In our recent national meetings of the General Oversight Council (GOC), the matter of the impending election was prayerfully discussed. It was the viewpoint of the GOC that spiritual guidance should be given to our pastors and church leaders during this challenging time in our nation’s history. There was agreement that our congregations deserve whatever input and help that the Missionary Church could give them. At the same time, the Council did not think it prudent to “micromanage” the guidance which went out from our office.
It was decided, therefore, that I as your President (buttressed by the prayers of the GOC) should seek the Lord’s face and address the issues in this letter to the churches. While I have benefitted from the wisdom of their discussion, I do not presume to write this letter as a mouthpiece for the GOC, but rather I am expressing from my own heart what I feel led to share. And I have attempted to write this letter in such a way that the principles would be applicable to any election (whether federal, state, or local) in any year.
I would like to begin by de-emphasizing the role of politics in the Christian’s life. Politics is not the hope of the world or of our nation. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the only hope for the problems of this world, and so our faith is in Him, and in Him alone. At the same time, the political system of the United States is the organizing principle of the nation in which God has placed us at this time in world history. So we have a responsibility to not only understand it, but also to affect it by God’s help.
When our founding fathers established the separation of church and state as a guiding principle for our nation, their intention was to ensure that the United States would not establish any single denomination or religion as the only approved belief system. They had a very good reason for doing so! A large percentage of the people had come to America in order to escape religious persecution in their countries of origin.
This is why the very first Amendment to the Constitution begins by saying that Congress cannot make any law that establishes a certain religion as the law of the land.
If the sentence had ended there, then the United States could have been declared a secular, religion-free zone in which religion could play no part. But that all-important first sentence of the First Amendment had a second part. The second half of the phrase said that the United States government could not prohibit the people from freely exercising the religion of their choice. Taken together, those two phrases state that although the government was not permitted to choose a denomination or a religion as the “official” belief of the United States, it also was not permitted to keep people from freely practicing their own religion as they saw fit.
This is extremely important because there are two contrasting views of our nation. One view holds that we live in a secular nation. Secularism means that no religious expression is permitted to influence our nation’s decision-making or the direction that we as a nation are heading. There are many people who would like our nation to be built on a secular basis, but it is not. We do not live in a secular nation, but in a pluralistic one!
Pluralism means that everyone has an equal right (whether they are religious or not religious) to participate in our nation’s decision making through dialogue and voting. The First Amendment to our Constitution firmly establishes the United States as a pluralistic nation, not a secular one!
The great men who founded our nation promised us in the Constitution and its first amendment that we would never have our religious freedoms taken away and that we would never have secularism forced upon us. For this reason, any party or candidate that attempts to violate or limit the religious freedom of the people is unconstitutionally attempting to change the ground rules under which we became a free nation.
In fact, anyone who attempts to limit our religious freedom is a traitor to the great ideas that made our nation what it is today.
Our nation is not great because of its natural resources (although we have wonderful natural resources), and it is not great because of its people (although we have wonderful people living here). Our nation is great because it was founded on great and noble ideas that had never been attempted on this scale in the history of the world.
Those ideas changed the world. And although our nation was not technically founded on the Bible, the ideas used to form its government were powerful ideas because they lined up perfectly with the Bible. The right of everyone to participate in government and vote their conscience lines up beautifully with the Bible’s teaching that all humans are made in the image of God and that He loves each person without favoritism. The right of people to practice their own religions (or to practice no religion) lines up perfectly with the fact that God (while desiring that everyone would come to know and obey His Son, Jesus) has given each person a free will and that He does not ever take away a person’s free will. The system of checks and balances found in our government reflects accurately the fact that humans (although made in God’s image) are all sinners and in need of accountability to restrain their selfish impulses.
Our nation is a gift to us from God which we get to enjoy because our founding fathers fashioned our government after the truths found in the Bible.
If our religious freedom is taken away from us, then our nation will cease to be great. If our religious freedom is taken away from us, then America will immediately become something different than it is.
If our religious freedom is taken away from us, then we as Christians will be silenced. We will be forbidden to stand against abortion, to stand against sin, and to proclaim the truth of God’s Word.
If our religious freedom is taken away from us, then it will be illegal to share the hope of Jesus Christ with a dying world.
The Christian religion calls for us to tell people how to be saved from sin through a relationship with Jesus Christ. If we can no longer freely exercise our religion, then we will have to break the law in order to rescue people from an eternity in hell.
And in fact, America has already begun to break its promise to its people. If we could truly exercise our religion freely, then it would not be illegal to pray in schools or to freely share our faith in the government offices or schools where so many of us work.
