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Ministry in a Political Year

So what good is the church in an election year? If you don’t tell people how to vote (You can’t!) and you don’t advocate for a political party (You shouldn’t!), what exactly can and should you do?

Ignoring the election is not the answer. Yes, our primary mission is the gospel, but anytime the community is focused on a given issue, that issue becomes fair game for Christian teaching. The same is true of an election. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
Baptists, for example, have historically championed the cause of separation of church and state in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />America. What better time than an election year for a sermon or discussion series on what the separation of church and state means and how it works?
 
Because we’ve championed the idea of free citizens in a free state, we hold the electoral process in general and voting specifically to be important Christian values. That makes this an excellent time to talk about the importance of Christian involvement in politics.
 
Why not hold a nonpartisan voter-registration drive? Set a goal of every voting-age person in your church being registered. It’s biblical, after all. Romans 13 says, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.” In a democracy you and I are the governing authority. Therefore it’s incumbent upon us to do our part.
 
The next question, of course, if we are to be nonpartisan, is what do we do about the issues? This is one of those initiatives you should be careful to check with your governing board. If they’re willing, though, why not declare this your church’s “Year of the Christian Citizen?” Set out to help your members get the information they need to make good decisions.
 
If you’re in a large municipality, chances are the national candidates will be visiting and speaking at some point during the campaign. You might want to arrange to take a group from your church to hear each one. Protect nonpartisanship by making sure you go to hear candidates from both sides.
 
For local or state issues, you could even invite candidates from each party to speak to a special forum at your church. Your people are going to be trying to make up their minds anyway. Why not make sure they have the opportunity to receive quality input from competing points of view?
 
And, finally, teaching Christian values is always fair game, even when those values impinge upon election issues. Election-year studies on “Christians and International Politics,” or “Christians and Labor Issues” might help your people learn to think clearly about the policies they wish to support. This Web site provides an excellent source of a number of ethical studies which would enrich discussion in your church.
 
This is also an excellent time to talk about the importance of Christian civility in public discourse. The vast majority of churches have members from across the political spectrum. Use a study guide like “Talk Right” to help them think through how to talk with one another, even when they disagree.
 
There’s no reason why your folk shouldn’t end up both better citizens and better Christians this November.
 
Ron Sisk is professor of homiletics and Christian ministry at North American Baptist Seminary in Sioux Falls, S.D.