A couple of days ago, President Donald Trump met with a group of inner-city pastors to discuss policy (especially regarding the criminal justice system). Interestingly, most of the pastors present at this meeting were Pentecostal and Charismatic, and they praised the president during the meeting.
Here at PCPJ, we are deeply critical of President Trump’s policies. We have discussed many of them at length, and we even wrote (and I co-signed) a letter criticizing the president several months ago. In this article, I do not want to beat a dead horse and simply further criticize the Trump administration on policy. However, I do want to address a much larger issue — the baptizing of our partisan politics.
Throughout the last century, pastor and evangelist Billy Graham was called the “pastor to presidents” because of his regular meetings with leaders in Washington, D.C. While I do admire much of what Graham did, he helped normalize a political expression of Christianity in which our faith lines up with a specific political candidate or party. His son Franklin Graham is notorious for his support of the Republican Party, for instance. Throughout the 1980s, President Reagan had the enthusiastic support of Rev. Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, and Falwell’s son gave Trump enthusiastic support.
We have also seen progressive ministers give support to Democratic candidates, such as Rev. William Barber’s support for Hillary Clinton at the 2016 Democratic National Convention or Jim Wallis’ work with President Obama. Many of the pastors at the White House meeting continued this tradition.
Just as many early Christian, Pentecostal and Charismatic leaders criticized nationalism and patriotism, I think we must also take many of those same criticisms and apply them to partisan politics.
We must remember that as Christians, we confess Jesus Christ as Lord and King. He is the supreme authority over our lives, and he is the one who will return one day to establish his reign upon this earth. The Apostle Paul said, “our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). Peter and the other apostles stated elsewhere, “We must obey God rather than any human authority” (Acts 5:29).
Nations can become idols for us. We forget that what really matters is not where we are born, but who we serve. Likewise, the political parties that govern our nations can become idols. We can do exactly like some of the people mentioned above did and link our faith to one particular political party or movement. This, however, is extremely dangerous.
It should be obvious that this is dangerous to our faith. We should always confess that Jesus is Lord. If we confess another lord, we put our faith at risk. We lose sight of the upward calling that God has given us, and we settle for a temporary, earthly political faction. In addition, we come to see the other political factions as our enemies, even if there are Christians on the other side. We turn our brothers and sisters in Christ into enemies, and we fail to love both our neighbors and our enemies.
When we take a particular political movement and baptize it, we run the risk of becoming hypocrites of the worst kind. For example, we are consistently taught from the New Testament to be peace-makers and lovers of all people. What happens to those values when we endorse (uncritically) a political leader who does not share those values? What happens when President Bush bombs an innocent family in a drone strike by mistake? What happens when President Obama does the same, or President Trump? I have seen far too many politically-engaged Christians who are inconsistent on values. They will protest when one party or candidate does something against their values, but they will look the other way when their team is the one doing it.
The Kingdom of God is where our ultimate citizenship lies. There are many times when Kingdom-values do align with a particular political movement, and we should be sure to offer support when that happens. But if that movement later goes against Kingdom-values, we shouldn’t be afraid to offer prophetic criticism. It is that prophetic criticism that is far too often lacking in the contemporary Church. People then look on from the outside — and they see how we are cozying ourselves up to an earthly power for sordid gain — and it always turns people away from Jesus and away from the Church.
So, let is learn to do better. Let us recognize that Jesus is our Lord. He is our true President. His Kingdom is where our citizenship truly is. Political parties come and go, but the Kingdom of God abides forever.
Rev. Kevin R. Daugherty is a contributing editor for PCPJ and a mission developer/pastor for Unfailing Love (a mission of The Anthem Network) in Elizabeth, Pennsylvania. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice is a multicultural, gender inclusive, and ecumenical organization that promotes peace, justice, and reconciliation work among Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians around the world. If you like what we do, please join our Facebook forum, and sign up for our newsletter!