Faith and Politics Small Group Conversation Guide - Session 3
Religion and politics are often said to be the two topics to steer away from in conversation. The prospect of having political conversations at church makes many of us anxious - perhaps even more in these unusual socially-distanced times. Yet with a biblical worldview, the church can be the safest place for such conversations.
Our hope is that this three-session guide will help your small group navigate the tensions of political or polarizing conversations with biblical principles.
Guidelines for sharing and praying together
- When sharing, speak in the “I”
- Respect others.
- Turn to wonder rather than judgment. (What does my reaction tell me about myself?)
- No fixing, saving, or setting other people straight.
- Trust and learn from silence. (When tension or conflict arises, that is normal. Welcome it as a moment for silent reflection.)
- Observe confidentiality.
SESSION 3 Political Interest vs. Political Idols
The challenges today's political system sets out to address are so large and our thirst to see those challenges overcome are so great that Americans in general—and Christians in particular—have recently found themselves embracing promises from candidates, who describe political programs in nearly messianic terms. Two recent examples:
"...I am absolutely certain that, generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless... [APPLAUSE] ...this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal… [APPLAUSE] ...this was the moment when we ended a war, and secured our nation, and restored our image as the last best hope on Earth. [APPLAUSE]."
-Senator Barack Obama's remarks at St. Paul, Minnesota on June 3, 2008 upon declaring himself the presumptive Democatric nominee.
"At a rally in January 2016. [Donald] Trump told his audience, 'Christianity will have power,' if he was elected. 'Because if I'm there, you're going to have plenty of power. You don't need anybody else. You're going to have somebody representing you very, very well. Remember that.'
This appeal to powerlessness proved to be devastatingly consequential. It was powerlessness that people felt in Iowa and South Carolina. It was a sense of disenfranchisement that was motivating folks in Texas and Mississippi."
-Donald Trump's remarks at Sioux Center, Iowa in January 2016 ahead of the opening contests in the Republican primary (as quoted by Ben Howe in The Immoral Majority)
Speaking to different audiences at different times, each candidate promised that a candidacy or a country could represent the fulfillment of deep longings or the ultimate fix for the toughest problems affecting those in their audiences and the world at large.
- What longings or insecurities did candidates Obama and Trump appeal to in their speeches? Are some of the interests they name legitimate? Why or why not?
- As Christians, why is it important to be cautious in naming a political figure or a nation as our 'greatest hope'? How can our political interest cross the line to becoming political idolatry?
Colossians 1:15-20 (NIV)
15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.
16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.
17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.
19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him,
20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
- Through Jesus, God reconciles to himself all things. Name some things that are difficult for you to believe God can reconcile.
- What comfort, if any, do you take from this passage?
Phillippians 2: 5-11(NIV)
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
- Describe the humility of Jesus, portrayed in this passage, in your own words.
- What could it look like to adopt the mindset of Christ Jesus in your most difficult conversations?
Adapted from Have your political views become an idol?
By: Mary Lederleitner
Christianity Today (August 4, 2020)
In addition to being in the midst of a global pandemic, widespread demonstrations about racial injustices, and an election year, we live in a media saturated environment where hate and division trigger wider viewership, larger ratings, and significantly higher advertising revenue.
Media outlets on both the left and right are using language and tactics to inflame anger, alienate, and disparage whomever ‘the other’ might be and, as a result, there are growing levels of disrespect and hatred towards people who hold different political views.
As followers of Christ who are engaging in this process, are we starting to cross a line that shouldn’t be crossed? And, if we are, how can we know when this is happening, and what are the costs?
Signs of political idolatry
Idolatry comes in all shapes and sizes...
Here are a few questions to discern if it is at work in our hearts.
- Who or what am I trusting to provide for my future?
People enter into idolatry because they feel the need for safety and security. It doesn’t take much to realize how truly fragile, vulnerable, and powerless we are in this world. The pandemic alone, with all its recent economic ripple effects, has made this painfully clear even for many who thought they could control their destinies.
Political idolatry happens when we begin fixating on what a human leader or political party can do for us more than we focus our eyes on our Heavenly Father, our true provider who calls us to trust him and not worry (Matt. 6:25-34).
- How am I treating people who disagree with me?
We can also tell if we have moved into political idolatry by how we treat people with different opinions, be they on the left or right of the political spectrum. All human beings, despite their political views or political affiliations, are made in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-28).