The Bible warns us that we need to work now because “the night” is coming when no one can work. Of course we know that that “night” is coming because the Bible tells us so. But we live in a unique moment and in a unique country in which we can affect how quickly that night comes. In America, we the people are still able to vote for our leaders and therefore to affect what laws are written for us to obey.
Would you agree with me that the faith that we have in Jesus is the only hope for this world? It is the Lord’s will that we share our faith with lost people! Religious freedom allows us to share our faith with the lost. Therefore, any time a Christian votes for a candidate who seeks to limit our religious freedom (regardless of party affiliation), he or she is unwittingly casting a vote that the Lord’s will not be done on earth as it is in heaven.
In the fifth chapter of the Book of Acts, the apostles were all arrested and jailed for disobeying the Sanhedrin. In other words, every single apostle chose to become a convicted law-breaker because the law contradicted God’s command to tell everyone about Jesus. That night an angel released them from their jail cell, and gave them God’s command to keep right on breaking man’s laws (by going right back into the Temple courts and telling the people the full message of the new life found in Christ). As soon as the sun rose, they immediately went back and flagrantly began to share their faith again.
Their government had restricted their religious freedom, but God contradicted the government and told them to do it anyway. In the showdown that followed, Peter declared that “we must obey God rather than man,” and so all twelve of the apostles were simultaneously beaten before being released. But the chapter concludes by telling us that “every day,” both publicly and in private, they “did not stop” teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.
They did not stop disobeying the law when the law tried to restrict their freedom to practice their faith.
Brothers and sisters, if we cannot practice our faith legally we will have to practice it illegally, because it is not an option for us to stop worshipping and serving the Lord.
Elections are selections. Our nation is either selecting people who will protect the religious freedom promised to us by our founding fathers, or it is selecting people who will break that promise and end our religious freedoms. For this reason, we have a duty to participate in the selection process.
November 8 will be a chance for all of us to participate in selecting our next president, senators, and congressional representatives, as well as state and local officials. I call upon every Christian to participate in the selection process in one or more of these ways:
- Spend unhurried time discussing this election with our Father in heaven as you are led by the Holy Spirit. Tell Him that you want His Son to be glorified and that you therefore need His guidance as to what to say and do.
- Exercise your freedom of speech by discussing these things with those people within your circle of influence. People deserve the right to hear God’s perspective on the selection process, and they may never hear His perspective if you do not talk with them about it.
- Take time out of your busy schedules to vote for the candidates at every level of government who are most likely to protect our religious freedoms. Commit yourself to never voting for anyone who attempts to limit your religious freedom, no matter how many other promises they make. Voting is literally a part of the stewardship of this world which God has entrusted into our hands. Carefully use the stewardship of the vote to advance Kingdom purposes for Jesus’ sake.
- Speak about these things from the pulpit and in your Sunday School classes. You have the legal right to do so.
It is true that during the Lyndon Johnson Administration the government made a decision to muzzle non-profit groups (and by implication, churches) from endorsing a particular candidate. I am personally convinced that this decision was unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds and therefore illegitimate. But I am not using this letter to ask you to endorse any particular candidate. There is no need to take that step at this time. Pastors and teachers, I am only asking you to speak out about the principles that I have described in this letter and the important freedoms that are at stake in this season of our nation’s life. I am convinced that we as Christian leaders have a moral duty to do so.
- Pray about entering the political system in our country on the grassroots level. When Christians become involved by running for the local school board, township council, or county commissioner, they are becoming influential in the “farm system” that raises leaders to the state and national level. If tens of thousands of mature Christians were to enter public service bringing the aroma of Christ into the decision-making centers of our communities and states (and eventually our nation), what a difference that would make! We would no longer have elections in which there were no good choices because neither candidate shares our values. Instead, we would be given the opportunity to bring the influence of Kingdom values to every sphere of our government for the good of all.
Finally, brothers and sisters, we need to remind ourselves that we serve a King who is not just great, but He is good. His majestic heart is unruffled by the petty politics of the nations, and His noble character is just what we all need to see in order to see peace come to our troubled world. Jesus is ultimately sovereign over men and nations, and He moves the rulers of this world and their kingdoms like pieces on a chess board.
He will have His way, because God our Father has placed everything under His feet and placed the scepter of unlimited authority in His nail-scarred hands. We must represent Him because it is good and right that we exercise our roles as ambassadors for Christ. But once we have done our duty, we are not responsible for the outcome of the elections or of anything else on this earth. The government is upon His shoulders; and when He finally returns to earth, it will be to reign supreme. Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus!
May the Lord encourage you in your service for Him. I am…
Yours in the service of the King,
President of the Missionary Church