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On Tuesday I wrote on seven ways to do political punditry wrong in our polarized world. Let me sharpen the focus a bit and speak directly to pastors.

I am what you would label as “into politics.” I read a lot of political commentary online. I subscribe to politically themed magazines and journals. I studied political science in college and worked with my professors on an American government textbook. I imagine I follow the political happenings in my state and in the country more than most pastors do. All of that is preface for my next statement.

Pastors should be careful not to get swept up in the daily whirlwind of American (or British or Canadian or whatever) politics.

Note the words “pastors” and “careful” in the previous sentence. This is not an absolute command or a blanket condemnation. This is a caution specifically for pastors. Any regular reader of this blog knows I’ve commented on political matters before. I’m not arguing for a neo-quietism that seals off the church from the world and shrugs its shoulders at cultural decay and injustice. What I am arguing for is a firm commitment to the ministerial priorities of preaching, praying, and pastoring the flock entrusted to us.

Again, let me be clear: I’m not against Christians being engaged in the political arena. We need more of that, not less. I’m certainly not against pastors equipping their people to make a difference in the world. I’m not even against pastors speaking directly to certain issues, cases, policies, or pieces of legislation. So what am I concerned about?

I am concerned when I see that a pastor’s online presence is almost entirely filled up with commentary on whatever political item is dominating the 24-hour news cycle. How does a pastor have time to keep up with all the latest twists and turns of a Trump administration, let alone to provide running commentary?

I am concerned when I see pastors dogmatically equate biblical values with policy prescriptions. There are many reasons one might be opposed to Trump’s executive order, but the biblical command to love the sojourner does not by itself establish how many refugees or immigrants a country should let in or from where.

I am concerned when I see pastors throw their weight behind causes that good Christians might disagree on. There are many reasons one might be cheered by Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, but there is nothing in the Bible that says Christians must be originalists when it comes to the Constitution.

I am concerned when I see pastors alienating members of their congregation over political matters that require prudential consideration. I will speak on abortion and marriage and racism because the Bible speaks directly to the value of life in the womb and the definition of marriage and the sin of racism. I may try to dissect current controversies in an effort to help people think carefully and constructively. But I never want to call sin what the Bible does not call sin. Our elders (I hope) would discipline a church member for promoting abortion, for violating a biblical understanding of marriage, or for having racial animus, but we would not (I hope) discipline someone for coming to political conclusions based on empirical and methodological considerations that cannot be be proven (or or disproved) by Scripture.

I am concerned when I see pastors making extravagant, unqualified statements on issues that require some level of nuance and expertise. We should be experts in the Bible and in the care of souls. After that, some pastors may be particularly thoughtful and well read, but let’s be slow to speak in areas we know little about.

I am concerned when I see pastors commenting with great frequency on a never ending stream of political controversies. We may say, “This is just what I do on Twitter and Facebook. It takes 30 minutes a day, and the rest of my time I’m leading meetings, visiting people in the hospital, and working on sermons.” That may be true, but to everyone who sees your public face online, it looks as if the animating principle in your life is not the gospel of Jesus Christ, or the exposition of the Scriptures, or the love of the saints, but daily outrage, political punditry, and cultural commentary.

Dear brother pastor, I can’t tell you how much time is too much time to spend on political matters. There is no exact formula. But I know that I have to guard my own heart against misdirected time and emotional energy. We must be careful not to set a precedent that communicates, “You can count on me for up-to-the-minute commentary.” We are heralds of the one who is, who was, and who is to come, not armchair commentators on Whatever Is Happening Now. We do not help our people, or own souls, when we try to swim in the media’s always-churning, never-ceasing maelstrom of breaking news.

I don’t know if I’m preaching to the choir, but I’m certainly preaching to myself. Put down the phone. Close the web browser. Stop trying to change the world one tweet at a time. Let’s make sure we know our Bibles and know our people a thousand times better than we know the ins and outs of the Trump administration. And let’s not be afraid to be social media silent--not always, but often--in a world clamoring for political noise. Just because the internet gives us a microphone, doesn’t mean we have to speak into it.

