Church and Politics Don’t Mix

September 24, 2008 by

In a little more than a month we’ll be having a presidential election in the United States. It’s a big deal and I encourage everyone eligible to vote. But I think in this politically charged season the church needs to be reminded that we are not a political party. Our allegiance does not lie with the Republicans or the Democrats. Change we can believe in is not dependent on who governs this great nation.

And as great as this nation is, our cries should not end at God bless America, but continue to include God bless Iraq, God bless Afghanistan, God bless Ethiopia, God bless Haiti, God bless China, God bless Peru–as Christians we should seek for God to bless all the people of the world.

All of this comes to mind because of the story of a missionary couple, Heather and Mike Colletto, trying to raise funds for their work with Trans World Radio in Slovakia. It seems their fund raising efforts have slowed because of Heather’s support for Barack Obama. Heather defends her support of Obama and Mike cares more about why you vote for someone than who you vote for. He also points out that God isn’t an American. Both Jason Boyett and the Burnside Writer’s Blog have covered this issue and offered their perspectives.

The message this kind of action sends is that the church cares more about politics than evangelism. That sucks.

I’m all in favor of Christians voting and making their voice heard. But when we presume that our political ideals are God’s ideals and anyone who disagrees is somehow less of a Christian, then we’ve lost the way (we need to learn how to disagree well. When political action becomes the primary way of living out our faith, then we’re in more than trouble.

Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw make this argument in their book Jesus for President. They point out that Jesus did the very opposite of seek political power. They point out that our primary citizenship is in God’s kingdom, not in earthly nations.

As the church, it’s contrary to our faith in Christ to follow John McCain’s admonition to put “country first.” And as Christians we also know that Barack Obama’s claim that the United States is the “last best hope on earth” is false. We have a greater allegiance and a greater hope.

My prayer is that the Church can move beyond political affiliations and national identities, that Christians would support one another (like Heather and Mike; here’s how you can give to support them) in evangelism, and that we can be known for love, mercy and grace, not our politics.

Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998, runs the hyperlocal site West St. Paul Reader, and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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19 Responses to “Church and Politics Don’t Mix”

  • Kevin Purcell
    September 24, 2008

    Aren’t you contradicting yourself? Could it be that they are not being supported because she has taken a political stand? If taking a political stand is wrong then why does it suck to not support a ministry that openly does so? Why didn’t she just not mention it at all?

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  • Alvalyn Lundgren
    September 24, 2008

    I agree that neither McCain nor Obama are our last best hope, and that we are citizens of heaven. God is not a Republican or a Democrat or a Communist or a Quaker.
    But I have to disagree with those who eschew political involvement on that basis. The Church needs to both evangelize and care about politics.
    We are currently earthly citizens of a republic and we should participate in the political process. If the Church in the United States had participated appropriately in political processes since the 1950s and not hid from it, we likely wouldn’t have to be voting on the definition of marriage or for parents’ rights here in California this November. Those wouldn’t even be issues.
    Our silence and “turn the other cheek” mentality has allowed evil to prevail. Our nation is not better off for it.
    The heart of the issue is the state of the heart. We’re waging a spiritual war on a political and cultural battlefield. We aren’t prevailing. Are we not supposed to push back depravity and the futility of thinking? Aren’t we supposed to stand for the Truth in all situations? Aren’t we supposed to shine?
    If Christians are supposed to abstain from involvement in politics, how would the slave trade have been abolished in Britain in the 18th century and in the United States in the 19th century? And how would the ultimate defeat of Hitler have occurred? There was Christian involvement in both situations – sacrificially – and we on earth are better off for it. And what about Poland in the 70s? Or the Philippines under the Aquinos? Christians there stood in the way of the government physically, praying
    Throughout the Bible God is involved in human government, including establishing one of His own – on earth. He used people in high places to influence rulers and constituents alike. He’s done this throughout history.
    Christians cannot be pacifists, but are mandated to bring heaven to earth in all areas of our lives, including praying for our governments and candidates, and participating in the blessing and privilege of voting our consciences when we have the ability and responsibility to do so.
    I agree that political action should not be my focus, but I surely will engage in the public square as a Christian, and I will vote for those candidates who most closely align with the Truth.
    This presidential election is the most crucial of my lifetime, and probably in the entire history of this “Great Experiment”. If things go one way, the United States has no hope, and Christians will be increasingly marginalized. If things go another way, we will maintain our freedom to speak, at least for awhile.
    Thanks for the opportunity to engage in a political discussion as a Christian.

