The Common Good

Who Hijacked My Church?

Illustration by Janusz Kapusta/Getty Images.
Illustration by Janusz Kapusta/Getty Images.

“Church folks are just too political!”

When people are asked why they have decided to leave the church, this has become an increasingly popular response. And, sadly, it is a particularly popular response for those in the 18-29 year old demographic. That we Christians have allowed ourselves to become too political and too partisan is a major contributor to the decline of the church.

Partisanship and its corrosive effects are not a new thing to the culture at large. However, more and more that cultural partisanship is infecting the church and gnawing away at the bonds which are supposed to hold them together. In the process, the church gets hijacked and redeployed for partisan ends, leaving those expecting better from the church disappointed.  . 

Partisanship runs precisely counter to Jesus’ own observation that his followers would be known by their love (John 13:35). How so? Partisan rancor has reached a fever pitch in our political process. Long serving politicians have resisted seeking re-election because the politics of “personal destruction” have become so prevalent. Potentially good candidates simply do not want to put their families through the gauntlet.

Those who disagree with the “party line” are not just rational persons with a different perspective.  Instead, more and more frequently, they are demonized for their disagreement. And, that partisanship that has become increasingly the norm in the culture is quickly becoming the norm within the church—if it hasn’t already. 

When we Christians demonize each other over our political commitments, when we can no longer engage in respectful and passionate disagreement, when we can no longer work alongside those who come to different political conclusions then partisanship has become destructive of the very unity followers of Jesus are called to exhibit. In all honesty, can we blame our youth when they turn their backs on that? Folks come to church to escape the hostility of the culture, and they simply find too much of it replicated when the go to church.

There are reasonable steps we can take that move us away from the partisan abyss. The first step awareness: We can recognize our tendencies toward partisanship and be much more cautious about letting political issues become divisive within the church. Then, we have to be much more intentional about the perspectives of others, recognizing that Christian sisters and brothers can disagree on issues about which we are passionate. We will have to take the time to hear and understand those who disagree with us.

Finally, we should make common cause where we can. Differences in one area do not preclude partnership in another. We say that we can do this, but to do so requires us to resist the siren song of perceived political power — and remember, those who fell prey to the seductive power of the sirens often ended up in shipwreck.

Chuck Gutenson is author, with Michael Slaughter and Robert P. Jones, of Hijacked: Escaping the Partisan Church Divide which explores these themes in more detail. Check it out here, then join the conversation here.

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