1.25.2011

On Church and Public Policy : What is the Churches Role?

So in all honesty, part of my decision to attend law school is born out of my dissatisfaction with the ability of the church to effect real change.  I'm probably a little jaded in this area, but I think statistics concerning behavior of church attenders and non-church attenders would back me up.

That said, in-spite of everything, I believe in the church.   I love the church, and despite my reservations, I know that it can be a change agent in the culture and in public policy.


So what is the churches role?  I do think that in many respects the church has a separate and distinct mission.  But at the same time, the ultimate aims of public policy and church often overlap.  What follows are several ways I think that churches can contribute to the health of their communities by contributing to the dialog on public policy in constructive ways.


Promote Healthy, Respectful  Dialog – Churches offer communities one of the few places left for people to learn about and talk with people from different backgrounds or with whom they disagree. When this is done in a respectful, and life giving way, it breaks down walls and creates a greater sense of community and intimacy for that church.  In contrast, avoiding difficult conversations or pretending there is no issue only builds walls.  This kind of growth in the faith community can then have a leavening effect on the surrounding culture as people take their increased respect and love for “the other” into the community, including the political arena.

Teach Biblical Principles   The Bible has a lot to say about aliens and sojourners, hospitality, love for friends, neighbors and enemies, and a host of other Biblical principles such as: justice, mercy, the role and authority of rulers, and consequences for unjust laws.  One can teach broadly in a non-partisan manner that promotes dialog or apply these principles to a specific conviction on a specific public policy issue.

Advocate When Appropriate – When a Pastor, church, or faith community comes to a conclusion or a conviction on issues of justice and mercy as they relate to a specific policy position, they can and should take their conviction into the public arena, advocating for justice and mercy, often on behalf of those who have no voice.  However, this should be done thoughtfully and carefully.  This should flow out of the conviction of a faith community that has come about through thoughtful prayer and dialog, not one person’s agenda.  While there are prohibitions on endorsing specific political candidates for churches that want to maintain their non-profit status, (proactively forgoing this potentially coercive policy is always an option) there is no prohibition on taking stands on issues of morality in public policy.

The Gospel and Public Policy – Do politics distract from the heart of the gospel or the mission of the church?  It depends largely on how one defines the gospel and the mission of the church.  If these things are defined in relationship to Jesus and his purposes here on earth, one may want to consider the following: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18-19

            This passage does not necessarily mean that a church should wade into each and every public policy battle.  In fact, it probably should not.  John Howard Yoder, a prominent pastor and theologian who has thought deeply about issues in church and state, suggests that churches should not say anything if it does not flow out of a clear, lived out conviction, or offer something new to the conversation.  But, when public policies limit a community’s ability to hear the gospel, that is worth weighing in on.

            Love for God, love for neighbor and the pursuit of justice, mercy and reconciliation are at the heart of the gospel.  If a public policy impacts any of these mandates, then it may very well be fair game and within the mission of a given church to engage on that issue, and in fact, not doing so may be the bigger moral failure.  Too often in history we see the church standing on the side line, local pastors unwilling or unable to address THE issues of their day.  The most prominent examples of which are the systematic extermination of the Jews in Nazi Germany or the experience of Black Americans in this nation, both of which were "Christian" nations.

            In conclusion, churches should not be overly political.  When they do engage on a certain point, it should flow out of the conviction of the community arrived at through respectful and life giving dialog.  However, a church should remain abreast of the issues and continually thinking critically about how these public policy debates impact the proclamation of the gospel and the churches ability to reflect the Kingdom of God.  To that end, churches should promote dialog on the issues, teach Biblical principles and their application to public policy in some cases, and should advocate for or against policies that the community believes impact the Gospel and their reflection of the Kingdom of God.

11 comments:

David Baxley said...

I want you to know, I think public policy and the church go hand in hand. I believe the church should be active in this process. I don’t believe in "the separation of church and state" as many want to apply it. I think the government should stay out of church but the church should be in the government. The government, in a simple form, is the regulator of morality. If the church is the holder of moral empowerment (which I believe it is) then they should be active in advocating things that will help that. However I come back to this. The role of government can only go so far and be successful. The church has failed over this past century but in centuries past it had been hugely successful in America and politics (along with some failures as well). Where it failed was when it was the government (dark ages). The church should be about what James and Jesus talk about. Government should create policy that empowers that. Government should not be doing it. Not because it is wrong but because they can’t long term do it well and they are to corrupt. Yes a church can be corrupt. But one church might be, so then the other two down the street are not. But the government cannot be divided that way so easily.

