Editor’s Note: Jonathan Leeman is an elder at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., editorial director of 9Marks, and author of several books, including Political Church: The Local Assembly as Embassy of Christ’s Rule (Bio as it appears at The Gospel Coalition). His response to a pastor who is wondering “how can the gospel show a better way” during the current political unrest in the U.S. from both outside and inside the church begins below.
A pastor writes:
Members of my congregation are increasingly hostile and mistrusting of one another after the election, especially online. What is my responsibility as a pastor, and how can the gospel show a better way for our polarized culture if we can’t honor one another in our own churches?
That’s a great question. I trust most pastors and Christians believe the gospel is big enough to reconcile and to unify. It’s easy to say, “We’re Republicans and Democrats together for the gospel!” But living together amid our partisan differences is like eating a spoonful of pudding with gravel hiding inside. It looks sweet at first glance, but put it in your mouth and you’ll break your teeth.
I’m not going to Pollyanna you. Maintaining gospel unity amid political disagreement is hard.
It’s hard because politics, by its nature, deals with questions of justice, and the gospel requires us to care about justice. So if one member’s conscience tells him that a certain party, candidate, protest event, or slogan represents an injustice, while another’s conscience says the party/candidate/slogan represents justice, it will be difficult for either to back down.
It’s hard because political engagement nearly always involves making alliances with groups of people who don’t agree on everything. So any given party, candidate, protest event, or even slogan probably represents a conglomeration of issues, three of which might be biblically good and three of which might be biblically reprehensible. Can a Christian get behind the cause for the sake of the good things, especially if no other candidate, party, protest event, or slogan represents those good things?
And maintaining unity amid political disagreement may get harder. The more our culture looks to government to solve our problems and be our savior, the higher the culture-war stakes will become on both sides.
Certainly, our church on Capitol Hill has felt its share of political tensions. Here are 16 things the pastors or elders try to do to help maintain unity.
1. Preach expositionally.
If you’ve trained your congregation on topical sermons, I dare say they’re going to be more accustomed to your personal and ideological formulations. As such, throwing in a politicized sermon or two won’t startle them. It will sound like what they usually get—a topical sermon.
If, however, you’ve trained them on weekly biblical exposition, forays into partisan politics will alarm them. And that discomfort is good….