By Chester Hitchcock, 08/14/2017

Should pastors preach sermons that seem politically charged or should they avoid any topics that may lean toward one political view over another? There is an old maxim that suggests that friends, if they wish to remain so, should avoid conversation about religion or politics.

Clearly, friends might strongly disagree on either topic and still remain friends, but friendship can certainly be jeopardized when religion or politics become a major point of conversation.

If pastors could speak, maybe Adventist church members would be less influenced by the religious beliefs of those who may eventually persecute them, and more influenced by pastors who encourage people to cast votes for those who stand up for grace and mercy.

So where does that leave Christians who want to maintain friendships and still share their faith? Where does that leave evangelism and witnessing? Is it okay to risk a friendship for the sake of religion and salvation but not for political issues? Initially we might answer “yes”. But is it really possible to share our faith and totally avoid our political views?

Seventh-day Adventists have always included an element of politics in our understanding of last day events. Traditional Adventist evangelism usually includes prophetic applications regarding some form of a “New World Order.” When pressed about that new order, proponents generally speak of a time when the government will be manipulated by leaders who persecute those who worship God differently from what the government permits. Isn’t that political? Is it possible to totally separate our religion from politics

Nikolaus Satelmajer wrote this in Ministry magazine:

“Government has a legitimate function to perform… providing a safe environment for their people.  The church also has a legitimate function to perform.  While the church needs to have the freedom to fulfill its mission, it should not depend on government to do this. When the church depends on the government to accomplish its mission, the function of the church is compromised.  If the church is faithful to God, the mission will be fulfilled.” (Colliding Spheres of Church and State, 2007).

There are several points worth considering from this quote, as well as in today’s political and religious environment.

First, it seems that Adventists may have entered into a government dependence regarding some of our local schools. Due to a sharp decrease of Adventist children attending our schools, many schools have closed, and others are on the brink. However, if an Adventist school is located in a state that offers a state voucher system, that school may be growing—with non-Adventist children. These voucher systems cover the tuition of children so that they may attend any school of choice. On the surface this may appear to be totally positive, but as suggested in the Satelmajer quotation, one must ask if we have unintentionally compromised our mission and put our faith more in government than God.

This leads to a second point. Have we become so focused on a particular prophetic interpretation of government intrusion that we fail to recognize how prophecy might be fulfilled in ways that differ from our traditional views?

Remember, 1 Corinthians 13: 9 tells us that we “prophecy in part…” In other words, we don’t have it all figured out! We could be preaching prophecy seminars that warn of a time when our government would force religious demands upon Sabbath keepers, while we are totally unaware of the steps that lead there.  

For example, how do Christian churches and pastors navigate the challenges of politics and religion in the culture of our time? On May 4, 2017 President Donald Trump signed an executive order allowing churches to support or denounce political candidates as well as those in office, without fear of losing their tax-exempt status.  

Regardless of whether or not a president can grant this kind of permission, there have always been plenty of voices heard in churches about politics and politicians. If pastors try to walk a tight-rope and avoid comments that may endanger the tax-exempt status of their church, church members still get indoctrinated. This happens while members share their personal views as seen on Sabbath morning when political conversations are often bold and opinionated. Many Christians support one candidate over another based on a Christian standard promoted in Christian media. Whether we like it or not, many Christians form a political opinion based on hearing from everyone except the pastor assigned to their congregation.

As mentioned earlier, Seventh-day Adventists have long believed and taught that there will come a time when government will interfere in our religious liberty. We have also taught that the government that does this will be very influenced by those claiming to stand for Christian beliefs. Wow! Have we thought about how that applies to the political/religious rhetoric being touted in Christian media?  

In a recent editorial note in Liberty magazine, editor Lincoln Steed wrote:  

“. . .this magazine has long cautioned that the Evangelical agenda, at least since the 1970s, has, in seeking a political solution to moral problems, risked the very safety afforded by a separation of church and state. . . Narrow religious entitlement and conflation of state and a religious viewpoint have a poor track record for freedom.”  (May/June 2017 p.9).

