On Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2024, Americans will go to the polls to elect the president of the United States. Political disagreements have been a part of this country since its inception, but these conflicts have escalated over the last decade.
In large part due to the rising tensions, voter turnout has been at historically high levels in 2018, 2020 and 2022.
Why is there such a strong turnout when our country is so politically divided?
Pew Research Center leaned into this question in a recent comprehensive survey that identified widespread criticism of all three branches of government. Results of the survey of 13,000 Americans offer little surprise but should be of grave concern.
Both political parties, and their political leaders and candidates, are viewed with great skepticism by the American public at large, with 65% summarizing their view as exhausting and 55% feeling angry about the current political landscape.
Consider some of these findings:
- 63% of Americans surveyed said they have little or no confidence in the future of the U.S. political system.
- Only 16% of the public trust the federal government most or all the time, placing public trust near historic lows for the last 70 years.
- 28% stated they hold unfavorable views of both parties, and 25% explained they are not well-represented by either party.
- 63% currently view the emerged presidential candidates as dissatisfactory or underwhelming, and only 26% rate the candidates as good or very good.
- The majority of America support age and term limits for officials and the elimination of the Electoral College.
These tensions continue to lead to infighting against each other rather than working collaboratively to solve our nation’s problems.
As reported by Mark Wingfield back in September, former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee stated on his TBN talk show that if Donald Trump is kept from winning or running in the upcoming presidential election, it will be the last American election that is decided by ballots and not bullets. Conversely, former first lady and secretary of state Hillary Clinton said in a recent interview with The View that if Trump is elected in 2024, it would be the end of our country as we know it, comparing the former president to Hitler.
So, where is the church in this chaotic time in our history?
“How pastors and churches navigate the political turmoil will have a lasting impact on the mission of the church and the future of our country for decades.”
Unfortunately, many pastors, church leaders and denominational bodies remain involved in unhealthy and divisive ways. Cultivating and espousing a view of Christian nationalism, religious leaders are propagating a merger between American politics and Christian identities, which is manifested in many ways. Christian nationalism occurs demonstratively in events like the January 6 insurrection and in much more subtle actions such as the promotion of the teaching of the Bible in public schools and other places.
Over the next 12 months, how pastors and churches navigate the political turmoil will have a lasting impact on the mission of the church and the future of our country for decades.
Hence, I would encourage churches to pledge publicly their unwillingness to participate in the great divide, especially through the coming election cycle. I ask all pastors, elder boards, deacon bodies, church councils and other officials to write, share and publicly proclaim their commitment to avoid the dangers of Christian nationalism and to seek to preserve the peace of our country and the centrality of the gospel of Jesus, who never resorted to using the state as a way of compelling people to follow him or his teachings.
Here are some suggestions of things to pledge against:
- We will not use our position in the church to support or oppose a candidate or political party.
- We will not pray for a certain candidate to win the election, identify a particular candidate as God’s selection or advocate a view of divine providence on a candidate or political platform.
- We will not preach in a way that characterizes a particular politician as a messianic figure who advocates for the kingdom of God or demonize an opposing candidate.
- We will not allow candidates or their backers to fundraise at church worship services or events.
- We will not share ads for or against a politician, candidate or party in our worship videos, bulletins, announcements or other church publications.
- We will not distribute pamphlets, brochures or other materials put out by a political organization, party or candidate.
- We will not apply church funds to a political candidate, party or campaign.
- We will not instruct the congregation on who or what to vote for in the election.
- We will not sell or share our membership records with political organizations seeking to solicit voters.
- We will not loan or rent our church property to a political party or candidate for campaign events.
Here are some suggestions of things to pledge for:
- We will use our position in the church to encourage everyone who is able to exercise his or her right to vote according to the values and convictions of his or her conscience.
- We will pray for all our elected officials, regardless of who is elected, asking God to guide them with wisdom and discernment.
- We will focus our preaching on the revolutionary, counter-cultural, personal life of Jesus and the centrality of loving God and loving others, regardless of their political views.
- We will encourage a spirit of patriotism but oppose nationalistic ideology that advances America over the wellness of all human beings.
- We will strive to always use church funds for the expansion of the kingdom of God on earth in a way that reflects the values of heaven, recognizing the sovereignty of the king of kings above all human governments.
- We will maintain a spirit of worship toward God and not human beings in our services and in our action, which includes politicians, military personnel and other governmental employees.
- We will covenant to love each other in the body of Christ, regardless of each other’s political opinions.
- We will demonstrate covenantal love by talking about the issues of our time with respect and mutual kindness without resorting to mudslinging or defaming one another.
- We will advocate for the separation of church in the matters of the state and the separation of the state in the matters of the church.
- We will faithfully pay our taxes to the government as citizens of the United States and give our tithes and offering to the church as citizens of the kingdom of God.
- Regardless of the outcome of upcoming elections, we will rest in the presence and providence of God, seek to find our hope in the Lord and remain steadfast to walk in the ways of Jesus.
Certainly, this is not an exhaustive list. Create a statement that reflects your own concerns and convictions as the election cycle revs up. Share your statement in your small group, Sunday school class or Bible study. Post your statement on social media. Talk about it with friends and family.
The world outside the local church is watching how Christians speak, act and treat others. Our choices have a great impact on their desire to come in our doors or to retreat from them forever. For their sake if not for our own, let us avoid the temptation of trying to bring spiritual renewal to our country from the White House.
Instead, let us seek to revive our land by being the people of God who live out the values of God and who advance the kingdom of God the way Jesus did — by spending time, one-on-one, with people who need hope.
If Jesus the Christ is the Son of the Living God (as Peter proclaimed at Caesarea Philippi) then, as his followers, we must walk in his ways and be his incarnational presence in the world today.
How we navigate the upcoming election cycle will be one of the greatest influences on the future of our country and our churches. The hope for tomorrow will weigh not so much on the outcome of who is elected as how we choose to love our opponents and pray for those who persecute us. Will we reflect the nature of our Father in heaven?
The risk is great, but with it comes tremendous opportunity. Let us navigate the political climate of the upcoming election in a way that bends the knee to Jesus rather than Caesar.
Patrick Wilson has served as a pastor for 25 years in Dallas and Austin, Texas, and most recently in in Rolla, Mo., where he now leads a new community of faith, CrossRoads. He is a graduate of Baylor University, earned two master’s degrees at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a doctor of ministry degree from Logsdon Seminary.