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26 thoughts on “Of Pastors and Politics”

  1. Renee Byrd says:

    You just think it leads to unnecessary divisiveness? Are you just wanting to avoid controversy? Then you’ll have to stay away from every hot button topic out there, including homosexuality. I’m glad John Piper has spoken truth about Trump. Pastors should not be forced to keep their opinions to themselves even if people do get their panties in a wad. Political talk may cause controversy but it also exposes idolatry. This idolatry should have been addressed in this post. People put Trump over the biblical rule of treat others as you would want to be treated. #smashyouridols

  2. Curt Day says:

    I look at politics as just one part of practical theology understanding that practical theology has more than one part. So ignoring politics is as wrong as reducing the Christian life to politics. Though perhaps my assignment of politics could be wrong, we can’t ignore politics because it can practice various levels of justice and injustice. And seeing that we have the opportunities and resources to work for justice and challenge injustices, this is part of our stewardship. But it is only part.

    So I like much of what Kevin wrote above, but I want to challenge one statement:


    I am concerned when I see pastors throw their weight behind causes that good Christians might disagree on.

    I somewhat disagree with this statement because backing political causes that promote certain levels of injustice does not necessarily disqualify one from being a good Christian–at least in the eyes of those in a church. Just because good Christians back a particular political position doesn’t mean that that position can’t be wrong. Whether a pastor throws his weight behind a particular cause would depend on the tradeoffs in so doing and how the pastor throws his weight behind a cause. Would it have been wrong for pastors in the South to strongly challenge slavery or Jim Crow? Many who saw themselves as good Christians supported those practices and even used the Scriptures to defend them.

  3. Steven Kopp says:

    Knowing what and when to post when it comes to politics has been a major challenge for me as a pastor, for all of the reasons you state. Thank you for the wisdom and warnings.

  4. Michael Bragg says:

    Pastor drops the mic

  5. Brian says:

    I am not a Pastor but have been the target of one who was a never Trump type. Now some of the things Trump said I was upset about and did not condone it. What I did was look at the issues of Religious Freedom, Abortion, and Marriage. There was no way I could support Hillary based on those among other issues. The SCOTUS was a big deal as well. Anyways the Pastor seen many of the Church members tweets or facebook posts, the ones supporting Trump were asked to leave his Church. Now at first I was idolizing Trump but I have shaken that off, I won’t agree with him on everything he does but people shouldn’t assume that I am against him all of the sudden because of that. Thanks for the article and God Bless

  6. Zach Garris says:

    Kevin, you said, “There are many reasons one might be cheered by Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, but there is nothing in the Bible that says Christians must be originalists when it comes to the Constitution.”

    Of course the Bible doesn’t directly address the question of the Constitution, but it does give us principles that apply to this question. Isn’t being an originalist part of being honest? You would not want readers of your books and articles taking things out of context or “reinterpreting” them as they see fit. And we certainly do not want Christians doing so with the Bible (there is a connection here between liberal theology and liberal Constitutional theory).

    While there may be disagreements among originalists, the concept of interpreting a legal document according to its original and intended meaning seems to be a necessary component of Christian truthfulness. The “living Constitution” theory is disingenuous, as its proponents seek to reinterpret the Constitution as ratified in order to bring about their desired political goals—instead of going through the proper legal means of amending the document. This kind of non-originalist interpretation has brought us decisions like Roe and Obergefell. So yes, I think biblical principles dictate that Christians should be originalists.

  7. Dr. Richard Zeile says:

    There is much wisdom in what you have to say on this topic (as in many of your columns). Allow me to add a few thoughts. 1) “A pastor must be well thought of…” Politics is regarded in some societies, and in some circles as tainted. The burden of your call may preclude you from any public involvement at all, lest you sacrifice your ministry. This is a hard fact of life many idealists refuse to accept. 2) Politics involves reconciling conflicting agendas which sets up temptation to misrepresent, manipulate, intimidate, etc., not to mention slander oponents. Oolitics is to become vulnerable to the World which rewards and punishes vice and virtue indicriminately. It can be challenging to maitain integrity in such conditions. Of course, no occupation is without its temptations. 3) Pastors have much more influence on politics when they address the underlying issues of what is right and wrong, how the world really works, respect for objective truth, than simply taking partisan positions. It is tempting to affirm what people already believe than to challenge them to think, and I believe our calling, whether in chiurch OR state, is the latter. 4) Christian beliefs do tend to influence political thinking in conservative ways. Originalist interpretation can be seen as keeping faith (what IS the point of writing laws down if their meaning will change, especially as in marriage, in unanticipated ways?). The doctrine of Original sin leads us to recognize the tendency toward corruption which must be limited by law, etc. 5) Your observation that the public face of many pastors is that of political enthusiasm rather than “Know nothing among you except Jesus Christ,” is a challenge for me. I grew up in a North European culture that regarded the most sacred things as spoken only in sacred conditions, not worn on tee shirts, nor chanted as at football games. How do we know when to offer our pearls rather than cast them before swine (judgmental, I know!). On the other hand, our public face may reveal things about our inner condition we would rather nt acknowledge (I think of God addressing Jerome as a “Ciceronian,” rather than as a Christian, and this dream led Jerome to forsake his secular interests as interfering with his sacred calling).
    THank you for a thought-provoking post.

