Article Jul 26, 2017

Interacting with the politician in the pews

“Lord, just grant me anonymity.”

This is a common refrain from elected leaders as they are about to enter the doors of their local church (though campaign season may be an exception). Like any of us, they are hoping for some time to worship the Lord and be provided with a fresh application from Scripture as they reset for the work week ahead.

Too often in these instances, though, our church lobbies transform from fellowship halls to become something more akin to the marbled corridors of our nation’s capital.

While this isn’t the case in every church, stories abound of elected officials arriving at church late to quietly miss the crowd or ducking out early to get a head start before anyone else. Lobbying isn’t a spiritual gift any of us should strive for.

Too often in these instances, though, our church lobbies transform from fellowship halls to become something more akin to the marbled corridors of our nation’s capital.

Some background may be helpful. “Lobbying” is a British term from Parliament dating back to the late 1600’s. It specifically refers to the Central Lobby of the U.K. Parliament building outside the chambers of the House of Lords and House of Commons, respectively. Individuals and groups would gather there to interact with—and influence—Members of Parliament before and after the day’s legislative business was conducted. Later, in the United States of the 1800’s, President Ulysses S. Grant would famously use the word “lobbyist” as a term of scorn for those who interrupted his social time in the lobby of Washington D.C.’s Willard Hotel. Just reading the history of the term reveals it’s probably not something we should be replicating with a fellow believer just prior to the Lord’s Supper on a given Sunday.

If you lead or attend a church with a high-profile elected official like a mayor or a U.S. Senator, it can be tempting to go to her and say, “I really need you to sign this bill” or to tell him the reasons you think a particular tax policy should go. In America, it’s actually a constitutional right to take up our grievances with our elected officials. So, in some sense, it is understandable why a citizen would see this as a prime opportunity to speak, firsthand, with the individual that represents them.

But, in the church setting, our consciences should be afflicted before embarking on a personal endeavor like this. We lament the coarsening of our society, and these instances are evidence of the politics-first mindset finding its way into—and perhaps even supplanting—our Christian identity. In a world consumed by politics, we should resist this with all that we can muster. The church should be a forum where every individual can go to seek the Kingdom first (Matt. 6:33) and find refuge from the world, including politicians. If anyone is going to affect the actions of a public servant in the pews, let it be the Holy Spirit moving within the congregation.

Moreover, to fail to act this way would reveal we are losing sight of the fact the official is a Christian brother or sister first. We should treat them as such. Just as we would with any other interaction we have, we should “clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (Col. 3:12). In lieu of viewing their time in church as the moment to press an issue, let us use the opportunity to reinforce the gospel and the nourish their souls.

Some simple points to keep in mind for ministering to our brothers and sisters in civic leadership:

  • Welcome them without exalting them (James 2). Remember, they’re members of the flock and need to be told the truth, just as everyone else does.
  • Try hard to care for their soul. Politics can be a lonely and soul-sucking enterprise. Let the elected officials in your church know that your main purpose is to be their shepherd.
  • Given that, if you’re a pastor, keep giving them the Gospel. Yes, contextualize your message for current events, but don’t narrow the focus on the actions of one of your members because of where he or she works.
  • Or, if you’re a fellow church member, realize that developing public policy, building consensus on an issue, and shepherding it to passage is taxing on these individuals. While you may disagree with a conclusion they have arrived at on a given topic, resist the urge to use the fact you attend the same church as a forum to express your opinions. Instead, give them grace, realizing they’re not perfect.
  • When you do interact with them, don’t talk politics. It’s natural to want to chat about work but, keep in mind, a number of elected leaders are generalists, so they have a fairly wide capacity to talk about things beyond what happens in the Legislature.
  • At the same time, provide them some space. They want to worship and learn alongside other attendees in the church. Let them have that moment.

So, with our federal representatives coming home for August recess (even if a bit delayed), now is as good of a time as any to be praying for our community’s leadership and eschewing any attempts to focus on solely on individuals for their profession while, instead, welcoming them to worship our Creator right alongside us.

2019 Evangelicals for Life