As such, humans are held to a very high standard regarding how we treat people. Jesus said in Matthew 25:31-46 that whatsoever we do to “the least of these” we have done to him. In the current political environment “the least of these” are often whoever is on the other end of the political spectrum.
When we interact with “those people” who see political and social issues so differently, do we treat them with dignity and honor the way we would treat Jesus? Are we treating them with kindness so we bear the image of our Heavenly Father (Matt. 5:43-48)?
- Where is my loyalty [and allegiance] being placed?
When faced with a choice between what political pundits and political leaders are asking us to do, and what Scripture asks of us as followers of Christ, which actions do we take?
Costs of political idolatry
Sometimes, we might make light of these things and rationalize why it is OK to choose political rhetoric and divisive behavior over behaviors and attitudes God calls us to in Scripture. Perhaps it is spiritual warfare that is causing us to not step back and assess the broader impact of political idolatry, for it comes at a great cost (1 John 2:1-11).
Essential in the discipleship process is the formation of a new core identity. When we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we become children of God (Rom. 8:14-17), and the chief aim of our life is to grow in Christ-likeness (2 Cor. 3:18; 2 Cor. 5:14-21).
Political idolatry forms in us a different core identity, and from that a very different ‘likeness’ emerges. Discipleship becomes distorted as we say that we are Christians but attitudes, words, and behaviors begin resembling the messaging of politicians and pundits on the right or the left more than our risen Lord.
The distorted discipleship then leads to a marred witness. Rather than seeing Christians who have hope in a God with ultimate power and authority, who is ushering in an eternal kingdom, they see people rallying around political figures and behaving in ways that seem at times to be wholly contradictory to how their Bible, that they say informs and guides their lives, is telling them to live and treat people in the world.
Jesus taught his followers that people would know we are Christians by our love (John 13:34-35), but political idolatry frequently holds opposing values. People begin thinking it is fine to hate, malign, publicly embarrass, ridicule and even bully those with different political views.
So, at a time when a broken world needs the witness of Christ more than ever, political idolatry clouds and disfigures this witness, and the end result is far fewer people believe that the gospel is true or good news at all.
And out of distorted discipleship and marred witness, horrific things can happen in society. Walk the path of Auschwitz and you will never be the same, wondering how the place that was the hub of Western theology in its day could spawn such unfathomable horror.
… Some might say that is just an extreme case. Yet we saw it in Rwanda as well, and at that time their nation was dubbed the “most Christian” of all countries. It happened in Sarajevo and refugees said, “We never thought it could happen here. We were so educated.” [We see it in American history with the genocide of Native Americans.]
Extreme violence happened because professing Christians chose political idolatry over loyalty to the teachings of Christ. And brokenness in our own society continues as the remnants of slavery and segregation, political positions once vehemently supported by many Christians, result in people of color still regularly having to navigate discrimination in a variety of forms.
A better way
In the midst of a global pandemic, protests, and economic turmoil, Christianity proclaims that it has “good news” to share with the world. The Lamb of God, through his sacrificial work on the cross, took away divisions among people where hatred and prejudice had separated them for generations.
Through his blood, he reconciled Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 2:11-22), he destroyed economic and racial barriers (1 Cor. 12:13), gender barriers (Gal. 3:28), and other seemingly irreconcilable cultural differences (Col. 3:10-12). The first chapter of Colossians proclaims that Jesus reconciled to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
It is because of all that God has done for us through the blood of Christ that he deserves to have no other idols before him. These are not harmless political games that are being played. This is deadly serious.
The world needs the church, and every person within it, to set aside political idolatry so people can see our Risen Lord. It doesn’t mean that we don’t engage in political processes and seek to influence our societies. It does mean we keep Christ and his teachings first and foremost as we do this.
- Who or what am I trusting to provide for my future?
- How am I treating people who disagree with me?
- Where is my loyalty being placed?
- With so many issues to be concerned about in the world, which one tugs at your heart most? How strong is your conviction to do something about it?
- Think of three political issues that are important to you personally. How much research have you done in order to be fully informed about them?
- In exploring different issues, the complexity of an issue can become overwhelming. What might help you keep your hope and loyalty in Jesus?
- Name an area of political worry or idolatry in your life and pray asking to remember God’s supremacy over it.
