Politics, and a
Politics and the Art of Not "Throwing Shade" on the Gospel
By Sean J. Warren
“And they call themselves a ‘Christian’ school!” my friend Carl muttered under his breath with a heaping dose of disdain and contempt, shaking his head as we exited the gym.
We had just traveled across Phoenix to watch our high schoolers play against the Christian school in the area. For context, it’s important to note Carl (not his real name) is not a believer, and our kids go to a public school, not a Christian one.
The basketball game had an unusual start. One of their players prayed before tip-off, something about honoring God and protecting everyone. I remember thinking about the unbelieving players on our team during the prayer, including a Hindu, atheist, and Mormon. I was sitting front and center in the visitor’s section as usual.
It is my daughter’s senior year, and I love watching her play. (Have I mentioned she has been captain for the last three years?)
It wasn’t long until our collection of magnet-school nerds was dominated by the other stronger, quicker team. They pressed us, ran up the score, and played superior basketball. Their team has some real talent. To this point, all was good. Our girls know how to lose; it’s not the first time, to be sure. It was what happened during the second half of the game that created, what I would call, an unfortunate moment.
The coach kept his starters in, pressed the entire game, didn’t rotate in bench players, ran up the score to a 40-point lead, didn’t run out the clock at the end of the game, and even tried to score on the last play. For a bit of extra spice, a group of eight students sitting behind our bench taunted our players on every missed shot or foul.
This was the context of Carl’s comment: “And they call themselves a ‘Christian’ school.”
Over the next couple of weeks, Carl’s words rattled around in my head. And God, in His curious ways, had us playing that team again, this time at our place. Once again, I took up residence on the front row and wondered if I would watch a sequel. Indeed, the sequel took place. This bothered me. I guess I had been trying to make excuses for their previous behavior, that maybe it was a “one off” game. Surely, this wasn’t the team’s DNA. I was wrong.
After the game was over, while waiting for the next to start, the winning coach walked over and sat down in the visitors’ section. As warm-ups began for the next game, I felt compelled to talk to him, Carl’s words still fresh in my mind.
I asked if I could talk for just a moment; he obliged. I sat down, introduced myself, and told him I was a pastor at a church in our community. I asked if he was a Christian. Upon confirmation, I told him my daughter played for our team, and that I wanted to tell him how his team was being “interpreted” by the (largely unbelieving) fans and players of our school. I expressed concern about pressing, keeping starters in, running up the score, not running out the clock, and taunting.
To his credit, he listened. To my credit, I did not become condemning or preachy. I simply said, “You may not be intending to communicate something through those actions, but those actions are being interpreted regardless, and it’s not good.”
I pointed toward the home section where my friend Carl sat and told the coach I had been witnessing to Carl for years, building that relationship. Then I shared Carl’s gut-level reaction: “And they call themselves a ‘Christian’ school.”
The coach humbly extended a sincere apology, multiple times.
In retrospect, I guess I wasn’t looking for an apology. I was looking for understanding and hopefully a change in heart reflected in behavior modification, namely, a coach running a team like Jesus would if He were drawing up the plays. A team that seemed out of context in a world of “crush your opponents,” “it’s all about me,” or “win at any cost.” I don’t know if anything will change, but I felt compelled to follow through with what the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit was telling me to do.
I believe these courtside moments to be analogous to how the unbelieving world looks upon believers when we become too aggressive in our political playbook, relentlessly pressing in on all the issues, outwardly praying for God’s involvement in the hearts of the men and women of our nation, while inwardly or even outwardly taunting from the sidelines the people on the “other” team.
So, how do we guard ourselves from becoming an inadvertent tool in the hands of the evil one during this contentious, partisan, and polarized time in our nation? Colossians 4:2-6 shares some valuable guidance: “Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving; withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds: that I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak. Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time. Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.”
