2012 presidential race

Public Jesus: How Churches Can Talk about Politics in an Election Year (Without Killing Each Other)

Photo by Chris Maddaloni CQ-Roll Call Group /Getty Images.

Photo by Chris Maddaloni CQ-Roll Call Group /Getty Images.

Learning to speak as a Christian is one of the most important and often ignored aspects of our discipleship. Nowhere is this fact more obvious than when churches try to talk about politics. When the small group leader makes a disparaging comment about Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith, or a car rolls into the church parking lot with a “NOBAMA” bumper sticker proudly displayed, what do we do?

Is bumper sticker propaganda and negativity the best we have to offer?

Admittedly it can be risky to talk about politics in the local church. All it takes is one idea or statement that flies in the face of someone’s deeply held convictions and that could be the end of our influence and the end of that person’s involvement in our ministry.

Still, the upcoming presidential election will be the defining cultural event of the next six months. If we completely ignore it we are missing a golden opportunity for discipleship.

How can churches have a healthy conversation about politics in the middle of a national election without demonizing the opposition and causing disunity?

I’ve been working on this question for months now, and as part of my preparation I wrote a book called Public Jesus. Here’s a little bit about what I’ve learned in the process:

1) Love the One You’re With

Rick Santorum Drops Out of GOP Presidential Race

Rick Santorum addresses the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, Jun

Rick Santorum addresses the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, June 17, 2011. Via Shutterstock

Rick Santorum, candidate for the Republican Presidential nomination, has ended his run for the GOP presidential nomination, he announced at a news conference from a hotel in Gettysburg, Pa., today (Tuesday).

Despite winning primary contests in 11 states, failure to win any of the three primaries last week in Wisconsin, Maryland and the District of Columbia heaped pressure on Santorum’s campaign.

Sen. Santorum, accompanied at the podium by his wife and several other family members, explained to journalists gathered at today’s press conference that the recent hospitalization of his young daughter Bella, who has a rare genetic disorder, had impacted his decision to end his campaign.

How to Measure the 'Evangelical Vote'

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

A supporter of Newt Gingrich outside church in Florida. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

In Tuesday’s Mississippi and Alabama primaries, about eight of 10 voters identified as evangelical, locking in victories for former Sen. Rick Santorum, and proving once again the importance of the evangelicals in the election.

Presidential hopefuls are again battling it out to be the God candidate, but the tide of the so-called “evangelical vote” seems ever-shifting. Santorum—a Catholic—is doing better to court most evangelicals, while former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney — a Mormon — is beating out Santorum among Catholics. And according to a recent poll, Republicans in the Deep South are still questioning whether President Barack Obama is a Muslim.

Religion matters.

But what does the “evangelical vote” even mean anymore? And can any one candidate really claim it? Even with Santorum’s win Tuesday, a significant number still fell into Romney’s column — and that’s just among Republican evangelicals. Obama was able to draw some evangelical support in 2008 and could garner more in November.