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  • stephen
    September 24, 2008

    i believe i “get” your point, i just don’t find it particularly compelling. there’s nothing wrong with national identity. there’s nothing wrong with political affiliation.
    the issue is putting these or anything above god. maybe you can’t handle loving your country and loving your god? if so… well, then the choice is easy. perhaps you have a hard time allowing for reasonable people to disagree with you on political issues? if so, then yes… stay away from politics.
    this isn’t a dogmatic issue as you seemingly propose it to be. i can proudly say “i am an american” without sinning before the lord. my mother can say “i love chile, it is my homeland” and not be placing an idol before god. identity creates community and positive community can exist outside of the church. even for us christians. in fact, it’s probably a really good thing.
    if you don’t want pastors preaching politics or endorsing candidates from the pulpit, then say so. but telling people “god isn’t american” or “republican” or fill in the blank is kind of condescending.
    jesus didn’t have a blog or a marketing plan either. but that, too, really doesn’t matter.

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  • James
    September 24, 2008

    My political view is simple; vote for the person who will do the most good for the most people around the world. As a Christian, I pledge allegiance to a King and a Kingdom, not to the temporary, earthly rulers of imaginary lines on a map. I kneel before the Cross, not a flag. I serve a church that does not respect any earthly boundary. I pledge allegiance to the broken, the poor, the “least of these” throughout the world. The man across the street is my neighbor, and my brother, as is the person on the other side of the world. People lived in North America long before this temporary government, and will probably live here long after it has faded from memory. Christians should be political, but not partisan. We must seek justice and peace that conforms to Jesus’ teachings.
    When I think about how a Christian should be political, I look at a great sermon by one of America’s greatest preachers:
    “This is a calling that takes me beyond national allegiances, but even if it were not present I would yet have to live with the meaning of my commitment to the ministry of Jesus Christ. To me the relationship of this ministry to the making of peace is so obvious that I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why I’m speaking against the war. Could it be that they do not know that the Good News was meant for all men — for Communist and capitalist, for their children and ours, for black and for white, for revolutionary and conservative? Have they forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to the One who loved His enemies so fully that he died for them? What then can I say to the Vietcong or to Castro or to Mao as a faithful minister of this One? Can I threaten them with death or must I not share with them my life?
    This I believe to be the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation’s self-defined goals and positions. We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation and for those it calls “enemy,” for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.
    I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as one who loves America, to the leaders of our own nation: The great initiative in this war is ours; the initiative to stop it must be ours.
    A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.
    A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”
    — Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Beyond Vietnam”

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  • stephen
    September 24, 2008

    and also, i love this blog and the interesting topics you guys write about. don’t mean to come and argue without saying something nice too. :)

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  • Kevin D. Hendricks
    September 24, 2008

    I’m not saying don’t take a political stand, or don’t have or share political beliefs. I’m saying we can’t allow those politics to divide us. Statements like yours, Alvalyn, that picking one candidate will mean continued freedom and another will mean no hope are the kind of statements that divide us.
    That’s what’s happening here. Heather made her support for Obama known in a personal way. It wasn’t a stand her ministry was taking and she wasn’t shouting Obama from the rooftops. Yet that small personal stand has people questioning her Christian faith and unwilling to support her missionary efforts.
    I don’t want to start a McCain/Obama debate here. That’s clearly not the goal. Whatever your politics, the church needs to realize that we should be above politics. Support your candidate, yes, but there’s more important work to be done.

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  • Will
    September 24, 2008

    Don’t you think Kevin that with her knowing how explosive and divisive that politics are that she should have just kept silent on her personal choice and views? She knew full well when she and her husband started the missionary process that they would have to rely on the highly conservative, mostly Republican church to get to where she was going? She has a blog and facebook which are viewed by the people she wants support from. Why not just list your political views or party affiliation and leave it at that and keep the political discussions out of the public eye?

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  • SeanPdesign
    September 24, 2008

    Luke 12:51. The End.