The church should be a part of the creating of policy and moral direction of its nation so that the nation is empowered to experience the freedom Christ offers and that knowledge comes through the church. The living of that comes through the church. The taking care of community should be led by the church. The church has failed in the past. The solution is not to hand it off to someone else. It is to fix the church.

I am glad you are going to law school. I think you can make great impact there, advocating the values of Christ in culture. That is your passion. Remember who Jesus said the Hope of the world is...advocate for her as well.

David Best said...

We don't substantially disagree here.

David Baxley said...

So you agree the government should not be in the welfare business because they can not do it well or long term?

David Baxley said...

I'm seriously asking what we agree on?

David Best said...

I think public policy and the church go hand in hand. - AGREE

I believe the church should be active in this process. - AGREE

I don’t believe in "the separation of church state" as many want to apply it. - MOSTLY AGREE

I think the government should stay out of church but the church should be in the government. - AGREE IN PRINCIPLE

The government, in a simple form, is the regulator of morality. If the church is the holder of moral empowerment (which I believe it is) then they should be active in advocating things that will help that. - MOSTLY AGREE

However I come back to this. The role of government can only go so far and be successful. - AGREE

The church has failed over this past century but in centuries past it had been hugely successful in America and politics (along with some failures as well). - AGREE

Where it failed was when it was the government (dark ages). - AGREE

The church should be about what James and Jesus talk about. Government should create policy that empowers that. - AGREE

DID YOU JUST SAY THAT GOVERNMENT SHOULD CREATE POLICY THAT EMPOWERS WHAT JAMES AND JESUS WERE ABOUT!!! (AND THEN THERE WERE DETAILS)

Government should not be doing it. - SOMETIMES AGREE

Not because it is wrong but because they can’t long term do it well and they are to corrupt. - DISAGREE. THEY ARE TOO HUMAN, SAME PROBLEM WITH CHURCH

Yes a church can be corrupt. But one church might be, so then the other two down the street are not. But the government cannot be divided that way so easily. - GOOD POINT (DISREGARD) ; )

David Best said...

So then do you in turn agree that churches should:

Promote Healthy, Respectful Dialog

Teach Biblical Principles
(in relationship to government and public policy)

Advocate When Appropriate
(Keeping in mind some of what I had to say about when is and is not appropriate?)

David Best said...

For what it is worth, I don't know that the church has failed more or less from one century to the next. I don't think this century has been especially terrible. It has given us the modern missionary movement for one.

Different church families and denominations tend to ebb and flow, but Christ works out his ways in his church in spite of our humanness.

David Baxley said...

Thank you that was helpful.
What I mean by creating policy is that they should give tax breaks for the giving to and empowerment of the non profits that care for people. Should create regulation that protects from abuse of power. Create great public transportation for the poor to be able to get to work school etc. Provide age communities through law enforcement and crackdowns on illegal behavior. NOT that they should be doing it actively in a hands on welfare manor.

David Baxley said...

So then do you in turn agree that churches should:

Promote Healthy, Respectful Dialog yes absolulty but what is healthy can be defined differently by different individuals.

Teach Biblical Principles - yes because if government policy is anti scripture we should stand against that as well as support the one that are consistent with it

(in relationship to government and public policy)


Advocate When Appropriate - I'm all about advocating!

(Keeping in mind some of what I had to say about when is and is not appropriate?)

David Baxley said...

One thought on the church:

It succeeded in the missial movement but by being so focused on ovsees missions, the poor, and justice we neglected it at home and in turn failed the people of this nation and we went down the pooper morally and I how they view God and the church.

Which is why we need to refocus on our communities

David Best said...

So this sentence deserves some clarification.

“So in all honesty, part of my decision to attend law school is born out of my dissatisfaction with the ability of the church to effect real change. “

Number one, it is emotional. That is SOMETIMES how I FEEL, in contrast to what I think. Sometimes it feel like churches, ones that I have led included, put a lot of effort into auditory oriented communication, (worship and preaching) and at times I can’t help but wonder, “to what effect”? People walk in, people walk out, and if feels like nothing changes. (And I speak from some pretty stakr experiences. ) This is in contrast to “good days” where you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Word has not returned void, and that true worship has taken place, worship valuable in its own right.

I think a lot of this is about how I am wired. I want to experience kinetic energy, (think dominos crashing into one another) cause and effect, moving from problem, to problem solved. I would like to imagine that practicing law will feel like this. Moving from event, to case, to decision and resolution. (positive or negative, it is a specific result.)

And yet I know beyond any doubt that there will be mind numbing days, days of feeling hopeless and of being literally defeated. And that on those days I will long for the shadow of the Most High, that useless and pointless thing called worship where the soul finds rest in God alone.

I need to avoid seeing my calling as the most important. So do you. ; )