Jo is a long-time political junkie and has followed politics closely in the USA since Nixon. Politics is her favorite spectator sport.
What Should Church Look Like?
I went to church on a recent Sunday like I do most Sundays at a well-cared for, long-loved, small Methodist church near my home. It was a particularly beautiful October day when the leaves were just beginning to turn. During service we knelt at the altar to take communion, offered prayers for a fellow member whose son had died, and ended the service with an old time hymn, In the Sweet By and By.
Willie Does It Better
Living Blue in a Red State
As we drove out of the parking lot, a young man raised his hand in a friendly greeting. He was the son of a man who had been my playmate when I was a child, something I didn't know until his father died. He has a small son who attends church with him, and after I learned of his father's death, I found an old photo I had of of my old playmate and gave it to the young boy. After the young man greeted us that day, he drove out of the parking lot in his pickup truck sporting a Confederate flag.
We are liberal Democrats living not just in a red state but a part of the red state that I call blood red. Lots of Confederate flags around here. Yet we go to church and worship with these people every Sunday because, in church, we don't know what their politics are. We occasionally hear a comment from someone or see a symbol like a Confederate flag that tells us where they stand politically, but we know that does not define everything about them. We don't know whether our pastor is a Republican or Democrat. We don't discuss politics in church.
The Other Side of the Fence
That is not true of all churches in this part of the country or in the country as a whole. A nice lady that we met through our bank here, a long time Democrat, told us she just could not support President Obama because he was a Muslim. She had learned that Obama was a Muslim from her pastor, so she was sure it was true. I always suspected that rejecting him because he was a Muslim was easier for her than admitting she might be rejecting him because of his race.
A cousin of mine also told me that her pastor frequently preached against President Obama from the pulpit. I suspect that both pastors now preach in support of President Trump.
You can turn on your radio to many stations in this part of the country and hear local preachers ranting against Democrats. Always Democrats in this part of the country. Never Republicans.
For years Billy Graham was pastor of all presidents, both Republican and Democrat. He was a pastor, not a politician. He didn't endorse candidates. He supported all of them. His son, Franklin Graham, conversely, is very political. And he always supports Republicans.
Politics and Religion
When I was growing up in this part of the country, my father was a pastor in the Methodist Church. The Methodist Church, he always said, believed that pastors should never let their parishioners know which political party they supported. They were to be pastors to both Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. I knew what his politics were. (He was a Republican, by the way). He was the pastor of a church very near where I now live, and in this part of the country at that time, most of the people were Democrats. An elderly woman once told me she could have counted the Republicans in this small town on one hand. And my father was pastor to all who attended his church.
In my family, we often were visitors in other churches in the area besides Methodist churches. We supported their activities and they supported ours. I never heard politics mentioned in any of these churches. I never heard a pastor telling his flock how to vote.
A More Inclusive Religion
One of the most influential pastors in the United Methodist Church today is Adam Hamilton. In addition to being the author of many books, he also pastors one of the largest, most influential congregations in the country. Located in Leawood, Kansas, it is a congregation of both Republicans and Democrats (more Republicans than Democrats, it is Kansas after all).
Even though Adam Hamilton is pastor of a congregation of some 20,000 people, an important leader in his denomination, author of over 20 books, and a gifted speaker, you will not find him endorsing or supporting political candidates. He may lead his congregation when they study issues, listening to both sides and encouraging members to be in conversation, but he does not rant against candidates or tell parishioners how to vote from the pulpit.
In the following video, Hamilton explains how his church deals with one of the divisive issues in today's climate.
A Broader Church
I use the examples of pastors in the United Methodist church because that is the denomination I am most familiar with. But I know there are congregations all over this country who are quietly living their Christian faith without making it a political affair. They are there to receive sustenance, provide support and encouragement to their fellow church members, and reach beyond the church to help eliminate some of the suffering in the world.
The most visible and vocal religious groups in this country, however, are often those who are on the right of the political debates. The issues they most often focus on are gay marriage and abortion. I will not debate those issues here but merely point out, from a Christian perspective, that they are usually referring to the sins of others. My response to these folks about the issue of gay marriage is that if you believe gay marriage is a sin, don't marry someone of the same sex. The only sin we can really do anything about is our own, so maybe the religious right might consider focusing more on their own sins than pointing out those of others and making laws to forbid them. Lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, anger, envy, and pride are all legal, by the way. That list should keep all of us Christians too busy to focus too much on the evil ways of others.
There is no doubt that the lessons I learned in these churches as I was growing up shape my present political views. The lessons about treating others as I would like to be treated led me to support civil rights and gay rights, even when those were unpopular positions. Jesus told us to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, and care for the sick. I always thought he meant that, so that influences the way I live and the way I vote.