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  • Alec
    September 24, 2008

    Not to completely change the subject, but an aspect of this story that no one has really addressed is HOW her potential supporters became aware of her political views. In the last couple of years there have been many cases of teachers losing jobs, convicted drunk drivers receiving harsher sentences, etc. based on content posted on the web and social networking sites. As marketing for churches and missionaries becomes increasingly web-based, it would appear we now have to be more aware of our online “reputation”.
    A few years ago when I was a full-time missionary overseeing communications for a small ministry, I employed a website, contact forms, html emails, online giving etc. in my fundraising efforts. However, in doing so, I also kept a careful eye on my online reputation. I watched what I put on my myspace page, and I constantly googled my name to make sure there wasn’t something “surprising” out there. I knew if I could find it, my supporters could.
    I am not saying that she should or shouldn’t have voiced her political views, but I am saying that missionaries and churches have to be aware of how they are representing themselves on the web, as well as how they are being represented.

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  • gene
    September 24, 2008

    I think this is very interesting, especially since the American Defense Fund is encouraging pastors to preach about values of candidates, going so far as to preach for or against a candidate. Personally, I’m not for that. No political candidate is going to make any nation a Christian nation. I personally, don’t think the pulpit nor the church is a place for politics.
    Yet, the situation here may not be merely about supporting a candidate. Although there are many moral and values issues in this campaign, supporting a candidate who promotes policies that do not gel with Scripture may cause donors to wonder whether their missionary also supports those issues. Heather may support Obama for many other reasons, but she is likely to be perceived as supporting abortion and homosexual marital rights, since Obama also supports them. If that is the case, then politics isn’t the cause of the drop in support, but rather the support of unbiblical values.

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  • SeanPdesign
    September 24, 2008