- Pray for the church across our nation to not be co opted by political idolatry and that God would be our first love.
Applying into a Deeper Conversation
These first 3 sessions are foundational to go deeper into more robust conversations. Consider applying what you have learned into a deeper conversation as follows:
- Engage in a deeper dive into one topic to learn and engage in applying biblical principles for political dialogue.
- Define 1 topic the group would like to engage (Note: some topics can be very personal and difficult to discuss in an hour so you may want to pick something meaningful but not too challenging).
- Have every group member research the viewpoints of both sides of the topic to prepare for the discussion.
- Have the discussion starting with group guidelines as described in Session 1 and 2. The group leader or members can together help the group stay on topic.
- Learn more about current officials, candidates from this non-partisan nonprofit
Voter Registration Deadline
- Postmarked by Fri Oct 9, 2020
- Post received by Wed Oct 14, 2020
- In-Person Request by Fri Oct 9, 2020
Deadline to Request an Absentee Ballot
- In-Person Request by Mon Nov 2, 2020
Deadline to Return Completed Absentee Ballot
- In-Person, Received by Wed Nov 4, 2020
Early voting information
- Early voting runs Oct 24 - Nov 1 at select sites in NYC
- New Yorkers can find their early voting poll site (and their election day poll site) at https://findmypollsite.vote.nyc/
- A Washington DC based non-partisan ministry helping pastors, ministry leaders, and lay people integrate civic stewardship into their community’s program of spiritual formation, and political de-polarization into their vision for witness and evangelism. It offers workshops, Bible studies, podcasts, articles, and recommended readings.
- Surprised by Community: Republicans and Democrats in the Same Pew. Drew suggests practices and ways of thinking that help believers engage in politics while making room for one another when their political convictions differ.
- Issues Facing Christians Today--4th edition (Zondervan 2006). A thoughtful and practical call to Christian involvement in public life with particular focus on war, creation care, global poverty, human rights, work, business, diversity, sexuality, marriage, abortion, euthanasia, and biotechnology.
- Reclaiming Hope. An illuminating memoir from a Christian who worked on faith-based initiatives in the Obama White House.
- Thou Shalt Not be a Jerk: A Christian’s Guide to Engaging Politics. Framed in ten commandments for engaging politics, Cho provides pastoral guidance and practical ways for Christians to stay engaged, have integrity, listen to the hurting, and vote their convictions.
- How Would Jesus Vote? Do Your Political Views Really Align with the Bible. Examining some of the most contentious political topics of our time in light of Scripture and the teachings of Jesus, the end goal of this book is not to promote a particular point of view but to objectively portray what the Bible says on political and cultural topics.
M. Daniel Carroll R
- The Bible and Borders: Hearing God’s Word on Immigration. Carroll explores the surprising amount of material in the Old and New Testaments that deals with migration and shows how this topic is fundamental to the message of the Bible and how it affects our understanding of God and the mission of the church.
Abraham George and Nikki A. Toyama-Szeto
- God of Justice: The IJM Institute Global Church Curriculum. A twelve-session, discussion-based curriculum from IJM that explores the biblical narrative of justice throughout the whole of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation.
Vincent E. Bacote
- The Political Disciple: A Theology of Public Life. As a part of Zondervan’s Ordinary Theology series, this little book addresses how public and political life are important ways of following Jesus by considering not only whether Christians have (or need) permission to engage the public square, but also what it means to reflect Christlikeness in our public practice, as well as what to make of the typically slow rate of social change and the tension between relative allegiance to a nation and/or a political party and ultimate allegiance to Christ.
Justin Giboney, Michael Wear, and Chris Butler
- Compassion & Conviction: The AND Campaign’s Guide to Faithful Civic Engagement. The authors lay out the biblical case for political engagement and help Christians navigate the complex world of politics with integrity, from political messaging and the politics of race to protests, advocacy, and more. The book includes a study guide for classroom use and group discussion.
- Five Views on The Church and Politics.Considering the attention that many Christian parachurch groups, churches, and individual believers give to politics—and of the varying and sometimes divergent political ideals and aims among them—Five Views on the Church and Politics provides a helpful breakdown of the possible Christian approaches. Readers will find themselves equipped to think more deeply about the relationship between church and state in a way that goes beyond mere policy debates and current campaigns.
PBS: The Choice 2020: Trump vs. Biden