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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.

In addition to writing for PJ Tatler and PJ Lifestyle, Paula also writes for Ohio Conservative Review,. She is co-author of a new Ebook called, Homeschooling: Fighting for My Children’s Future. Paula describes herself as a Christian first, conservative second, and Republican third. She is also a member of the Wayne County Ohio Executive Committee.

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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   (26)
All Comments   (26)
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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
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
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
The history of this great country proves, unless you want to believe a current text book of half truth's, that a multitude of bold pastors made our lives here today possible. The Black Robe Regiment took up the fight for faith and freedom on many levels. Also, signers of The Declaration Of Independence, 52 of the 56 were solid in faith in Christ if not in ministry as one's divine calling.
We do have some politicians that use Christianity when they should be allowing Christianity to unselfishly guide them to bless others in servant leadership. IN awe and wonder, George Washington, who had an unwavering faith in Christ, had to be begged to lead this upstart. "We The People" has God's finger prints all over it.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Please stop being part of the Marxist goal of trashing our ability to think rationally by trashing the language.

"and doing so with an attitude."

EVERYONE has an attitude, at all times, and in all circumstances. It's not possible for anybody EVER to be without an attitude.

The question is, what KIND of attitude?

No matter how popular, aiding and abetting the enemy is wrong. Yes, it takes some effort to swim against the tide. It's much easier just to go along with the popular culture. I get that.

So?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
My 7 year old has been reading her Bible, and yesterday she came to me with a question about a particular verse:

" I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak..." Matt 12:36

Why are Christians so careless about the words they speak, and why do they rabidly defend their right to be careless?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
What careless words are you referring to?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Sorry, I was responding to another comment, and put it in the wrong Reply box. The relevant words are quoted.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The church body is all about a spiritual world. It's consequences are heavenly and the real attachment is to heaven, (we are seeking another home, for example). But the members are charged with being salt and light. As such, there is no requirement that we give up our citizenship here on earth as long as we understand that our ultimate citizenship is in heaven. In fact, we have a responsibility to argue and work toward a civil society which emphasizes order and hierarchies in its structure. Those who call themselves atheistic or agnostics, would try to lump the members in with the church to neutralize those who clearly disagree with them. That is short sighted and certainly not fair game. Many currently continue the 50-60 year tradition that says Christians should have nothing to do with the government. I say we have a responsibility outlined in Romans 13 to be submissive and active. The church body as it's described in the Bible is organic and alive. Unfortunately, there are plenty out there who are mere shells, and they try to use politics to ply they trade. That can't be helped. We have the same rights to free speech as atheists. Whether that equal right remains in tact will be very telling in the next few years. Salt = preservation; Light = illumination. Those on the dark side want neither.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
There is a wrong way to be right. What's the point of being right anyway?

It's quite unfortunate that so many "christians" have settled for "making a point." It seems like everyone is out to make a point. It's easy to conform to the pattern of the world.

Jesus, however, didn't come to make a point. He came to make a difference. And that is something worth emulating, all the more now that it is such a rarity.

http://goo.gl/pO8mQ
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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