    YES! Church and politics don’t mix!
    Let us stop making moral issues political and focus on what is RIGHT, good, just, and moral in God’s eyes. Let us focus on what is sin in God’s eyes, and what is evil in God’s eyes. Lets not try and debate what is wrong, lets not try and decide what is wrong according to human emotion, but lets look at scripture, lets look to God, his wisdom, and his laws.
    This blog misses issues this country faces BIG time. No offense to Kevin, but he kind of misses the issues in a big way. Thats not a personal attack. I love his heart, its full of love and compassion for all who need Christ. We all should take note of his heart and compassion and follow in his foot steps, but his thoughts and his opinions of love and compassion being taken onto the global level are dangerous and ignorant. They are necessary, but we need to be wise in our actions.
    Abortion is sin. Abortion is murder. The end.
    Obama supports abortion, he supports murder, therefore he supports sin. The end.
    In Heathers blog, her links was one logical or scriptural point was made to justify abortion or even worse late term abortion which both Joe Biden and Barrack Obama fully support and have voted in favor of. Every point Heather made, or the people she or Kevin quote give points from an emotional stance. Basing any type of decisions that are so dangerously close to being dreadfully sinfully and harming SHOULD NEVER be made based off of abortion. Yet this is the VERY foundation of which liberalism, leftist thought, and the Democratic new theology is based upon. Human emotion. That is dangerous waters if you ask me.
    I would agree with Kevin, Jesus is NOT a republican, nor an American, nor any other nationality, but his teachings are sure conservative in nature, and what I like to call myself, classical liberalism. They are based on Scripture first, God’s laws and love, and logic secondly. God’s laws after all are pretty dang logical. Don’t do this because that will happen… God may work in mysterious ways but his he is a God of order and his laws are VERY logical. Which seems to be escaping the Democratic party, liberals, leftist christians, leftist jews, and leftist theology which has hijacked the Democratic party. Lets not forget one minor factor either, God is not American or any other nationality he has chosen a specific people above all others, Jews. . . might not sit well with some of you, and definitely some of you who have anti-semtic leanings,
    You MUST put truth above everything! You must stand up for what is right and just first! You must stand against sin at all costs. Christ taught if you are not for Him, you are against Him, Paul taught that believing in Christ means to follow Christ’s words and God’s laws. . . Logic. . . is it resonating yet?
    The fundamental flaw in both Heather and Kevin’s thinking is simple. Yes you can, and you MUST legislate morals, this country was founded on Judeo-Christian values and morals. Conversion is great, we must seek to convert people to Christ, but tolerating sin? death? murder? injustice? You cannot legislate compassion. Compassion is a great and essential principle to being a follower of Christ, but it is dangerous and destructive when it is made into policy. Look at Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac… Need we a better example? Compassion is selective in nature. When you have compassion for someone or a group you inevitably deny another of your compassion, you cannot avoid it. Period. Compassion for Iran? Then you cannot have compassion for Israel and must choose.Think about that for a second… To choose one, means to deny another. . . that can be very dangerous. . .
    God bless America, God bless Israel, God damn Iran. God damn North Korea. God bless iranians, God bless arabs, God bless Koreans, God bless all who live on this earth and pray that they hear the truth of the gospel and their eyes are opened to the truth of Christ the savior, pray it, pray it, pray it. Maybe I’m to jewish, but I’m sorry things need to be judged here. Actions and policies need to be judged, accepted or rejected. Apathy is not Godly. Neither is pacifism. Christ does not intervene for the indecisive but only those that CHOOSE Him. There are nations out there that conspire to do evil, they are doing EVIL! Great evil, we are not a perfect nation, we are not a perfect people, but that is NO excuse to tolerate evil doing! We may do wrong, but we are not a nation that seeks to do evil.
    In my mind choosing Christ also means fighting sin, standing up for what is right, just, and good, and fighting evil.
    The left is morally bankrupt when it comes to the great evils of the world. The cause against evil is not the poor and social justices, its noble, but its not the evil we face. 22 democratic debates not one mention of islamic terror, Clinton steps down from an anti-Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rally because of politics. . . because the real evil and danger is republicans?
    I ask why does ANY christian vote for a democrat? The poor and social justices. . . Its beyond me. Morally bankrupt. . . but as long as you can feel good about yourself everything will be just alright. Riiiiiight.
    I don’t care one iota if the world wants Obama over McCain, nor do I care if the world hates us for electing McCain. When your primary goal in life is to be loved, to be accepted, you will fail at upholding anything good, right, just, or moral. The good are rarely EVER loved by the masses during the time they are standing up for what is good, right, just, and moral, Christ would be the best example of that, Lincoln, Malcom X, and Martin Luther King are some others. I am not interested in the worlds view if it contradicts this country standing up for what is RIGHT in the world.
    Its not political, you are correct. What does mix? The Church choosing to do right by God not man, the Church choosing to fight evil like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Iran not each other.
    If standing up for what is right, good, just, and moral divides this country I am fine with that. If it divides us as believers I am also fine with that. I am not the one choosing the division, the one offended by my passion for justice, morality, and goodness in this world is choosing to be divided from me.
    ” 49″I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed! 51Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. 52From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. 53They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” – Luke 12:49-53.
    We are not intended to be united, but divided. Christ will separate the chaff from the grain, and so to will we be divided. We must pray for us to be on the right side of God, not man, and seek to please him, not man, not the world, not our Church even, but God.
    God is clear as to what is right, what is wrong, what is sin, and what is just, he is clear on what is moral, and no over spiritualizing, no apathetic, passive, or emotionally charged arguments will change it.
    The apathy that pollutes this country and this church scares me deeply. Its the same apathetic state that polluted Russia which paved the way to The Bolshevik revolution. Then we saw a democratic Germany fall into that same apathy, The left attacked the moderate right and ushered in Nazism. North Korea, China, and on and on. History tends to repeat itself.
    The left is attacking the moderate right, the passive christian.
    History tends to repeat itself.
    So for me, I welcome a debate about Obama/McCain, I long for a presidential ticket that would be Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin!
    Obama wants to meet with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and talk peace, at the UN Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gives speeches of hate and murder about Israel, not peace. On Larry King Mahmoud Ahmadinejad when asked if there could be a meeting with all in the middle east including Israel, he said no, he went on to spew hate, calling Israel an uninvited guest, an occupier, he then when on to elaborate on how America would handle an occupier, stating we would run them out. He then continues on talking about Soviet Union collapsing because of tough policies created by the American government. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad does not believe that Israel needs to get out of the West Bank or the Gaza strip, but they need to not exist at all! What? and we want to negotiate with that? We want to tolerate that? We want to meet with that? Get out of town, no in fact get out of my country and go live in Denmark where the suicide rate is through the roof, and depression isn’t a psychological condition its a way of life!
    Every generation has to face a great evil. Its how that generation responds and deals with that evil that defines it. That evil is not global warming Al Gore, its not the housing situation, its not the unemployment rate or the poor, its not even the economy. This nation, this generation faces a greater evil than the left or the democratic party wants to admit. It is time that the church stop trying to be everybody’s friend, stop trying to be buddy Jesus and stand up for what is RIGHT.
    A spirit of Molech and Baal is at our door steps and is seeking our destruction. Christ is right, the battle is not of flesh but a spiritual one, unfortunately those spirits are using man to do its bidding. We must identify the evil and stand against it.
    So again I stress, let us stop making moral issues political and focus on what is RIGHT, good, just, and moral in God’s eyes. Let us focus on what is sin in God’s eyes, and what is evil in God’s eyes. Lets not try and debate what is wrong, lets not try and decide what is wrong according to human emotion, but lets look at scripture, lets look to God, his wisdom, and his laws. and then go vote for McCain because Obama stands for NOTHING, believes in NOTHING, and is bad for this Country.

