Home Voices The Exchange When the Cultural Climate Gets Political, How Does the Church Stay Missional?

When the Cultural Climate Gets Political, How Does the Church Stay Missional?

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America is caught up (and has been for quite some time) in a culture war of the kind of nation it will be or become. In other words, it is a fight over the future vision of American life (Hunter, Culture Wars). 

Given the nature of this culture war, sides are created, and partisan politics are born. There are four characteristics to partisan politics that create a politically toxic environment. They are: 

  1. Disagreement over the good life
  2. Demonization of the other
  3. Discouragement (and Disenchantment) among the masses, and 
  4.  Division (Disunity) in the country. 

Politics, in its broadest sense, is the activity through which people, make, preserve, and amend the general rules under which they live. In other words, as Aristotle described it, politics is the affairs of the city-state. The city-state has four dimensions of its affairs: 1) Community, 2) Constitution, 3) Commander (ruler), and 4) Cause.

Aristotle taught that the city-state comes into being for the sake of life but exists for the sake of the “good” life. 

I put “” around good because that’s the ground where partisan politics and thus the culture wars in America are raged. 

The Church’s Role in the American Culture Wars

What in the world is the church’s role in the American Culture Wars? I think this is the question the church has been trying to answer now for decades and will continue in the days and years ahead. 

Does the church seek to “reclaim America” as some sort of a nostalgia campaign to restore America to some kind of Leave it to Beaver era? I hate to burst the bubble of those who think this way, but it “ain’t” happening. There are many reasons for this, but one in particular is that Evangelicalism is too fragmented—even politically—to mount such a campaign. 

Does the church become even more discouraged and disengaged while they pursue ministry and mission in the enclaves of their local fellowships? I don’t think this is the right answer either as I do believe that God’s exilic vision to seek the peace and prosperity of Babylon has lasting effects for his exiles today.

Without having the space to fully expound on each of these points, let me offer up six ways the church can remain missional in a time when people are being very political.  

1. Don’t get sucked into partisan politics.

As the people of God, we are not American elephants or American donkeys first, but we first and foremost belong to the party of the Lion of the tribe of Judah. Our allegiance rests with him and him alone. Jesus never entangled himself in the politics of his day but was able to wisely and winsomely navigate politically toxic traps and point to another kingdom and another way of looking at issues. 

Now, this doesn’t mean that we don’t engage politically. In fact, I believe we have an opportunity in the American experiment to play an important role in contributing to a flourishing society. And given the crises we have faced as a nation over the last several months, the church doesn’t need to be MIA but highly involved. Thus, there’s too much at stake for us not to engage. But in doing so make sure your identity as an elephant or donkey doesn’t overshadow your identity and allegiance to the LAMB. 

2. Model unity in diversity.

It’s obvious evangelicals are divided theologically, philosophically, and even methodologically (practically). So there shouldn’t be any surprise that evangelicals are divided politically. In fact, James Davison Hunter noted in 1987 that evangelicals are increasingly divided and increasingly liberal (Evangelicalism: The Coming Generation, 154).

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Josh serves as the Co-Director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center in Wheaton, IL, the Co-Regional Director of Lausanne North America, an Adjunct Faculty at Wheaton College’s Graduate School of Ministry, Mission, and Leadership, as well as a Teaching Pastor at Wheaton Bible Church in West Chicago, IL. He holds a PhD in Missiology and loves mobilizing the church to participate in God’s mission. He and his wife Joannie live in Wheaton, IL with their three kids.