Light Magazine Commentary Articles  Politics

A Focus on Proclaiming the Gospel Alone

A blue state perspective, part 2 of 3

politically divided country

The Big Sort: Ministering in a Politically Divided Country

America is politically and culturally divided, and the evidence is seen in the disappearance of purple states and the emergence of clearly defined red and blue regions of the country. This creates unique challenges in each state, especially for Christians seeking wisdom in political engagement. For example, a discussion with your neighbor in Alabama about pro-life issues will be different than a similar conversation between co-workers in New York. As believers, it’s beneficial to understand our particular location and the different contexts where our brothers and sisters in Christ are living out the gospel. To help us, we’ve asked Baptist leaders in Democratic, Republican, and swing states to share what’s been valuable to them as they’ve sought to build bridges and esteem the gospel while engaging in the public square. May their experiences encourage you as you seek to be a source of hope in troubled times.

Red State Perspective
Purple State Perspective

Blue State Perspective

I moved to New England in 1993. I grew up in a conservative Christian family in the Midwest and always identified with the more conservative political perspectives in our nation. I remember my pastor once standing in the pulpit and saying, “I can’t tell you how to vote but I secured a blank copy of the upcoming ballot, and it is hanging on my office door already marked with the way I’m going to vote. You can all look at it after the service.”

My parents never failed to check his office door before casting their own vote, and it was always for the most conservative candidates on the ballot. Until moving to New England, I had never known a Christian who didn’t hold a conservative political perspective on pretty much every subject.

A common foundation

I moved to Vermont, one of the most liberal New England states, to serve as a pastor/church planter with the North American Mission Board. Shortly after, I remember having a conversation about a particular political issue with one of my deacons. Without question, he was a godly man who loved the Lord. He consistently looked for ways to apply the gospel to his daily life. It surprised me when he took an opposite opinion than I did on that political opinion. I had never known a committed Christian, especially one in leadership at a solidly evangelical church, who held his political position. 

From my perspective, this deacon’s political opinion was the first step toward a slippery slope where the gospel would be lost. From his perspective, my political opinion lacked compassion, and therefore, had already abandoned the gospel. We had a vigorous discussion about the issue one Wednesday after prayer meeting. We did not persuade each other to change our positions.

While we disagreed on that particular position, and many others during the eight years I was his pastor, what we both loved was the gospel. We were both determined to apply the gospel to our lives and committed to doing so with more than mere words, but with practical, daily actions. 

As we focused on our common love of the gospel, it led to many insightful conversations. We did not always find common political ground, but we did often find common gospel ground. We accomplished a lot of gospel work together during those years and remain friends three decades later.

Focusing on the gospel 

From this relationship, I realized that it was a mistake to assume that just because a person was an evangelical Christian they would hold to a particular political opinion. After 30 years in New England, that truth is more apparent than ever. 

In my role as a denominational leader in New England, I have met Christians who hold to a wide variety of political opinions. For me, living as a Christian in a politically liberal region is about learning to focus more on how to proclaim the gospel than on who wins a particular political fight. This requires me to think carefully about making political statements and focus more on making gospel statements. 

The question I often ask myself is: will this statement advance the gospel or hinder the gospel? If making a statement will advance the gospel, then I make it and accept the results as the cost of carrying my cross. But if it does not, I have learned it’s better to keep it to myself, following the teaching of 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12: “aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.”

Taking a more thoughtful, reflective approach and being careful to keep my public statements limited to those that are essential to the gospel has allowed me to see many of my blue-state friends find faith in Christ. While some have also come to embrace my political opinions, that has never been my goal. My goal is to focus on the gospel. 

When we get to heaven, political parties won’t matter, only our love for Jesus will. For me, living as a Christian in a blue state is about focusing on the gospel of Christ and making everything else secondary. Perhaps if more Christians from all political backgrounds took that approach, we might make a stronger gospel impact than we imagine.

politically divided country

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