to call out those elected officials when they depart from the way of justice and decency.

For almost 20 years, I have pastored a church in a state capital. In fact, our church is located just a few blocks from the Missouri Capitol building.

Like most Baptist churches, ours is very diverse politically.

I remember one Sunday about 10 years ago, I looked out over the congregation and saw the sitting governor’s chief of staff in his usual balcony pew, while on the floor level directly beneath him sat the campaign manager for the person running to unseat that governor. Just another day at the office.

These political polarities are not new. Jesus’ band of disciples included Simon the Zealot, committed to overthrowing the Roman occupation, and Matthew, who collected revenue for that same oppressive regime.

When the Apostle Paul instructed Timothy to give thanks for kings and all in authority and to pray for them (1 Timothy 2:1-2), no one imagines that Paul was a fan of the emperor or of his policies.

Nevertheless, intercessions for those in secular leadership were commanded – and they still are. Praying for an elected official does not equal endorsement of his or her policies.

As we anticipate President-elect Trump’s inauguration and the launch of new legislative sessions, both statewide and nationally, I humbly offer a few suggestions:

1. Stay balanced.

On the Sunday after Donald Trump’s election victory, our congregation prayed for those who felt marginalized by the election results and for our president-elect – including, of course, prayers for others who would be assuming office soon.

We also prayed that we might move forward as a nation and find ways to work together.

2. Focus on values, not personalities.

If our political leaders are drawing us into a time of distrust and fear, who better than Christ’s church to step into that darkness and announce the light?

Without ever mentioning a person’s name, we have the opportunity each Sunday to announce God’s liberating love that is for everyone, not just people like us. We have an opening to talk about welcoming the stranger and caring for those pushed aside.

Every time the church gathers, we are privileged to announce the values of God’s ever-coming kingdom. And if our proclamation of God’s good news happens to shine brightly against the backdrop of dingy and nasty political realities, all the better.

3. No matter what occurs, let’s model humility and kindness.

Harshness of speech, inflexible positions, overgeneralizations, prejudging a person based on previous experience – these unfortunately describe both ends of the political spectrum at times.

A gracious spirit actually positions us better for the future when our conscience leads us to confront individuals or enter public protest. When those lean times come, we can spend some of that built up capital of goodwill.

4. Expect pushback and be ready to engage personally when it occurs.

By engaging personally, I mean face to face, not via social media. It’s not a question of if, but when, someone will confront your pastor or other church leaders about being too political.

Expect it and welcome the opportunity for dialogue. Remain curious. Listen carefully.

In a world full of people shouting at one another, why can’t the church of Jesus Christ be the one place where difficult, honest and sometimes awkward conversations can take place?

In a culture of either/or, why can’t believers demonstrate both/and? Both praying for elected leaders and speaking truth to power.

This is not new territory for Baptists. We were born amid such political tensions and actually survived quite well without the endorsement of the prevailing empire.

Perhaps the absence of common political ground in our churches is a gift in disguise. That absence will drive us deeper to our true common ground – the person of Jesus Christ.

Doyle Sager is the senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Jefferson City, Missouri.

Editor’s note: This article is part of a series of articles about the inauguration of President-elect Trump, focused on the importance of praying for the new president (and all elected officials), honoring their election and engaging respectfully our representatives.

Previous articles in the series are:

Praying for Your Elected Officials: A Subversive Idea

The Most Powerful Thing You Can Do for POTUS