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New Great Awakening: Should Pastors and Churches Be Involved in Politics?

Alexis de Tocqueville on the role of churches in American politics.

by
Paula Bolyard

Bio

June 22, 2013 - 2:00 pm

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I recently wrote about a movement calling Americans to pray, hoping for a revival in the land — a New Great Awakening — because it is becoming clear that our political systems alone cannot fix what ails our country.

Visiting the United States in the early 19th century, French historian and political thinker Alexis de Tocqueville witnessed the Second Great Awakening. In his classic work, Democracy in America, Tocqueville examined the influence that religious beliefs exerted on political life.

Tocqueville said that Americans from many different sects (predominantly Protestant) worshiped the same Creator and preached a common morality. He discovered that religion had a profound influence on American life:

America is…the place in the world where the Christian religion has most persevered genuine powers over souls; and nothing shows better how useful and natural to man it is in our day, since the country in which it exercises the greatest empire is at the same time the most enlightened and most free.

Tocqueville went on to describe the audacious, innovative spirits and logical minds of Americans, bound only by religion’s accepted moral boundaries:

So, therefore, at the same time that the law permits the American people to do everything, religion prevents them from conceiving everything and forbids them to dare everything.”

There was no need for a massive federal or state bureaucracy; government was limited because Christian piety was the prevailing, unwritten law of the land. Americans were largely able to self-govern without the jackboot of government on their necks.

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But Tocqueville also found that the clergy entangled very little with politics and government. He said that they took a sort of professional pride in distancing themselves from political power.

I heard them anathematize ambition and bad faith, whatever might be the political opinions with which these took care to cover themselves…I saw them separate themselves carefully from all parties, and avoid contact with them with all the ardor of personal interest.

Tocqueville pondered the wisdom of the separation and concluded that the American clergy were acting in the best interest of their republican government to avoid pledging allegiances to parties or individuals, saying that:

American [clergy]…saw that they had to renounce religious influence if they wanted to acquire political power, and they preferred to lose the support of power rather than to share in its vicissitudes.

Tocqueville’s observations are something we ought to thoughtfully consider in 2013.

Despite years of churches and pastors supporting (or appearing to support) the Republican Party and its candidates — with a long list of disappointments — both the country and the Republican Party seem to be getting worse. We continue to lurch headlong toward financial, moral, and spiritual destruction, some of it perpetrated by those claiming to be our political allies. And it’s not a Republican problem alone. The Democrats have let down the churches they claim to serve as well.

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What if churches left politics to individuals (including church members who want to be involved in politics) and American Christianity ceased to be associated with the Republican and Democratic parties? (Be honest: have the associations been good for the reputations of anyone involved?)

While I believe pastors and churches absolutely have the right to speak out on political issues, I’m not convinced it’s wise to do so.

What if the church focused on the Apostle Paul’s instruction to Timothy? Paul wrote while imprisoned in Rome, likely knowing that his death was imminent. Paul exhorted his friend to be faithful in the way he led the church:

[P]reach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry (2 Timothy 4:2-5).

What if the church just did that? It’s surely a full-time calling and if the church did only that, just like in Tocqueville’s time, there would be no need for the clergy or churches to involve themselves in politics. We would see men and women repenting of their sins, accepting God’s free gift of salvation through Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross, and striving to live according to biblical truth and principals in their daily lives.

Churches like this would have a transformative effect on the culture. We would see, as Tocqueville did, that religion would “direct mores” and the church’s real political power would come by influencing the family, the most basic form of government: “[I]t is in regulating the family that it works to regulate the state.” Churches focusing on teaching the whole counsel of God, including the moral issues of the day, would lead many to faith and as a result, would lead to electing good leaders. Then we would see our nation once again returning  to the Founders’ vision of self-government.

Recently "retired" from homeschooling, Paula is an unapologetic Christian and Constitutional conservative. An enthusiastic Tea Party supporter, she is a member of the Wayne County Republican Executive Committee. She is also a contributor at Ohio Conservative Review. Paula lives in N.E. Ohio with her husband, two dogs, and two parrots.

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Top Rated Comments   
Yours is an interesting perspective. Surely, I agree that we ought to heed Paul's word to Timothy. However, I don't believe that necessarily translates to clergy remaining neutral in politics. My pastor and I have been having conversations which lean in the other direction. We both think the church needs to step up and take a more aggressive role in advocating for truth in the public square. That doesn't necessarily mean linking arms with a party or endorsing candidates. But it most certainly means taking a firm stance on issues and the morality which informs public policy.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (32)
All Comments   (32)
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What was Jesus' political stance? You might be surprised to find out:

http://goo.gl/hhW7vu
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
just as Billy implied I am dazzled that a mother can make $7924 in one month on the internet. have you read this link>Bar40.ℂom
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
my classmate's aunt makes $81/hr on the internet. She has been unemployed for seven months but last month her pay check was $20016 just working on the internet for a few hours. Read more on this web site... www.Can99.com
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Unfortunately I have known MANY Catholic priests who are absolute DRUNKS...yet they all abhor artificial birth control!!!!
I would take the exact OPPOSITE view re which is the more immoral behavior.
A Church has every right to control the behavior of its flock...but NOT to control the entire general population!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
So, they don't have the right to express their views?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Posted by my daughter in law on facebook . One of many sharing this I believe

"Pastor Jeremiah Steepek (pictured below) transformed himself into a homeless person and went to the 10,000 member church that he was to be introduced as the head pastor at that morning. He walked around his soon to be church for 30 minutes while it was filling with people for service....only 3 people out of the 7-10,000 people said hello to him. He asked people for change to buy food....NO ONE in the church gave him change. He went into the sanctuary to sit down in the front of the church and was asked by the ushers if he would please sit n the back. He greeted people to be greeted back with stares and dirty looks, with people looking down on him and judging him.

