A Church Divided
Politics is divisive. That has always been the case, but probably now more than ever. A common cause of tension between pastors and congregation members is a perception that a pastor does not strongly enough endorse a particular political position or takes the wrong political stance. The COVID pandemic has made this tension particularly acute in the last couple of years—political discussion has come into the church in the shape of disagreements on church closures, mask mandates, and vaccines. But it was present before and will be present after the pandemic. The 2016 and 2020 US elections were also points of tension, with Christians divided on who they should vote for.
What should you do if you differ with your pastor politically? What should you do if you differ with him strongly? I have read more than one Christian commentator argue that Christians should leave their church if a pastor takes or fails to take a particular stance.
As I currently live in Australia, I am not qualified to comment on US politics and how the church should operate there. But I grew up somewhere with arguably a more divided political scene than the United States—Northern Ireland. The intersection between the church and the political scene when I was growing up in the 1980s was acute. To be a Protestant Christian was to have a particular view of the relationship between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. Most Protestant Christians wanted (and still want) to remain part of the United Kingdom. Most Roman Catholics wanted to reunite with the Republic of Ireland. As such, Protestants saw the Christian political stance as wanting to remain part of the United Kingdom. For a church to deny or even downplay this desire was seen as tantamount to lining up with Roman Catholicism. Pressure was put on ministers to speak on this issue from the pulpit, to allow special services celebrating Northern Ireland’s British heritage, and to even display British flags in church.
Not every political issue is a primary issue.
Most pastors resisted saying things from the pulpit. However, what do you do about displaying flags in church and holding special services? To do so would make it very hard for any Roman Catholic ever to come into your church. Therefore, many pastors would not allow these things to occur in their churches—for the sake of the gospel.
My hope is that, if you have political differences with your pastor, that you will be understanding and see the complexity in the issues at hand. It is rare that there is absolute certainty on either side. Even if you have come to a firm conviction, you need to understand that your pastor may have other people in his ear telling him that he should take the other position. Sometimes it is a case of the pastor being a coward and failing to take a stand; other times he simply wants to care for people in the midst of a genuinely confusing world.
If you decide that for everyone’s sake it is better to leave the church—and you may—you should be godly in the way that you do it. But there is a case for letting some things go. Not every political issue is a primary issue. Suppose your pastor refuses to publicly call people to support a particular presidential candidate. Is that really a primary issue? Is that a reason to leave a church?
You may disagree with your pastor’s approach on a particular issue. He could be wrong. You could be wrong. It may be important enough to leave. It may not. In any case, the way to proceed is with grace, patience, and forgiveness.
This article is adapted from Fight for Your Pastor by Peter Orr.
What is going on when a disagreements affects your heart’s posture or hinders fellowship with another person in your church?
The gospel is entirely relational. Christ purchased for us peace with God and, through that peace, peace with one another.
What is wisdom? It’s a capacity of mind that combines the fear of the Lord with the skill of living in God’s created but fallen world in a way that yields justice, peace, and flourishing.
How should Christians think about political disagreements within the church and how much should politics be shared from the pulpit?