Recently a couple pursuing membership in our church wrote me a very thoughtful, humble letter with questions generated by the recent sermon “Don’t Waste Your Vote.” In particular, they took issue with the emphasis placed on the issue of abortion. While pro-life themselves, they felt that by highlighting abortion we were essentially endorsing a particular party. I wrote them back and sought to share the perspective of the pastoral team, why we did what we did and how we view this issue.
I’m sharing our correspondence here (with their permission) for two reasons. First, because I think it’s an encouraging example of how Christians should interact on what are often heated subjects. We need to be able to speak about these issues with charity and respect toward each other. I think the way this couple raised their questions and disagreements is a model for this. Second, I share it because I think the issue of abortion is a vital subject for Christians to examine from a biblical perspective. Though you may not agree with my perspective, I hope it provokes you to prayerfully search God’s word for yourself.
What follows is the original letter I received and then my response…
We recently moved to the area and have been attending Covenant Life Church for the last couple of months. We have been very refreshed to worship with the Covenant Life body. The sermons have challenged us, the thoughtful and powerful lyrics of the songs have enabled us to enter into genuine times of worship and praise, and the consistent emphasis on “impassioned orthodoxy” has stirred our hearts. We came to this area in search of a local church that unabashedly presents the unadulterated Gospel, in full humility and in view of God’s mercy. Through our experiences and prayers thus far, we have felt a growing excitement that Covenant Life may indeed be this local church, and we have started attending the Starting Point classes. At our first class, we were further heartened to read in detail the church’s Statement of Faith, which we believe has been more thoughtfully prepared and presented than any other we have ever read. Overwhelmingly, we have been very blessed and had been eagerly looking forward to joining the community of believers at Covenant Life to know the Lord deeper and to make Him known.
However, the recent sermon entitled “Don’t Waste Your Vote” has really taken us aback. We did not have an opportunity to attend the sermon since we were in the Starting Point class at the time, and it would have been too much for our baby if we had tried to attend the first service as well. We listened to the sermon Monday evening instead and were surprised and discouraged regarding much of the sermon’s content. We are not in the habit of writing this sort of letter in response to sermons. Rather, in the past we have made it a point to send e-mails of encouragement to our pastors for sermons that have blessed us. However, since we are trying to find a home church, we feel that it is very important for us to take the steps now that are necessary for us to be certain of the church’s stance and pastoral unity on certain topics.
We were really interested to listen to the “vote” sermon as it was introduced as one that would challenge us to consider what it means to think responsibly and biblically about our citizenship. Instead, the bulk of the content centered around the very strong suggestion that we ought to consider abortion the most important issue facing us today. Indeed, the intense discussion on abortion made up the vast majority of the sermon’s second point entitled, “what to do,” seemingly implying that the correct thing to do once making our list of important issues is to realize that voting for candidates who oppose abortion is “what we should do.” The emphasis on abortion, especially to the exclusion of other topics that many Christians believe God speaks clearly on as well (caring for His earth, aiding the disadvantaged of our society, supporting humble rather than ethnocentric leadership, etc.) led us as listeners to either feel that we must vote based on abortion alone or feel incredibly guilty before the Lord if we don’t. The world is so complicated, and it is not easy to understand how the Lord would have us “vote,” but we feel that it is a great travesty that in the Christian community we are wrestling with this less and less and, instead, making it seem like a simple answer by equating a Christian vote with the pro-life candidate.
We profoundly appreciate the importance of teaching the community of believers to be thoughtfully, prayerfully, and humbly involved in our country’s political process so that our privilege to vote, and to reflect the character of the Lord in that act, is not “wasted.” However, although the sermon started in this manner, the entire second half was almost exclusively focused on the sin of abortion. While we do view abortion as an egregious sin, our experience is that such imbalanced focus on abortion as a single hot button issue, especially within the church, not only does harm to our political process, but weakens the capacity of congregants to think for themselves about how to reflect the character and heart of God in the midst of a world that has far more going on than just abortion. The pastor who preached this sermon began by encouraging people to become aware and involved in the political process, but we fear that for many, this sermon basically ended up providing a simple answer about how to vote. The surprising and exclusive emphasis on abortion as the issue that everyone should consider as most important, or at least most black and white from the Bible, is practically equivalent to holding up a sign that says “Vote Republican” or “Vote John McCain”.
We recognize that you shared some welcomed words on your blog that “we’re not interested in identifying with a political party or candidate,” and as we were leaving the Starting Point class, we heard the thoughtful things that you shared after the sermon about how the Gospel in its entirety is far more important than a single issue. However, at best, we feel that there is a mixed signal when the senior pastor says that there is not party affiliation, but the preacher implies, “vote for the pro-life candidate” for much of the sermon. At worst, it makes congregants like us worry that there are serious disconnects between what the church says it stands for and what it actually does.