Ironically, what I hear from many of my church members is a view of Christianity that is more aligned with the Evangelical religious right than with an understanding of prophecy that predicts persecution by a religious government.

I understand the concern of secularism. But it is because of the fear of our country becoming more and more secular, that I often hear many in my churches pining for the good old days when Christianity was more a part of the American lifestyle than it is today.  However, an article in Christianity Today made a sobering admission regarding those days.

“Fifty years ago Christians comprised the mainstream in America and were fully accepted as a cultural majority.  Many during that time did not stand up for those who were weak and marginalized.  The “good ole days” so often longed for were also times of racial oppression and gender discrimination and theological confusion.  So, pining for those “moral” days of yore is like chasing a mirage.  The past simply wasn’t that great for many when Christians had more influence.” (Christianity Today, June 6, 2013 Prop. 8 Dogma and the Christian Response).

When I read statements like this I am ashamed of what has been done in the name of Christianity. I may share many of the concerns that other Evangelicals have regarding the world we live in, but those of us who remember that era might ask ourselves what the country would look like if Christians once again became the majority.

Luke 19 tells the story of when Jesus came into Jerusalem, riding a donkey. The people were shouting “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord.”  The religious people who worshipped the One True God told Jesus to silence His disciples, but Jesus told them; “If they remain silent, the stones will immediately cry out.” Oh how the religious people must have hated to hear such a rebuke.

If the article in Christianity Today is accurate, perhaps God has been using the rocks to cry out due to the failure of His disciples to liberate the people they should have liberated 50 years ago.

Could it be that the rocks are the only ones crying out? Could it be that secular people are more accepting of others than many who claim to be the followers of God? Those who believe and behave differently from Christians are still often judged harshly, criticized, and condemned without mercy, while finding mercy only among those who don’t believe in God.  Have you ever heard a rock cry out? Listen to what is being said by some who make no claim of godliness. Their acceptance and respect for fellow human beings can sometimes surprise us.

Listen to what is being said by some who make no claim of godliness. Their acceptance and respect for fellow human beings can sometimes surprise us.

I am not suggesting that secularism is preferable to Christianity. Nor am I suggesting that we have nothing in common with other Evangelicals.  Nevertheless, according to Adventist eschatology (last day events) we have more to fear from a government that merely sounds Christian than we do from a government that remains secular but continues to seek equality for all citizens, regardless of their beliefs.

Thus, the third point that I want to consider. We are a church that has long recognized an end-time government that exhibits a perverted view of Christianity and persecutes fellow Christians. And yet, many of our members don’t see the prophecy unfolding before their very eyes. Instead of supporting a political candidate that seeks liberty for all, regardless of religion, race, or gender, many Adventists have supported a leader who is willing to banish a particular religious group, mock the disabled, degrade women, and align himself with white supremacists.   

Meanwhile, the Christian Right (Evangelicals) are defending such a leader and Adventist pastors are supposed to only address political issues when the Pope is involved. One must ask if many Adventist members have forgotten about prophecy, or if prophecy truly is only recognized when it involves the Papacy.

Maybe it is time for Adventist pastors to point out the prophetic fulfillments of our time, even if it means jeopardizing our tax-exempt status. On the other hand, since President Trump’s May 4 executive decision, we may not have as much to be concerned with tax-exempt status as we do with helping our members reach a deeper understanding and recognition of last day events.

Tampering with the separation between church and state by allowing churches to support or denounce political candidates without fear of losing their tax-exempt status may very well be setting us up for religious persecution. However, as a pastor I often wish I had more freedom to give my opinion regarding politics and politicians. If pastors could speak, maybe Adventist church members would be less influenced by the religious beliefs of those who may eventually persecute them, and more influenced by pastors who encourage people to cast votes for those who stand up for grace and mercy—even if grace and mercy is only being heard coming from secular rocks.


 

Chester Hitchcock is a pastor in the Ohio Conference

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