  8. Caleb says:

    This is somewhat ironic, however, seeing DeYoung (whom I love) writes regularly for the Gospel Coalition- who often do this very thing- which in turn leads many church leaders to write responses to correct some of the imbalances of TGC. The whole “Black Lives Matter” issue is case and point. Had TGC not posted various opinion pieces many pastors would have said nothing- as genuine racism is not a major issue in many of our local churches.

    I do appreciate your final paragraph, “I don’t know if I’m preaching to the choir, but I’m certainly preaching to myself. Put down the phone. Close the web browser. Stop trying to change the world one tweet at a time. Let’s make sure we know our Bibles and know our people a thousand times better than we know the ins and outs of the Trump administration. And let’s not be afraid to be social media silent—not always, but often—in a world clamoring for political noise. Just because the internet gives us a microphone, doesn’t mean we have to speak into it.”

    Let’s hope the leading men at TGC lead by example in 2017.

  9. Peter says:

    Hear, hear! Anyone who wants to convince American evangelicals that political stumping isn’t their Christian duty has their work cut out for them. You are not acceptable to us until you correct your politics. Then we can talk about the Gospel. The vanguard is a political banner. The Gospel is a few ranks back.

  10. elizabeth kerr says:

    I go to church to study the Bible together with other believers, to hear a pastor preach about what God says in the Bible, and to connect with other believers for service, relationships, and encouragement. I do not go for politics; I do not want to lose any time discussing or hearing about politics. If the pastor of a church speaks about politics, I will leave that church. God does not want us to prefer or reject other people because of their politics the way too many politically-focused Christians do today. He wants us to agape-love even non-believers and people whose politics are different from ours, to do good to them, to bless them, and to pray for them (Luke 6), not to curse them and insult them as I hear today. Let’s keep politics out of the church and focus on what God says in the Bible instead.

    I sure hope Peter, post 2/3/2017 at 12:56 pm, is being sarcastic. If not, how sad.

  11. Jared says:

    I definitely resonate with the tension of how much and when to participate in social media conversations surrounding this administration, the degree to which we should express outrage, etc. However, how would we apply this if we instead found ourselves in the midst of the slave trade (i.e. Fredrick Douglass’ commentary?). Rise of Nazism? What about the Civil Rights era? I genuinely am trying to find the tipping point where Christian outrage at injustice is warranted, as I would argue was the case in these examples. I’m personally convicted that that time has now come for us in 2017, and I think many others are too, but we could use some wisdom on navigating these times. I would very much appreciate someone walking through what Christian responses looked like or should look like during these dark stretches of history. Ironically, I draw much inspiration from (Trump supporter) Eric Metaxas’ novel on Bonhoeffer, but don’t have many other places to turn for guidance. Please help!

  12. Scott Carson says:

    Thanks Kevin! I truly appreciate your wisdom, gracious spirit and godly insights!

  13. neville briggs says:

    Perhaps the important observation that Mr KDY made about some Christians in political debate was the phrase, to quote;” it looks as if the animating principle in your life is not the gospel of Jesus Christ, ”

    When some people tried to draw Jesus into political debate, He gave the famous answer ” Give to Caesar the things that belong to Caesar and give to God the things that belong to God ”
    From the way this saying of Jesus is often interpreted, it appears that a lot of people take it that Jesus was proposing a sort of separation of the religious and the secular. That , one should not encroach upon the other. Is that really what Jesus was saying.
    Jesus showed his Jewish questioners a Roman coin embossed with a ” graven image “, Caesar who claimed to be a god.
    Perhaps the message that Jesus was saying was that what is to be given to God is worship, honour and glory because God is Lord, Caesar is not Lord, he is not to be worshipped, he only gets his coinage back.

    To repeat Mr JDY’s expression , “the animating principle ” according to Jesus is that God is Lord; Caesar ( or President or Prime Minister or Chairman ) is not.
    As the writer of Revelation has it
    ” Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise”

    If we get that message then our position on politics is clear. The scripture tells us.