I emphasize that it is not at all fair, nor productive, to make accusations. This is NOT our heart and motivation behind this letter. We just feel so wary, weary, tired and disheartened by a wing of influential Christians who have made Christianity into a fight against abortion and homosexual marriage, with no thought given to just about anything else. We want desperately to know that the church we are about to join wants to fight this hijack. Not with clubs, swords and angry words, but by humbly and thoughtfully presenting the Gospel in its entirety, and the Lord in His incomprehensible fullness.
We hope very much that we have not offended anyone in this letter. We understand that there will be things in any church that some will not be able to agree with, and unity must always be sought in the midst of that. But we wanted to write this letter to honestly share our feelings and to learn more about the church’s stance on what we feel is an important issue. We know that you must be incredibly busy, and we’re not sure how shepherd/sheep correspondence about things like this works at Covenant Life, but we would very much appreciate hearing from you in this regard at your earliest convenience. Thank you so much for your time.
Thank you for your letter. I know it was probably difficult to write. I appreciate you taking the time to share what you’ve been encouraged by at the church. And it really is a joy to have you coming.
The first thing I’d like to register with you is that I share your frustration over the lack of political “options” for Christians who believe that human life is sacred and should be protected. I assume from your letter that you share this view. One of the reasons that I pray Roe v. Wade will one day be overturned is that even though it won’t get rid of abortion completely in our nation, I think it would lead to the end of one party “owning” the pro-life issue. The current state of affairs is very unhealthy. If individual states were given the ability to decide about abortion, you’d have candidates from each party taking different stands on the issue of life. In a limited way even now there are pro-life democrats, just as there are pro-choice republicans. If this were more the norm, I think it would be easier for Christians to take a strong stand on the issue of abortion without sounding as if they were advocating one particular party. I realize Robin’s message could leave us open to that charge, but I’d like to explain why he did what he did in that message.
First, I agree that there are other important topics that Christians should consider. And I would even say that Robin could have done more to highlight these other issues. Neither I, nor Robin, would want to try and argue that it was the perfect message on this complicated topic. But what I would argue for is the view that few other issues in our generation rise to the same level of moral urgency as abortion. When we’re talking about millions of innocent lives being taken, and I’m just not aware of another issue where Scripture speaks so clearly. If this were an issue of a candidate supporting human trafficking or the sex trade, would we say that other issues were just as important? I understand your weariness over how politicians have used this issue to secure a block of votes, but I don’t think it changes our responsibility to continue to work for justice on this issue.
We believe our role as pastors is to speak clearly to those areas that God’s word clearly addresses. When it comes to other areas where there is freedom in Scripture to hold different views, we don’t want to pretend that our viewpoint—mine or Robin’s or anyone else’s—holds some sort of special authority. So for example, I think the issue of the environment is very important. But I can’t say that God’s word speaks to a specific policy or political platform. But I can say that God’s word condemns the taking of innocent human life. And because of that, I think I have the responsibility to speak to it very clearly.
My concern for my own heart in this issue (and my concern for you and others) is that we would grow weary of the issue of abortion and stop thinking biblically about it. But if we were looking back on other issues in our nation’s history—the issue of slavery for example—I think we could more clearly see that regardless of other important issues of the day, that one issue should rise above others in its priority. I wonder if we would fault the Christian abolitionists of the past for being “one issue” voters on that topic. Or Christians who stood for civil rights in the 1960s. John Piper has stated this view much better than me in an article entitled “One Issue Politics.”
All this is to say that I don’t think there’s any discontinuity in saying “we’re not interested in identifying with a party,” and saying, “the issue of abortion is uniquely important for Christians to consider.”
I don’t know that I can convince you that this is the right church for you. (I can say from the tone and thoughtfulness of your letter that I want people like you to be part of this church!) I understand and can sympathize with your concern over the church being used as a pawn of right wing conservatives, and I don’t want any part of that. And I think if you look at what we say and do you’ll see that we don’t emphasize these issues or involve ourselves in politics in the same way some churches do. I think it’s perfectly within our liberty as Christians to have different points of view on politics and different priorities on different issues. But, as I said, where God’s word is so clear in condemning the taking of innocent human life I must speak to that—even if it could be interpreted as some sort of endorsement of one political party. I pray for the day when that won’t be the case.
I’d love to have you set up an appointment with Robin or any other pastor to discuss these matters. If it would serve you to hear how our church involves itself in these issues, we’d love to do that. I also understand if our views on this issue make it untenable for you to join the church. That would sadden me because I don’t think it has to be the case, but I would understand.
I also want you to know that am not offended by your letter. I respect your thoughtful approach to these issues. Thank you for writing with such a humble spirit. Thank you for taking the time to get to know our church’s doctrine and practice before you join. I respect you for caring about these issues. Please let us know how we can serve you or continue this conversation.
After I sent this letter, I received a very gracious response from the couple. While they respectfully disagreed with some of my statements, they appreciated the dialogue and informed me they still planned to pursue membership here at the church. I hope that reading this interaction serves you as you think about your role as a citizen of both the United States and the Kingdom of God. Regardless of whom you vote for in the upcoming election, let’s all pray for God to have mercy on our nation and to give us leaders who will lead with wisdom, integrity and a commitment to justice and mercy.