I prayed for President Trump during a recent Sunday morning worship service.
The prayer prompted one man to ask following the service, “So, did your man win the election?”
His wife tried to rescue me by interjecting, “Now you should not put the pastor in that position. He’s not supposed to tell who he votes for.” And I didn’t.
I did tell him that whoever is elected is my president, and we are scripturally obligated to pray for that person and our leaders.
We continued a brief conversation about some of the changes and challenges ahead. Little did we know. Little do we yet know.
The political arena is making it harder to lead a church, not easier.
Politicians on both sides are polarizing, and they find little common ground on issues. There is little decorum, common courtesy or respect for the opinion of the other side. Politics trumps the common good of almost any problem.
This kind of demeanor has had a trickledown effect from Washington into state and local governments. When we see this at the local levels, it becomes personal and painful.
Local churches, large or small, can be filled with their own internal politics.
There is a huge difference between serving out of the power of love and serving out of the love of power.
When people get in the church and use a bunch of Jesus language but their motivation is power, there’s trouble coming. “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves,” Jesus warned in Matthew 7:15.
On the flip side, when God’s people use their power of love, Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14).
Ironically, politics may have helped save the church from ourselves when Lyndon Johnson introduced a federal tax code amendment in 1954. It proposed that tax-exempt charitable organizations cannot be involved in partisan politics.
While we love power, we (churches) have found something we love more: our tax-exempt status.
The proof of that is that any church that wants to be involved in partisan politics may do so. Churches can be as political as they want to be as long as they surrender their tax-exempt status.
Yet, I have never heard of one willingly doing so, even though religious leaders and churches have pushed the envelope on this issue.
This is one reason President Trump wants to abolish the Johnson Amendment.
He wants to say, “thank you,” to the evangelicals for helping elect him. He wants to unfetter all of us to “go and do likewise.” He believes this is a good thing because he thinks the Johnson Amendment infringes on our free speech.
However, imagine what will happen if tax exemption is offered with no restraints on partisan, political involvement.
Churches would suddenly become defined by one of two colors: blue or red.
When the gospel is preached, it would travel through one of those two funnels.
In large churches, temptations would grow for favor to be curried to those who are in pulpits with power to sway voters. During the campaign season, you would likely hear a politician in a church pulpit, but likely from only one party.
In pulpits of all sizes, one’s political views would become the questions of pulpit committees to ensure that the potential pastor fits the views of the congregation.
It would become more difficult to hear the gospel.
What if the gospel disagrees with the political party in charge? What if the gospel disagrees with the law of the land? What if the gospel runs counter to a party’s platform? Who would preach it? Would the pastor be more loyal to a political party or the gospel?
If the pastor or the church sold themselves to a political party, soon you would not be able to tell the difference between a church where the Great Commission is preached and a church that is a political gathering place where the great omission is occurring – an omission of anyone with opposing political views.
This would especially be sad for Baptists for we have always been a group of dissenters.
We always need to listen to those with whom we disagree, for in the voice of dissent the truth has often been found.
This was the case with Caleb and Joshua, whose words would have saved Israel 40 years of wandering in the wilderness and helped them go into a Promised Land, and also with Martin Luther King Jr., whose dissent helped a people believe that they could get to the Promised Land.
Without the Johnson Amendment, the land we would inherit looks less promising than the one we now have.
Michael Helms is pastor of First Baptist Church in Jefferson, Georgia.