  14. DCal3000 says:

    Thank you, Kevin DeYoung, for this timely article. I was alarmed by the two main presidential candidates last year, but I felt deeply hurt by the inept way Reformed religious leaders and their allies, especially on the Gospel Coalition’s website, handled the election. They repeatedly condemned the decisions voters were making on both sides of the political aisle, but they refused to clearly endorse candidates themselves. One example was a pastor who wrote a Gospel Coalition blog post to encourage people to vote for Hillary Clinton, then, without clarifying his statements, mocked his readers afterward for thinking he actually had voted for Clinton. He now claims to have voted for a third-party candidate. Such word games are unbecoming of a Christian leader and shook my faith in the Gospel Coalition as a whole. Other examples were a post in which another Gospel Coalition author insisted that those who supported Trump were “temporarily abandoning Christ,” and a post in which another author insisted that voting for Trump would be loving his neighbor only if his neighbor were a fifty-year old white male. I had never before been aware that the Gospel Coalition believed the New Testament defined “neighbor” according to age and ethnicity, and the very suggestion grieved me.

    To be clear, I am not here condemning those who took principled stands against either Trump or Clinton. I am expressing my discontent with the half-in, half-out political game that so many religious leaders played last year, as they mocked laypeople who were struggling through a difficult election. There are times pastors should take political stands, and there are times they should not. But they need to be intentional and consistent, and they need to act out of love–not out of the presumption that they are so, so much smarter than the rural farmer voting for Trump or the eighty-year old, African-American woman voting for Clinton. We laypeople, whatever our party affiliation, are indeed like sheep. We face mockery from the world merely for being Christians. We struggle to feed our families. We are told to stand up for our beliefs, and we are told to donate to all sorts of ministries. I’ve been involved in politics for years, but it didn’t bother me as an adult that Reformed leaders stayed aloof from the political fray. They had a different calling. But it hurt–and I mean really, really hurt–to find last year that they weren’t all pursuing a different calling. They were sneering at their laypeople–over politics of all things. So thank you for pointing your colleagues to a better way. I pray the church will grow stronger and not weaker as we struggle through our changing political culture. I think your commentary, Pastor DeYoung, is much needed.

  15. Bob says:

    Actually, this is good advice for lay people, too. We ought to be engaged in the political issues of the day but not obsessed. Time spent in Scripture, prayer and active love for our fellow man can often (I speak from personal experience) be shunted aside for an afternoon of online “activism”….something that satisfies for the moment, but when one “hot button issue” is tackled, the siren of another will be front and center the next day. Political memes and social media can become a kind of idol, but it is in reality an empty cistern. On the other hand, careful thinking and prayerful attention to political issues can be an effective witness–if we don’t make it the ultimate goal. For that, we need to remember Matthew 22:37-39 :)

  16. Mary Delk says:

    Kevin, I am with you. I am so tired of pastors and other spiritual leaders using their platform to influence their people on issues that are not black-and-white in Scripture. And I am surprised at how often they do not even have their facts straight. Your article was refreshing – and needs to be taken seriously.

  17. Paul Stanton says:

    Alright, I guess I’m confused. Reading the gospels, a good majority of Jesus’ statements seem to be expressly political.

  18. neville briggs says:

    Is there any confusion Paul ?. Jesus’ “politics” is the coming of the Kingdom of God.
    When Jesus came face to face with the world of politics in the person of Pontius Pilate,
    Jesus ” political” statement was ” my kingdom is not of this world “.
    Jesus made it clear, the Kingdom of God does not derive from the world’s values, assumptions or methods.

  19. gamingnoob2 says:

    I noticed, recently, that there were more and more youtube clips appearing in my Facebook and on youtube itself, with titles like ‘Watch talk show host x DESTROY person y’. Lots of variations as to who does the destroying and who’s being destroyed; both left and right wing aimed clips use this same phrase.

    It felt vaguely unsettling for a while until I realised why: as a christian, I should not want to see anyone verbally destroyed, at all! It is poisonous clickbait aimed to satisfy base emotions, nothing more. I’ve stopped watching anything that has this kind of title. As christians, we should aim to be bringers of peace in this difficult time, not people who fan the flames even further – and pastors should be examples of that.

  20. Thank God for Kevin de Young, an Evangelical who sticks to his Biblical mandate! We want people of ALL political view to hear the Gospel and to turn to salvation in Jesus Christ.

