Independence Under God
Years ago, Hobby Lobby, a retail store known for its distinctly Christian convictions, fought for the right not to pay for certain kinds of birth control for their employees. During a televised debate on the issue, one liberal pundit made a comment that summarized the view of many on his side of the fence. He said, “Keep your views in church!” Sadly, many today believe that all expressions of faith should be relegated to the structures designated for worship.
There are increasing numbers of Christians who believe that anything that smacks of the political should stay outside the stained glass. It’s not just liberal Christians who feel this way. Surveys show that conservative believers are becoming less supportive of politics in the pews. A growing number of people are uncomfortable with candidates speaking out personally about religion. Where do they get that mistaken perspective? Certainly not the Bible, church history, or even American history.
To read our history books today, you wouldn’t necessarily catch the connection between things like Christianity and the once highly political issue of the abolition of slavery. In fact, to really get a feel for the political vs. faith battle that raged over slavery, you have to go “across the pond” to the real roots of the struggle, which took place in England.
William Wilberforce was elected to British Parliament in 1780. He came to Christ in 1785, through the influence of John Newton (who wrote “Amazing Grace”). Newton was a former slave trader who became a clergyman in the Church of England. Newton urged Wilberforce to use his position in Parliament to fight against slavery. It was his faith that led him to do so. It took 20 years and his critics sounded no different than those we hear today. Lord Melbourne complained, “Things have come to a pretty pass when religion is allowed to invade public life.” Sounds a lot like, “Keep your views in church!”
Many today look at any public expression of our faith as an invasion of public life. If you look at old sermons from the 18th and 19th centuries in our country, you'll find that not only did pastors freely engage the pulpit in so-called political issues, they "called out" public figures by name! They believed that as salt they had a responsibility to preserve truth. As light, they had to expose the deeds of darkness no matter where they may be found. We too are to be salt and light.
In the hefty two-volume set called Political Sermons of the American Founding Era: 1730–1805, edited by Ellis Sandoz, one can clearly see that the early American culture and political issues were deeply influenced by the New England preachers. For example, how's this for a sermon title: Civil Magistrates Must Be Just, Ruling in the Fear of God ? Might be a great topic if I’m ever honored again with the opportunity to do the “Moment of Inspiration” at the Ventura County Board of Supervisors meeting.
Speaking truth to and about power is something Paul was not afraid to do. Jesus certainly did not shy away from it. That’s all God calls us to do. His is the true power and unless we are willing to be representatives of that power, we become representatives of weakness by default.
As we celebrate Independence Day, let’s remember that our founders did not envision independence from God, but independence under God and dependence upon God. To the degree that so-called political issues impact the spiritual health and morality of our country, we are compelled to be salt and light, making a difference for Christ.
On issues where there is a clearly biblical perspective, pastors have the right and the duty to tell Christians how they should vote. Whether it’s from the pulpit or in personal interaction, Christians have an obligation to be God’s voice, unafraid to speak up, even when it’s something from the realm of the political.
“He is the head over all rule and authority” —Colossians 2:10