Harsh Political Rhetoric Threatens to Divide Churches, Sever Christian Fellowship

DONKEYHOTEY / FLICKR CREATIVE COMMONS
DONKEYHOTEY / FLICKR CREATIVE COMMONS

Harsh political rhetoric threatens to divide churches and sever ties of Christian fellowship, a seminary professor and some Texas Baptist pastors agree.

Roger Olson, professor of theology and ethics at Baylor University’s Truett Theological Seminary, wrote a recent blog calling for “calmness and civility” in a divisive political season.

“Never in my lifetime have I experienced the kind of harsh rhetoric being thrown around between and among equally devout Christians over political differences of opinion,” Olson wrote.

In particular, he noted Christian Facebook “friends” using social media to demean and insult anyone who holds contrary political opinions.

“Seemingly, it isn’t enough to express and defend one’s political beliefs; now many educated, normally civil and respectful Christians are going out of their way to offend even friends who disagree with them. … Christian friendships are being broken and crushed in this way,” he wrote.

Real fear

Van Christian, pastor of First Baptist Church in Comanche, observed the same situation within his community and his congregation.

“Honestly, it seems more contentious this year than at any time in my 30 years of pastoral ministry,” Christian said.

In the volatile political climate, church members who hold to minority views feel they have to stay “underground” and avoid letting anyone—even fellow Christians—know they hold contrary opinions, Christian noted.

“They dare not let their political preferences be known in any public setting—including church,” he said. “They don’t feel like they can be open without risk. The fear is very real. They feel like the bond of Christian fellowship is not strong enough to withstand political differences.”

Straining family ties

Divisive political rhetoric also strains family relationships, said Kyndall Rothaus, pastor of Lake Shore Baptist Church in Waco.

“I know several people who cannot discuss politics with their relatives because it would cause too much turmoil,” Rothaus said. “I hear this the most from adult children who cannot talk to their parents about their political views.”

Need for humility

Taylor Sandlin, pastor of Southland Baptist Church in San Angelo, observed politically generated division “in the larger Christian community,” if not in his own congregation.

“My church has a long history of articulating the position that reasonable Christians can come to different conclusions,” he said. “It has been an especially cantankerous political season, but that hasn’t spilled out into Sunday school and Wednesday night meetings, although I don’t know about what is discussed around the dinner table.”

Sandlin recognizes the importance of finding ways regularly to talk about “how reasonable and compassionate Christians might hold different political viewpoints.” Unfortunately, instead of “robust debate” about serious issues, too much political discussion in American society—even among some Christians—has degenerated into shouting matches, he acknowledged.

“It’s not bad to say, ‘This is my best thinking about a particular political matter, but I still might be wrong,’” Sandlin said. “Humility is a Christian virtue.”

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SOURCE: The Baptist Standard
Ken Camp