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  • Jermayn
    September 24, 2008

    One reason why I am glad I do not live in the USA, hear in Oz it is not a problem like you have talked about.
    I think politics are important as a Christian you must know where the parties stand etc but preached over the pulpit? Goodness no.

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  • Lex
    September 25, 2008

    I love this topic because it always yields good, passionate discussion. I’ve been all over the place on this – trying to strike a balance between loving my enemy and being the light of the world.
    I think everyone here has great points. And this case specifically is a tough one. We need to unite as the body of Christ, but could I support a minister who openly supports someone who seeks to rule our nation in a way that does not honor God? How do the ideas/opinions that lead her to support Obama translate into her ministry? Does she agree that people who make more should be taxed more, and is that contrary to “do not muzzle an ox while it treads?” Does she agree that abortion is acceptable before God, or even that it’s a side issue? I would question my support not because of her political affiliation directly, but because of what it reveals about her faith.
    What I wonder – however – is how many of us who have such passionate opinions are praying for those in authority (per 1 Tim 2:1-2). Or maybe it’s just easier to declare our righteous opinions before men and leave it at that. ;)
    I like Psalm 2 when I get in over my head on this topic. The nations rage, the people plot, kings set themselves and rulers take counsel together, and “He who sits in the heavens laughs.”

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  • Kevin D. Hendricks
    September 25, 2008

    James, thanks for the words from MLK. I hadn’t seen those when I commented. It’s easy to forget how radical he was.
    In general, I think it’s worth pointing out that Heather is not pro-abortion. She’s definitely not saying abortion is OK (the link to her site has plenty of detail on this). It is possible to support a candidate and not support every one of their stands.
    I just read these words from Jesus for President and found them rather applicable:
    “The distinctly kingdom question is not about how we should vote but about how we should live. The decision we make in each future election is no more important than how we vote every day. We vote every day for companies, for people, and we put money toward ‘campaigns.’ We need to think of the faces behind the scenes. Who are the masters and Caesars that we pledge allegiance to by the way we live and through the things we put our trust in? We vote every day with our feet, our hands, our lips, and our wallets. We are to vote for the poor. We are to vote for the peacemakers. We are to vote for the marginalized, the oppressed, the most vulnerable of our society. These are the ones Jesus voted for, those whom every empire had left behind, those whom no millionaire politician will represent.”

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  • Archie Mck
    September 25, 2008

    Wow, lots ‘o thoughts here! Just wanted to add that if a church does endorse a specific candidate they lose their tax exempt status. Heard a interesting segment on NPR about it on the way home yesterday.

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  • gene
    September 25, 2008

    I’m not sure that the tax excempt status is something that will stand as Constitutional. As noted previously, I don’t think the pulpit is the place for politics. However, the threat of losing tax excempt status is a law that could be deemed as infringing on one’s right of free expression and also the practice of one’s religion. It’s an issue that merits more exploration.
    I also find it interesting that the threat is only made to churches of a conservative leaning. No one is threatening Rev. Wright’s church.

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  • amoslanka
    September 30, 2008

    Speaking of Jesus For President, they had a great point in the book about the solicitation of “God Bless America” or any other entity. I wrote about it here:

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  • DaRonn
    October 1, 2008

    Good observation and I agree. In fact I believe that many people in the US have been turned off from attending church because Jesus has been communicated as being a part of one political party. So to be Christian means to be a part of “this particular party and to vote in this way.

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  • Allen
    October 6, 2008

    AS I read through all the comment I sense the same tension we see on the campaign plateform. Of course, this is what politics does to us. politics is polemical issues and that is antithetical to the christain doctrine we are call to pursue on this earth. And that is why we must be involved as citizens but not as we are doing today. What is happening today is not affecting the fabric of the Gospel but also it is alienating us from the very people we are to reach out. God is not a republican nor democrat. Conservative christianity is not synonymous to political conservatism. And we need to make that distinction.

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