Conservatives say liberals are stomping on religious liberty. Liberals say conservatives are using Christianity to discriminate against marginalized groups. And nearly every day it seems a new religious controversy makes headlines on cable news and social media.
It doesn't matter your political leaning; When you're at the intersection of politics and religion, it can feel like you're in a minefield.
You might look to your local church leadership for guidance on these tough issues-- or you might want them to keep their political opinions to themselves. This disparity in what congregants want out of church leadership is giving some clergy headaches. While many faith leaders feel compelled to use the pulpit to talk about controversial religious liberty issues and influence how their congregants interpret these events, even more are afraid to speak their mind for fear of causing offense.
What's a church leader to do?
Research Shows Clergy in a Quandary
Barna spent four years studying religious liberty, politics, and clergy members. The report, titled "Faith Leadership in a Divided Culture" asks important questions about Christian leadership and their role in an increasingly pluralistic society.
The grand majority of people of faith believe that "their faith is a force for good" (88%) and "is essential for society" (75%). In general, people of faith believe that their faith is a positive contribution to society. Similarly, clergy members surveyed by Barna believe that they also have a positive role in society due to their faith.
A full 90% of pastors believe it is their role to help Christians understand how the Bible views specific social issues. And yet 50% of clergy feel afraid to speak out on religious liberty issues for fear of offending someone. And that pressure to stay quiet on political and religious issues doesn't come from outside the church; The Barna study found that it's the people in the pews that drive the concern.
To add to the difficulty, 40% of pastors feel pressured to speak out about these very same social and cultural issues. Many pastors are walking a tight-rope because they are pressured by some in the pews to speak out, while being afraid to offend others in the very same congregation.
Per the Barna study, the most common topics pastors feel simultaneously pressured and limited in speaking about include: LGBTQ+ issues, same-sex marriage, abortion, morality, and politics in general.
For church leaders, weighing whether or not to speak on a political issue can be one difficult balancing act.
A House (of God) Divided
Roxanne Stone, Barna's editor in chief says, "The pressure for leaders and especially faith leaders to satisfy everyone on all sides, and to avoid offense, is very real today, especially in the digital era The public nature of social media only increases the stakes. As the research reveals, the issues pastors feel most pressured to speak out on are the same ones they feel limited to talk about."
Society is changing. Clergy have to respond to cultural shifts to stay relevant, but it can be difficult. Stone continues, "As challenging as it may be, faith leaders must work to cultivate humility, discernment, and courage in the midst of a divided culture."
What do you think? The political division in our society seems unlikely to end anytime soon. Should clergy members try to influence the politics of their congregants? Or should they stay apolitical and let their congregants come to their own conclusions? Sound off below.