Be Prayerful (verse 2). Paul tells us to be steadfast in this. It’s hard to demonize someone when you are praying for them. Question: When is the last time you prayed for the politician you like the least? Have you lifted up Donald Trump or Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff or Mitch McConnell before the throne of God in all of their brokenness and yours? If you are doing this consistently, you will not speak in a cutting way toward them. You are serving them by praying for them, and this can only happen when you are thinking sincerely about things of eternal worth and value. Remember, God has allowed them to be where they are (Romans 13:1), He created them, and we would be smart to remember God himself has created them in His image. Let’s not mock His handwork.
Seek Opportunities for the Gospel (verse 3). Paul was seeking an opportunity, an open door to declare the mystery of Christ. Last year, my church asked me to go to Capitol Hill and lobby on behalf of Africa’s poor, as it relates to foreign aid allocations in our national budget. I met with congressional staff, congressmen, and even a senator. The senator I met with is liberal by anyone’s standards.
The week before I was to go to D.C., a friend of mine (who didn’t know about the trip) posted something offensive about the senator on my Facebook page and asked me a question about her. I remember thinking, “If I engage in useless banter or belittle her, what would I do if she saw the exchange and read the comments.” The very thought of being face-to-face with her changed my behavior. If a door for the gospel is presented, I don’t want to walk through the door with muddy shoes and “dirty up the carpet.”
Think of the “Outsiders” and Be Gracious (verses 5-6). Paul instructed the church to “walk in wisdom toward outsiders” and “let your speech be always gracious.” This is a game changer! If you and I could master this one, oh the things that would change around us, the doors that would open, the conversations we would have, the honor it would bring to God. The unbelieving world, the “outsiders,” expect something different from us, and we are charged by God to provide something different to them. Just. Be. Gracious.
One of my fellow pastors, Jeremy Olimb, has political views that differ from mine. Our dialogue has shaped me and made me a more compassionate person. He recently listed five important guidelines for this politically charged season. (Thanks, Jeremy!)
All of life is all for Jesus, even my political life.
The right thing is always worth fighting for but never with the wrong weapons.
Feel free to disagree but never to dehumanize.
My team is rarely as virtuous as I want, and their team is rarely as monstrous as I claim.
There is no King but Jesus, and he hasn’t endorsed my candidate.
A few weeks later, I added the following to Jeremy’s list:
Our politics should never cast shade on the Cross we attempt to hold high. If people see us as political first, Jesus is in the wrong position—at least in that moment—in our lives.
We have a growing need for Christians to be peacemakers in a polarized culture of partisanship. I believe this can be done without capitulating on my own political positions.
Not every policy position that differs from mine is a moral difference to be vilified (although some are). Good people can think differently on complex and nuanced matters. It’s also important to listen to people who think differently.
For the Christian, metered responses, with a heaping spoonful of humility, will always serve us well. In fact, boldness in our beliefs combined with humility in our responses is a powerful combination that
reflects biblically-based convictions without stepping on the gospel.
About the Writer: Sean Warren is communities pastor at
Redemption Church in Gilbert, Arizona. An award-winning photographer and storyteller, Sean has served as international missions director for General Baptist Ministries and as a missionary to France with IM, Inc. Sean and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona. Visit www.seanjwarren.com.
Guidelines for Gracious Social Media Behavior
One of the places believers are most likely to send mixed messages is social media. A few years ago,
I established some simple guidelines and questions for interacting with others online:
How does the unbelieving world view and interpret any post I make?
The power comes in asking the questions, not in the answers you provide. By asking questions, you frame the dialogue and help people think.
Intentionally develop a diverse group of friends and occasionally ask directly how to interpret or understand an issue, especially if their view counters most of your church friends.
Ask questions out of a desire to understand. Be teachable.
Compliment sincerity, even when you don’t agree with a response.
Never argue. If people respond critically, gently reaffirm that you appreciate honest dialogue with civility.
Don’t always swim in the deep end of the pool. Remember to balance the heavy with the light.
My personal slogan: “I’m not telling you what to think, but that you need to think.”
Limit opinion. It is better for someone to say, “Hey, Sean, what do you think?” than for everyone to know my opinion already.
Keep the gospel clearly in sight and be willing to be misunderstood. Don’t respond in anger; be willing to send private messages to clarify your statements if needed.
Be quick to admit you are wrong or learn something new. You can never go wrong with humility.