Keep Politics out of Religion

Updated on January 3, 2018
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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 Mustim 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, 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. .


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      Tim Truzy 2 weeks ago

      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 profile image

      Jo Miller 2 months ago from Tennessee

      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.

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      William Leverne Smith 2 months ago from Hollister, MO

      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 profile image

      Jo Miller 2 months ago from Tennessee

      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 profile image

      Nell Rose 3 months ago from England

      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 profile image

      Jo Miller 3 months ago from Tennessee

      I agree with your friend John. I don't want my religion meddled with.

    • jo miller profile image

      Jo Miller 3 months ago from Tennessee

      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 profile image

      Jo Miller 3 months ago from Tennessee

      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.

    • jwmurph profile image

      jwmurph 3 months ago from Tennessee

      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.

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      Jo Miller 3 months ago from Tennessee

      Flourish, I think the right has driven many away from church, especially the young.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 3 months ago from The Caribbean

      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 profile image

      Jo Miller 3 months ago from Tennessee

      Bill, for us church is a sanctuary from politics--which is good because I'm still angry with those who voted for Trump.

    • Glenis Rix profile image

      GlenR 3 months ago from UK

      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 profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 months ago from USA

      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.

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      Bill Holland 3 months ago from Olympia, WA

      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.