4 Ways Political Disagreements Can Damage the Church
By: Akos Balogh
Our society is increasingly polarised.
We’re less likely to hold favourable opinions of those who disagree with our political views. We’re less likely to develop deep friendships with people who vote the other way.
Instead, we’re more likely to avoid people with political differences. We’re more likely to be suspicious of them. We’re more likely to write them off as ‘uneducated’ or ‘irrational’. Whether it’s the workmate who’s pro Liberal (or pro Greens); the fellow soccer mum who’s pro-Thunberg (or a climate sceptic); or the neighbour who’s pro Trump (or pro BLM).
We’re getting better at divisiveness, and worse at unity. And it’s fracturing our society.
Sadly, our churches are not immune from this polarisation. We’re always in danger of bringing the world into our church (rather than letting the gospel impact our world). But in this cultural moment it’s easier than ever to tear our churches apart over differing political views.
In fact, here are 4 easy ways Christians can make this awful scenario a reality:
1. Ignore the Difference Between ‘Straight Line’ Issues and ‘Jagged Line’ Issues
A key first step is to ignore the difference between ‘straight line’ political/social/ethical issues and ‘jagged line’ political/social/ethical issues.
Christian theologians Jonathan Leeman and Andrew Naselli explain the difference between the two:
For a straight-line issue, there is a straight line between a biblical text and its policy application. For instance, the Bible explicitly teaches that murder is sinful; abortion is a form of murder, so we should oppose abortion. That’s a straight line. Accordingly [a church should] initiate the church-discipline process with a member who [calls themselves a Christian and] is advocating for abortion…
But for a jagged line issue, there is a multi-step process from a biblical or theological principle to a political position. 
Most political issues are not straight-line issues. Most are jagged-line issues. Think of everything from trade policy to healthcare reform to monetary policy to carbon dioxide emission caps. These are important, and Christians should bring biblical principles to bear when thinking about them. But the path from biblical text to policy application is not simple. It is complex. For such issues, none of us should presume to possess “the” Christian position, as if we were apostles revealing true doctrine once and for all time.’
In other words, step 1 is assuming that the Bible gives clear positions on the political issues of our day just like it teaches us about salvation, judgement, and the second coming. It’s assuming Jesus and the apostles gave direct commands on climate change policy and immigration, tax benefit and public schooling.
If we assume that all political issues are ultimately ‘straight line’ issues, we’ll be taking the first step toward polarising and fracturing our churches.
2. Assume Your ‘Jagged Line’ Political Convictions Are ‘Straight Line’ Issues
This one is all too easy. Assume there’s a direct line between your political viewpoint and the Word of God.
Assume that the Bible directly supports your political party, your view on immigration, tax, and social welfare. Ignore any evidence to the contrary, that perhaps the Bible’s take on these issues isn’t as clear cut as you assume.
3. Condemn Those Who Disagree With Your (Jagged Line) Political Convictions As Unchristian
If your political views are directly from the Bible, then any Christian who disagrees with your politics is disobeying God Himself. Thus, voting for [insert your political viewpoint] is not a ‘disputable matter’ (Rom 14), a matter of Christian freedom, a matter that Christians can disagree over and still honour God. Disagreeing with your view of immigration/climate change/welfare is akin to heresy, and Christians who do so should be treated as such.
4. Break Fellowship With Those Who Hold to Differing Jagged line Political Convictions
The final way is to break fellowship with such people. After all, you wouldn’t have Christian fellowship with someone that calls themselves Christian, but denies that Jesus rose physically from the dead. In which case, why have fellowship with someone who disagrees with your clear cut view of politics?
So there you have it: 4 easy ways to damaging your church through political disagreement.
(Ok, enough sarcasm).
It’s easy to head down this road if we’re not careful.
In today’s culture, churches and Christians face a real and present threat to Christian unity when it comes to politics. As our society becomes ever more polarised – dismissing, nay hating those who hold opposing views – this attitude can seep into our churches, with devastating effects on our fellowship, and our witness to the wider world.
 Jonathan Leeman and Andrew David Naselli, “Politics, Conscience and the Church: Why Christians Passionately Disagree with One Another over Politics, Why They Must Agree to Disagree over Jagged-Line Political Issues, and How”, Themelios 45.1 (2020): 13-31. 20. In their article, Leeman and Naselli take this ‘Jagged line’/’Straight Line’ distinction from Robert Benne, a conservative Lutheran scholar who specialises in how Christianity relates to culture.
 Leeman and Naselli, 20.
 To add another layer of complexity, Leeman et al point out: ‘The problem with saying there is a straight line from the Bible to specific policies is that while the goal (pursued by the policies) may be a straight line, the policies may not’. Leeman and Naselli, 21.
Article supplied with thanks to Akos Balogh.
About the Author: Akos is the Executive Director of the Gospel Coalition Australia. He has a Masters in Theology and is a trained Combat and Aerospace Engineer.
Feature image: Photo by Karl Fredrickson on Unsplash