A pastoral letter on politics and the church

An election-year call to living a political faith without running off a spiritual cliff

A church hall on Mitchley Road in London becomes a polling place during a 2018 election. — Alan Stanton/Flickr A church hall on Mitchley Road in London becomes a polling place during a 2018 election. — Alan Stanton/Flickr

In 2024 the United States will elect a president in a highly divided political climate. This will put a strain on many faith communities. As pastors, we encourage Anabaptist congregations to find a way to do ethical and political discernment in a way that avoids partisanship, trusts in God and is faithful to following Jesus.

One popular approach to the political division in our country is for the church to remove itself from all political discussions. This enables the church to maintain a nonpartisan stance and avoid conflict within a congregation and other relationships.

But is biblical faith so nonpolitical? Do not the prophets of the Old Testament frequently confront kings and governments, rejecting policies and practices that are unjust or idolatrous? Does not Jesus preach what is required to be a part of God’s reign on Earth?

For the church to be nonpolitical would be to weaken our witness to the world and reduce our faith to a private and internal matter — a strategy at odds with much of the message and practices of the Bible.

Another approach is for the church to endorse the political agenda of a particular party or candidate. But this approach equally undermines our faith.

Political parties have a primary goal of winning elections and imposing their policies on society. To do this they frequently engage in moral compromise, disingenuous spin, blatant lies and shameless hypocrisy. This is not how the reign of God, to which we are called, operates. God loves, forgives, persuades and reconciles, bringing about goodness and justice without force or deception.

No political party faithfully represents the ways of God. If the church hitches its wagon to a political party or candidate, it will quickly run off a spiritual cliff, as we have seen throughout history.

Another pitfall in endorsing a political party or candidate is that it then creates a politically one-sided, one-perspective congregation that is no longer a welcoming church. God calls us to be a diverse community that overcomes the divisions of society.

No political party embodies all truth. We must listen to one another, learn from one another and find our unity in humility with one another and before God, dismantling oppression in all its forms.

Therefore, a constructive ­approach is when the church fosters careful spiritual discernment of political issues, listening to the multitude of stories in our communities and then leaving decisions and choices ultimately to individual members.

Biblically grounded, we must be guided by such ethical principles as justice for the vulnerable and compassionate concern for all — including our enemies.

As the pastors of First Mennonite Church of Richmond, Va., we are aware that we uniquely represent our congregation, so we are mindful that our preaching and teaching must faithfully reflect the faith and values of our church, as well as the witness of the Church at large.

To this end, we continue to make these commitments:

— We will not publicly endorse a political party or candidate.
— We may support particular policies, but we will avoid endorsing specific legislation.
— Our preaching will proclaim the Word, critiquing ourselves and our culture and lifting up the voices of the mistreated, misunderstood and marginalized.

With gratitude for the privilege of serving the Body of Christ, Ryan Ahlgrim and Emily Nyce.

Ryan Ahlgrim is pastor and Emily Nyce is associate pastor of First Mennonite Church of Richmond, Va.

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