Even though my religion has influenced my politics, I still prefer to keep the two separate and keep politics out of religion. Surely the church should be a place where we can meet in communion with our fellow Christians without having to listen to pronouncements of a political nature that might divide rather than unite us.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
JC Scull from Gainesville, Florida on April 23, 2020:
Very good article Jo. A couple of years old, but very relevant.
Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on December 05, 2019:
Nice article. Enjoyable reading. Thanks.
Jo Miller (author) from Tennessee on September 12, 2019:
Thank you, Mona. Separation of church and state was one of the founding principles of our country but it's sometimes forgotten.
Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on September 11, 2019:
Very well said, Jo, politics and religion should be treated equally, but separately. I think it's part of human nature that our faith will inform our voting choices. Great article!
Jo Miller (author) from Tennessee on January 09, 2019:
I still know many people, Chris, for whom religion is still a joyful thing. Those very basic teachings of my faith are a big part of my positive outlook.
Chris Mills from Traverse City, MI on January 09, 2019:
The two-headed monster of religion and politics is powerful and, in my opinion, evil. You have reminded us of the days when religion played a joyful part in people's lives. Today, many have lost the joy because they have believed the lie that they are fighting for a Christian America. Who promised such a thing? America is not great because it is predominantly Christian. America is great because it is still the best place on the planet to succeed. Sure, China has the largest economy, but who wants to succeed there?
Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on January 05, 2019:
Apparently, you don't see a lot of what is going on Jo, I am sorry to know. All over the country they have Islam worship in schools and even forcing our American Christian children to bow to the Islam god.
We can't just make a rule against Christians and not apply it to all is what I say. Let everyone do their praying outside the classroom. Fine by me and every other Christian wanting to protect our children and grandchildren from being forced to worship false gods.
Now because of so many apparently ignoring scary facts we have them in our government refusing to swear on a bible that was the base of all we stand for. If that makes you happy then I have no more to say about that. It tells me all I need to know.
Jo Miller (author) from Tennessee on July 10, 2018:
Jackie, according to our constitution, neither Christianity nor Islam can be taught in our schools. There are some Muslim countries, however, who do have state supported religion. And we see where that leads. I, for one, do not want to live in a country like that. It never turns out well. Religious freedom is essential to our democratic process and liberty. It's never about being anti-religious. It's about seeing that all religions are respected and tolerated, in effect, treating others the way we want to be treated.
Jo Miller (author) from Tennessee on July 10, 2018:
I agree, Virginia. No place for politics in church. Church should be the place where we learn to respect those whose opinions differ from ours. Instead it is sometimes now the place when hate and intolerance of those who differ are taught.
Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on July 08, 2018:
I find it strange Virginia we have to leave Christianity out but not religion. Islam is not left out, (which allows marriage of little girls to old men, the sodomizing of little boys, the murder of their children or wives who they religiously judge and punish) but always protected, as well as Gay rights and the right to kill unborn babies by the millions as a form of birth control. I find it very strange what all leaving out Christianity allows. What is the big fear of Jesus, the one who died for us all and stands for peace and love only?
I mean politics has moved into the church, what is right and wrong whether you are a Christian or not. How can we not fight for these things? We should pretend we don't see?
Virginia Allain from Central Florida on July 08, 2018:
I agree that politics should not be preached in the church. Our Constitution is very specific that the U.S. should have separation of church and state. In my opinion, if churches want to meddle in politics, then they should register as a political action committee and give up their tax-free status.
Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on April 19, 2018:
Well I am pleased you left one of my comments. Gives me hope you are not a Christian anti-Christ for He did not come to do away with the law but to fulfill it. Coming soon. His law is not always popular but we cannot ignore it.
Jo Miller (author) from Tennessee on April 18, 2018:
Dear Jackie, I'm glad you read my article even though it seems to have caused you considerable distress. As a fellow Christian I would ask you to give me and others with whom you might disagree a chance. I believe it is important that we strive to live in harmony, even with those with whom we disagree, both as Christians and as fellow Americans.
Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on April 18, 2018:
Oh, I should not have read this for I never want to insult anyone but I have a mouth that does not know how to pass something by.
I did grow up going to churches that talked politics but it went right over my head and bored me immensely. Now my parents were democrats and so I guess I followed in their footsteps. I only paid attention to Presidents with JFK as a child but then fell in love with Bobby Kennedy as my husband did also! I met him at an airport once and I was the first one he stuck his hand out to and he scratched my thumb leaving a scar I show proudly to this day! This country suffered so much not having those two men to lead us I truly believe no matter what their relationship was with Marilyn Monroe was. Got loved men who were immoral with women and he used them. Just a biblical fact.
I voted for Barrack Obama so proudly no one who listens to me know would believe. It was not long that I saw that indeed he was a Muslim and why not? He was raised by a Muslim father and uncle and his mother was communist, so why would those things not affect him?
