The Cold War proved to be a prodigious political and ideological confrontation. The spark of communism soon became a flame that ravaged through Poland, North Korea, Albania, Bulgaria, Romania, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, China, Tibet, North Vietnam, Guinea, Cuba, Yemen, Kenya, Sudan, Congo, Afghanistan, Grenada, Nicaragua and others.
The American-Soviet skirmish engaged in a war of words, political ideologies, and nuclear manufacturing — and people were terrified.
The Billy Graham of the 1950s reflected the political climate of that era. Vehemently anti-communist, Graham’s crusades across America in places like Los Angeles during the 1949 crusade displayed the preacher’s patriotism and political-centered messages.
In 1979, his focus changed from a visceral disdain for communism, to a dire warning in the wake of a nuclear war, and what it would mean for America, the Church, and the world. “He framed the Cold War as a moral conflict. It is evil versus good. It is godless communism versus a God-fearing America,” historian Frank Lambert says.
The relationship between church and state has been a fickle one, and 2020–21 has proved to be an affirmation of these dynamics.
In the midst of a global pandemic, social justice movements, bloated government institutions, gender revolutions, and ideological extremism — the political table has been set, and a chair has been offered to the Evangelical church.
Many church leaders say the Church is being far too political. Of course, secular leaders would say the same (not so kindly put) statement. Is the American Evangelical Church too political?
Matthew 38:19–29, in the Great Commission, gives us a clear framework for understanding the Gospel, the Kingdom of God, and the role of the Church in politics.
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
“All” that Jesus commanded includes everything that Christ taught in the four Gospels. The Gospel is not just about the forgiveness of sin and the transformation of the soul, but the transformation of the world.
Wayne Grudem said it best, that the “good news of the Gospel will result in changed lives, but Jesus wants that to result in changed families as well. And when the Gospel changes lives, it should also result in changing neighborhoods. And changed schools. And changed businesses. And changed societies. So wouldn’t ‘the Gospel’ also result in changed governments as well?”
If churches are to teach their people about God’s will for families, business, educating children — then the Church would have a Biblical mandate to teach about human government.
God established both the church and government to restrain evil. The government has not only failed to refrain evil but has become the very embodiment it was created to hold back.
Rev. Martin Luther King
During the mid-twentieth century, the Civil Rights movement was a powerful Christian-led movement that changed the course of history for the African American community, and all minorities.
Mainstream black churches were slow to engage in the movement, afraid of breaking relationships with whites in their communities. King himself was removed from his position as vice president of the Black Nation Baptist Convention, for having too “radical” of viewpoints.
On a cool Tuesday in 1961, while Rev. Martin Luther was sitting in a Birmingham jail cell, a collective of white ministers, including leaders in the Catholic, Episcopal, Methodist, Jewish, and Baptist faiths, called King “an outsider and an extremist.”
King responded with these words:
“But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.”
Powerful words from one of the most influential figures in the Church and American history.
The Church later went on to have significant influence and be the catalyst for racial equality in America — dismantling the social structures of segregation.
The Civil Rights Movement and the war of communism were seen as social, yes, but also very political in nature. It was going to take a political engine to fight for the rights of black men and women and to dismantle the appeal and influence of a Marxist shadow blowing across the globe.
The 21st-century Christian gazes upon those events, the influence of the Church, and applauds their efforts.
We seem to be entering a similar page in history. Like the white collective in the 1960s, the Church is split. Many believe the role of the Church is not to engage in politics; that the bride of Christ should focus on more lovely, peaceful, and productive spiritual matters.
My anthem to the naysayers and critics of a politically engaged Church would be this: when did Christ commission His Church to only seize the things that we found agreeable or comfortable?
Progressive Evangelicals champion the Church’s role in modern-day social justice movements. They light candles of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton like the Catholics do Mother-Mary. But, when the Church engages on other issues like parental rights, abortion, the pandemic, the economy, gender movements, and government oversight — labels like “bigot”, “hateful”, and “alt-right” flow like milk and honey.
Christ has not commanded the Church to preach what is easy, agreeable to culture, and tranquil. Jesus said it Himself when he said “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
In the Book of Acts, Paul talks about being innocent of blood by preaching the whole counsel of the Word of God. If the church is not willing to engage in hard conversations around culture and politics, then the church will be held responsible for what comes next.
Jesus said He came with a sword because the truth hurts. Each word of it is like a cut. The bride of Christ doesn’t need to be relevant, She needs to be real — even when it hurts.
Christ came to divide. He came to compel people to make a choice. The Church is at a pivotal moment. It’s divided. If we would get off our 20-foot podium platforms long enough to talk with our church, we would see that congregants are fearful for their families' future. They are terrified of government overreach and the corruption that plagues political institutions. These issues need a Biblical vision, a lens through which we are to see.
Affection and affirmation are not the foundation of love, truth is. In order to fully and wholly love someone, truth must be at the heart of it. Secularists and progressive Christians assume that if the truth is offensive, it must be prejudice or bigoted. Nothing could be further from the truth. Because God loves so deeply, He never leaves people where He finds them. The Church is to speak the truth. If it’s an offensive truth, it’s still true.
To the Christians that say the Church is too political, I would say it’s not political enough. I would take a page from Rev. King and say that if we don’t engage now, we will be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the 21st century.
If we are silent at this moment, we will have blood on our hands, and it will be coming from our own pews.