Secular partisan division is increasingly occupying and harming congregations.
So observed a mainstream North Carolina pastor, who told me last week that “politics is destroying the church.”
Only a few years ago, one could assume that many right-wing theological churches were encamped in the Republican Party, the broad cross-section of churches was mostly nonpartisan, and left-wing theological churches got their marching orders from the Democratic Party.
Theologically, left-bank and right-bank churches are probably where they’ve been for years, except some are more inflexibly ideological, more self-righteously confident that God is on their side.
Where does that leave the church in the middle? Is it becoming increasingly divided along partisan lines?
It sure feels that way—and has for some time.
One of the reasons that we produced “Through the Door” was to encourage congregational collaboration to avoid partisan partition.
After all, there is an abundance of evidence of bipartisanship on the prison reform front, and it’s one place where churches make a measurable difference for the common good.
Churches and faith-based groups have a noted record of reducing the recidivism rate, which reduces state budget expenditures and helps families. Prison ministry isn’t a partisan issue.
Like our other documentaries, we have sought a narrative approach that explores issues by sharing how the faith community frames issues and what it does to address them.
Our documentaries have not traveled the path toward endorsing federal or state legislative agendas.
We have a long history of calling for faith leaders to be more akin to the best of the Hebrew prophets, not court prophets who tell the king what the king wants to hear.
Indeed, we’ve urged pastors to retain a “prophetic distance” from political power.
Regrettably, that’s not what happens with many left-church and right-church clergy. Left-bank clergy sing President Obama’s praises, as right-bank clergy did for President Bush.
While clergy in the middle have tried to avoid such alignments, they are facing congregational polarization resulting from ideological pressures.
A new Pew Research Center report disturbingly finds that our country is more ideologically divided now than in 1994.
The report’s subtitle is “How Increasingly Ideological Uniformity and Partisan Antipathy Affects Politics, Compromise and Everyday Life.”
Underscore “everyday life.” Isn’t “everyday life” where the church is?
“Partisan animosity has increased substantially … In each party, the share with a highly negative view of the opposing party has more than doubled since 1994. Most of these intense partisans believe the opposing party’s policies are so misguided that they threaten the nation’s well-being,” the report reads.
These right-left divisions are named “ideological silos.”
Many of us have moved into them and we really don’t want to live with those who occupy the other silo.
We want to live in red neighborhoods or blue neighborhoods, not purple ones.
A troubling report finding that illustrates this point is that “roughly equal percentages of Democrats (15%) and Republicans (17%) say they would be unhappy welcoming someone from the other party into their family.”
Another example is that “19% of Americans say they would be unhappy if someone in their immediate family married a gun owner.”
The Pew Research Center roots some polarization in cable news—MSNBC and Fox News Channel.
It doesn’t address the church as a contributing factor. One fears that left-bank and right-bank churches probably deserve some credit for polarization.
That leaves the church in the middle, which because of the ideological division is finding a shrinking center aisle as members settle into political silos.
The challenge for the church in the middle is to re-articulate a transcendent message—God is neither a Republican nor a Democrat.
Moreover, the church has a mission as a force for unity and collaborates for the common good out of the concept of one body.
When I started out, the challenge was how to get more churches engaged in social change through Christian citizenship—political engagement.
Now the challenge is how to keep politics from invading and crippling congregations.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.