Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Choose political neutrality

April 16, 2024

“How could you support that candidate?!?” Welcome to election year 2024. Once again, the supposed fate of all things teeters upon oblivion. While our country’s two political parties agree on almost nothing, they do concur on this one thing: electing the other party will result in the implosion of our proud nation.

Faith leaders, likewise, are lured into this cataclysmic thinking. People of faith, they internally reason, must seek the greater good. Further, as prayerful, thoughtful, and well-informed people, they are convinced of the rightness of their position. Not wanting to remain passive in the face of ‘overwhelming evil,’ these spiritual influencers wade into the waters of American politics. Before long, such people are awash in the promulgation of political propaganda – all in the name of Jesus.

What might happen, though, if faith leaders opted for political neutrality: no bumper stickers, no yard signs, no T-shirts, no rallies, no social media posts, no social media comments, no donations, no email lists, no sermonizing, no veiled comments, etc.? What might happen, indeed? Before looking at what might happen, though, let’s look at what will not happen.

First, faith leaders will not alienate half of the American populace. That’s a good thing, especially since Jesus is for all people – not half of the people. Have you read the Gospels? Do you remember when Jesus wanted to pass through a Samaritan village, but the people did not welcome him? Two disciples, James and John, offered a solution: “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven and destroy them?” Jesus rebuked them (see Luke 9:51-56). In our current political climate, which is marked by significant polarization and the absence of nuance, openly taking sides sounds like the indignation of these two disciples. While faith leaders may not feel such wrath toward the opposition, such wrath is assumed by association.

Second, if faith leaders opt for neutrality, they will not tacitly acknowledge the waning influence of Christianity. Sunday mornings were once sacrosanct. Now they are the sanctuary of youth sports, chic brunches, and faddish hobbies. With fewer and fewer people wanting to hear about Jesus’ directive to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44), faith leaders across the theological spectrum found political machines who offered them a place to be valued, heard, and influential – so long as these leaders fit their Christian values within the party’s political dogma. The result was inevitable: a biblical reinterpretation to satisfy these newfound friends. And of course, this newfound ‘Jesus’ fits perfectly into his shiny new political garments.

Third, if faith leaders opt for political neutrality, they will not succumb to dichotomous reasoning. The tribal nature of current political discourse relies upon an us-and-them worldview. Such perspective smoothly transitions into good-and-evil. Every idea becomes right-or-wrong. Every person becomes friend-or-foe. In the Gospels, some religious leaders used dichotomous reasoning to entrap Jesus: “Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” (Luke 20:22 NIV). Whichever answer Jesus chose, he would be wrong. Such is the nature of dichotomous argument structure; it seeks only to affirm a predetermined conclusion. Therefore, any reliance upon it inevitably prioritizes agenda over Gospel.

As faith leaders today, consider a bold venture in the murkiness of political neutrality. Hide away political beliefs in holistic deference to Jesus Christ. Why? Faith leaders know the truth: ballots are temporary, but Jesus is eternal. 

Now, consider what will happen if faith leaders opt for political neutrality. They become intentional unbiased observers – friends to all, yet beholden to none. First, they will maintain a dialogue with people across the political spectrum. Jesus did that – much to the astonishment of his followers and adversaries. When Jesus talks to the Samaritan woman at the well, his disciples ‘were surprised’ but opted not to query him (John 4:27). Following this encounter, the woman testified about Jesus and many believed (John 4:39-42). When Jesus shared a meal with ‘tax collectors and sinners,’ the Pharisees openly questioned his choice of companions. Jesus explained, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick … I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:12-13 NIV).    

Second, when opting for political neutrality, faith leaders will foster a place where politically divergent people can gather through their commonality in Jesus Christ. People are brought together, not because of their political bent, but rather because of their inclination toward Christ. Consider Pentecost. The arrival of the Holy Spirit was marked by uniting people who were divide by homeland and tongue. These “God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven … [each] heard their own language being spoken.” The surprise event left them “amazed and perplexed,” which prompted the participants to ask, “What does this mean?” (Acts 2:5-12). Today, the rarity of gathering political enemies in civil discourse makes its accomplishment amazing and perplexing. Many will ask, “What does this mean?” It means this: a relationship with Jesus Christ supersedes all other affiliations, relationships, or identities.    

Finally, political neutrality leads to dialectical thinking. When faith leaders are not subjected to defending/promoting a particular political ideology, they will be equipped to view ideas from many vantages – prioritizing the promotion of Jesus Christ. Without predetermined talking points, conversations become a place for listening, understanding, and connection. The story of Paul in Athens provides an example. When he is brought to a meeting of the Areopagus, the apostle listens, understands, and connects. Paul then offers God as the answer to their “unknown god” (Acts 17:23). His lengthy explanation of God left many sneering, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject” (Acts 17:32 NIV). Using dialectical thinking as a faith leader leads to continuing conversation, which avails a place for the Spirit’s working. As faith leaders today, consider a bold venture in the murkiness of political neutrality. Hide away political beliefs in holistic deference to Jesus Christ. Why? Faith leaders know the truth: ballots are temporary, but Jesus is eternal. 

Rev. Terron Tuckett is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Melrose, Massachusetts.  

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.

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