The church should stay out of politics. Right?
We can agree that our congregations and denomination should not publicly endorse party candidates or formulate specific legislation. But shouldn’t we, as church, sometimes risk muddying our collective boots by addressing political issues that have profound religious and ethical dimensions?
The Christian Reformed Church, on several occasions, has answered that question with a resounding yes.
When the United States and Canadian governments proposed allowing “therapeutic” abortions, we spoke up. We told our legislators that the Judeo-Christian Scriptures clearly affirm the sanctity of human life at every stage of its existence. We spoke up for the unborn.
When our governments kept deploying more atomic bombs, our denomination jumped in with a biblical Word decrying the insanity of nuclear proliferation.
When proposed tightening of immigration laws threatened to dehumanize people and wreck families, we spoke out again, calling the state to act in accordance with Scriptural principles of justice and hospitality.
Where Scripture speaks, we may not remain silent just because some issues have become politicized.
These examples demonstrate that the question isn’t whether the church should speak on political issues but when. Where Scripture speaks, we may not remain silent just because some issues have become politicized. The world should never control our agenda that way.
Abraham Kuyper’s view of sphere sovereignty has often been invoked to argue that only individual Christians and their voluntary associations should address political issues. But Kuyper also taught sphere universality. With the tightly interwoven and differentiated structures within our world, the institutional church may need to speak to those issues that have a significant confessional dimension to them. It is in that realm that churches have their own unique expertise and contributions to make within democratic societies. They can illumine issues with the Word of God. So we, as church, should speak to those when biblical principles are clearly and significantly involved. The church must then assume its prophetic role in the service of Christ, who commanded us to disciple the nations. In those cases we should address our own members first, then society, and possibly also governments.
Synod 2012 is now asked by its study committee to address the issue of creation care in the context of climate change. We should not dodge that issue by branding it a political issue. It is that, but it’s much more. I sincerely hope that in its discussion on climate change synod will seriously address such questions:
- Is the issue weighty enough for our denomination to address it as institutional church?
- Does it have a significant confessional dimension that can and should be addressed prophetically?
- Is Scripture sufficiently clear, so that we have widespread agreement on the basic principle(s) involved?
- Is there sufficient scientific evidence to conclude that there is a significant and credible risk that we as humans are presently, and in the future, violating our creation mandate? And are the possible consequences of that risk sufficiently weighty to require significant preventative measures even if those cause their own hardships?
- Will whatever synod decides significantly help us as Christian Reformed people to witness to and live out our confession that our world belongs to God?
Hopefully on this issue we’ll witness (to) more biblical light than political heat.