I was pretty shocked learning more and more but then I began to see what is a drastic truth today. The democrat party is not what it used to be. How could any Christian vote for killing millions of babies and making us foot the bill? Well I won't go on about the immigrants democrats are buying with taxpayers money while burning flags and dishonoring veterans. Whether I want to be called a Republican or not as a Christian I could never support Democrats and since that is what this article is about I just have to ask how any God loving Christian could? They deny none of this horrible things they do and even grandmas march for the right to kill babies! It horrifies me and I am sure if my parents were alive they would not be a part of them either, whether they went republican or not.
Jo Miller (author) from Tennessee on March 22, 2018:
I agree, Ron. The tent should be big enough for all of us.
Ronald E Franklin from Mechanicsburg, PA on March 16, 2018:
Jo, as a retired pastor I think you're exactly right. I believe pastors are called to speak in the name of the Lord - when they stand in the pulpit there's an implicit "thus saith the Lord" in what they say (which,by the way, is why whatever is preached should be firmly Bible-based). And last time I checked the Bible, God was not a Republican or a Democrat!
Tim Truzy on February 01, 2018:
Jesus said to give unto Caesar what is Caesar's and give unto God what is God's. Man can have all of the politics.
Jo, where we are, we have seen historic trouble come out of the mixing of these two in Alabama with the church burnings and recently in Charleston.
It's interesting you mentioned Billy Grahm, we live only a few hours from his little cabin here. He was a true believer in taking care of the spiritual needs of people and leaving the ballot to days that were not Sunday.
You made very good points in your article.
You are a thoughtful writer and a true believer in what it means to be a Christian. Thanks, Jo Miller for reminding us as well. If we practice love, the politics will not do us in for good.
Jo Miller (author) from Tennessee on November 27, 2017:
William, I feel just as strongly about keeping religion out of politics as I so keeping politics out of religion so I think we are on the same page. Thanks for stopping by and for the follow.
William Leverne Smith from Hollister, MO on November 26, 2017:
I would phrase it: Keep Religion out of Politics. But, we certainly agree on the basic facts and approaches. Thank you for writing about this subject so openly and freely. Let's keep it that way. ;-)
Jo Miller (author) from Tennessee on November 25, 2017:
I agree with you Nell. The two don't mix well. This was a founding principle of this country, but is often ignored.
Nell Rose from England on November 12, 2017:
To me religion and politics should be kept far apart. Ove here in England politics seem/are always a private thing, never really spoken about, let alone in church. Being English the weather tends to hold the whole conversation! lol!
Jo Miller (author) from Tennessee on November 02, 2017:
I agree with your friend John. I don't want my religion meddled with.
Jo Miller (author) from Tennessee on November 02, 2017:
Dora, this election in the US has caused many tensions in churches, families, and other groups. I'll be glad when we get back to normal. This is not normal.
Jo Miller (author) from Tennessee on November 01, 2017:
Glenis, Churches in the US are often about fellowship, community and service which may account for the larger percentage of US citizens who attend church regularly.
John Murphree from Tennessee on November 01, 2017:
I agree with you completely. As a friend said to me once, 'If you mix religion and politics, you get politics.' I believe this is true, that mixing the politics with religion, to some extent damages the religion.
Jo Miller (author) from Tennessee on October 31, 2017:
Flourish, I think the right has driven many away from church, especially the young.
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on October 31, 2017:
Jo, I have even heard of churches where members talk or not talk to each because of political bias. Your father set the example for members of his congregation to be loving and caring to all. Thanks you for promoting this attitude before things get heated again.
Jo Miller (author) from Tennessee on October 31, 2017:
Bill, for us church is a sanctuary from politics--which is good because I'm still angry with those who voted for Trump.
Glen Rix from UK on October 31, 2017:
I agree that politics should have no place in religion. Unfortunately, historically, the two have always been linked. Only 6% of the British population nowadays attends church regularly, so mixing religion with politics would not I imagine, have a wide impact. However, we have had issues in the past few years with one or two high profile leaders of other faiths, where attendance is high, using the platform afforded to them to incite religious hatred. Hopefully, that has now been stamped out.
FlourishAnyway from USA on October 30, 2017:
The mixing of politics and religion is sheer poison and drives away many people from worshipping publicly or at all. I have friends I grew up with who are preachers and their vile, hate filled nonsense on Facebook is so horrific I’ve had to silence them. I can’t imagine sitting in their pulpits.
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on October 30, 2017:
As a society we are being poisoned by the viciousness of politics in this country. It appears that it is impossible to have a rational discussion about politics in this country and I find it sad. I also find it sad that religion is affected by it. I completely agree with you. The church should be a place where people come together in worship, a common ground where politics is not allowed. It's sad that this is not so.