  21. Dan says:

    Amen!!!

  22. Scott Hoffman says:

    Kevin DeYoung, a small piece of History for inside Church Baseball. My father worked with Norman Vincent Peale at Marble Collegiate church in NYC for fourteen years.

    My father told me years ago and then again a few years back. Rev. Norman Vincent Peale and Billy Graham took a beating for backing President Nixon. Not sure the exact context of when this happened in Nixon’s presidency, but I know Nixon used both men and their Reputation to try and back up or support his presidency. Both groups of insiders for Peale and Graham, or as my dad tells me, Graham’s people tried to get Peale to take the Responsibility for their support of Nixon. Peal’s ministry was “waining” Graham’s was rising…

    I’d love to talk to some of the folks in that room some day and get a different perspective, I think it is an important piece of history of our church leaders. I’m also sure my father working with Peale for fourteen years affected his perspective. Let alone having Nixon’s daughter’s wedding at the church, and his “Positive Perspective of Norman and Ruth”, etc…

  23. Byron Anderson says:

    I am disappointed in many of the contributors to this website involving themselves in politics by advising readers against voting for Donald Trump and some calling him immoral. I wonder if those same contributors warned us against voting for Barack Obama who called himself a Christian but who held positions on homosexuality and abortion that were against Scripture and immoral. His actions on the born alive legislation while a Senator were disgusting to anyone who believes in the sanctity of life. Where were the articles and hand wringing then among those in the gospel coalition? Promoting and protecting those who kill the unborn has to rank right up there with grabbing female body parts in the coalitions sense of Biblical morality.

  24. Levi says:

    Kevin-

    As a pastor I agree with most of what you wrote. I have found it a struggle this election cycle because of the craziness of it all to not comment on it. With that being I said, I take great exception to your statement, “but there is nothing in the Bible that says Christians must be originalists when it comes to the Constitution.” While Scripture may not reference the Constitution, it does talk about submitting to governing authorities. In America the Constitution is the highest authority and we as Christians are to submit to it. To do so means to take it words with the respect due to them, that is to not lie about them. As mentioned by one commentator above, being an originalist is about being honest with the text. As Christians, we must stand against the lies and falsehoods of textual deconstructionism. We do this when we stand against liberal theology and must stand against it everywhere we encounter it (As Mohler pointed in his commentary on the nomination). Why? Because it falsehood. And it flows from a worldview which is anti-Christian, and even anti-Christ (in the non-dispensational sense). So yes, faithful Christians are to be originalists. Because we are for truth, and we must properly submit to authorities. To reinterpret the Constitution, or any law, however we want, means we are in rebellion against proper authorities.

    Just some things to ponder from political-junky pastor to another. God bless!

  25. Serving Kids In Japan says:

    I am concerned when I see pastors making extravagant, unqualified statements on issues that require some level of nuance and expertise. We should be experts in the Bible and in the care of souls. After that, some pastors may be particularly thoughtful and well read, but let’s be slow to speak in areas we know little about.

    And let’s not be afraid to be social media silent—not always, but often—in a world clamoring for political noise. Just because the internet gives us a microphone, doesn’t mean we have to speak into it.

    DeYoung, I wish you’d followed this advice a few years back, instead of signing your name to a pack of lies in support of C.J. Mahaney. That was a situation about which you clearly didn’t know enough, and yet you, Carson and Taylor decided you just had to speak out about it. And even after all this time, you still haven’t addressed the falsehoods you promoted in that statement.

    Don’t imagine that I’ve forgotten.

  26. Vijay2u says:

    I am all for us knowing the Bible and having sermons focused on the word of God, however what I don’t see much of is actual application of the word of God to how we live each and every day. This does not require us to become political in the pulpit but to use the teachable moments God give us and apply God’s word directly to the problem. There is a reason God gave us an African American president for eight years yet I never once heard any pastor apply the word of God to the many teachable moments on race God gave us during those eight years. We can adopt children from other countries around the world, have mission projects in challenged areas of the world yet never challenge the racism that exists within our own country by applying the Word to current situations. We all know that when we come to Christ we have to have our worldviews reformed (reshaped) to the image of Christ yet I never hear pastors challenge us to address the stereotypes and worldviews we have acquired from our heritage, family, life experiences, etc. and “bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” Until we do that, we will never see the political situation clearly and we will not know that in many cases the political ideologies we hold on to are fundamentally contrary to God’s word.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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