Politics and the Pulpit
In the American context, the separation of church and state means that the American government cannot sponsor a “state church,” like our British friends have with the Anglican Church. It does not mean that any particular church is unable to take political sides. But should a church take political sides? What insight can scripture give us into politics and the pulpit?
The Old Testament
We must be cautious in what we can pull from the Old Testament. Not only did “churches” not exist then, but “politics” didn’t happen in the way we understand it today, either. There were no political parties and no democracy. There were monarchs with absolute power and prophets who spoke God’s word directly to them. The prophets were not preachers like we know them today.
Nevertheless, I think that we can take a few principles from the Old Testament. While we tend to think of the prophets as fortune-tellers, that’s not their role. Their role was to speak God’s word to the powerful, and prophesying judgment upon rulers and nations for failing to uphold their moral duty was a part of that. John the Baptist, the last of the Old Testament prophets, was killed because he condemned Herod's marriage to his sister-in-law.
Today, the church as a whole carries that prophetic role to the nations to reflect God's moral character, but not in the same way. The church itself should bear witness and warning to the powerful when they abuse their power and oppress the weak. But how we see that bear out in practice changes in the New Testament.
The New Testament
In the beginning of the New Testament, Israel was occupied territory. The relationship between the Jews and Rome was fraught with political tension. Factions within the Jews who wanted to work with Rome and who wanted to fight had extremely strained relationships.