As he sat in the back of the church, he listened to the church announcements and such. When all that was done, the elders went up and were excited to introduce the new pastor of the church to the congregation........"We would like to introduce to you Pastor Jeremiah Steepek"....The congregation looked around clapping with joy and anticipation.....The homeless man sitting in the back stood up.....and started walking down the aisle.....the clapping stopped with ALL eyes on him....he walked up the altar and took the microphone from the elders (who were in on this) and paused for a moment....then he recited

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

After he recited this, he looked towards the congregation and told them all what he had experienced that morning...many began to cry and many heads were bowed in shame.... he then said....Today I see a gathering of people......not a church of Jesus Christ. The world has enough people, but not enough disciples...when will YOU decide to become disciples? He then dismissed service until next week.......Being a Christian is more than something you claim. I'ts something you live by and share with others.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Some have said it is next to impossible to extract the Harlot of Babylon from Babylon never mind how impossible to extract one politican from Babylon but with God all things are possible and it is very possible Christian get caught up with addictions of power or pleasure from Babylon and he thinks he still Christian because he keeps smiling and judging his enemy all the time as if he sit on God's throne as the "winner and who know who he blames when he ends up the loser?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Is it just me, or does it seem like the bigger the church the less they are willing to address the moral/political issues head on?

I recall working the phones years ago (> 25) trying to get some time-sensitive info to churches in my area. (I don't recall the specific issue.)

The idea was to supply literature which could be made available to the church members. That's ALL. No request for anything from the pulpit.

I still remember the silence from the office manager at one church after I had stated why I was calling. Then, in shocked tones which would have been appropriate if I had suggested a stripper contest, I was told, "We don't do... THAT here." The distaste was dripping from the phone.

The church was EVFree in Fullerton, California. The pastor? Chuck Swindoll.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Different churches have different policies on how they address political issues. Capitol Hill Baptist in D.C. is one that avoids anything political. Mark Dever has said that it's because the city is so divided and most people who attend work in the highly divisive climate of the D.C. beltway. The elders there made a conscience decision to make their church an oasis from all the political -- so that all Christians -- Republican, Democrat, and libertarian alike -- will feel welcome. That doesn't me he avoids preaching the truth about moral and social issues. Indeed, he speaks boldly about them. But it's not in the context of a party or a candidate.

The church we attend is the same way. Our church secretary would also (politely, I'm sure) refuse the offer of literature. But that doesn't mean that we don't have solid, biblical teaching about important moral issues that happen to be relevant in the political realm. If people have good biblical teaching, I'm convinced they will vote the right way.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
THAT SCRIPTURE is not saying what you are supposing it says. In context
Paul was exhorting Timothy to keep spreading the good news even while
the secular society and especially the errant Jews were falling into every wind of doctrine. Paul knew that the Great Judgement was going
to fall on the Jews (as prophesied by Jesus and Daniel) for their harlotry, which was meted out exactly on time in 70 A.D. with the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Roman army under Titus.
The moral of the story for Christians is "To effect this world with Christs
gospel or watch the world go to hell before your eyes and receive the
judgement of God as described so often in the old covenant".
So it is our DUTY to effect politics not run from them in some wimpy
sudo false meaningless christian way. Read the Word in the context of the AGE it was written in and understand what happened and what that means for us today, as Christ ones. Ephesians 3:21 world without end.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I seem to be missing the part where Paul tells Timothy to get involved in political matters. His instruction to Timothy is, "Preach the word," not "Endorse candidates," or "Reform the Roman government." If Timothy is obeying this charge to preach the word and those in the church are obeying the word, then they will necessarily effect the political landscape.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
In a word YES! Churches & pastors could be involved up until the 50's when that closet racist, LBJ rammed a bill through Congress making it illegal. Besides, black churches do this ALL the time & never get in trouble w/ anyone in the govt.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Pastors on the side of Liberty, Freedom, and limited government did speak up and the IRS ignored them several months ago. Time to take that fight to the next legislative level. All watered down church's lose divine effectiveness under the boot of ANY government.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"So, therefore, at the same time that the law permits the American people to do everything, religion prevents them from conceiving everything and forbids them to dare everything.” Alexis de Tocqueville

“Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others." Thomas Jefferson

Alexis de Tocqueville didn't get his mind wraped around the proper definition of rightful human liberty because the liberty "to do everything" is unobstructed action according to our will with no limit, or within limits drawn around us by the inferior rights of others, and so his definition of liberty is in fact the definition of wrongful liberty - otherwise known as tyranny.

Tocqueville was right about the Christian religion as practiced by Americans during his time, because rightful Christian liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the word of God - which includes the equal rights of others.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
John Adams said, "[W]e have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. . . . Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."

That's where this whole thing has gone off the tracks. Christian liberty assumes moral self-control. We don't have that anymore.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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