Pastors, Patriots & Politics: Ministry in Divisive Times – Paul D. Miller
Jason Daye | Church Leaders, Culture, FrontStage BackStage, Leadership, Mental Health, Pastors, Podcast, Soul Care
As pastors and ministry leaders, how do we engage in the political arena in a way that is productive, honors God, and aligns with the way of Jesus? In this week’s conversation on FrontStage BackStage, host Jason Daye is joined by Dr. Paul Miller. Paul is a devoted Christ-follower, a veteran who has served our country in a variety of capacities. He’s currently a professor at Georgetown University. He’s written several books, including The Religion of American Greatness. Together they explore patriotism, Christian Nationalism, politics in general, and what it looks like to minister in the midst of all these tensions in which we find ourselves today.
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Additional Resource Links
The Religion of American Greatness: What’s Wrong with Christian Nationalism by Paul D. Miller – Paul’s latest book that we reference in this episode
The Four Loves – Classic CS Lewis book Paul references in our conversation about patriotism
To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World by James Davison Hunter – Paul references this book in our conversation
PaulDavidMiller.com – Paul’s website where you can find his latest writings, and more
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Key Insights and Concepts
- There is a growing problem with deepening polarization and divisiveness in American life
- Both progressivism and nationalism are unconstrained political visions, having no sense of the proper limits of what government should and should not do
- Patriotism is a virtue. We should be grateful for our homes, for where we come from, for the things that have shaped who we are.
- If, however, our patriotism is blind, we can easily overlook or dismiss our country’s current and past misdeeds
- A true patriot sees our country with clear eyes. Seeing our country with true eyes means we recognize a pretty long and substantial record of national sins and wrongdoings in the past. This should lead us to contrition, sorrow, lamentation, and a passionate desire to see justice done and to see us do better in the future.
- True patriots see both what our country has gotten right and what we have gotten wrong, and want to continue the good and improve upon the bad
- Christian Nationalism is different than patriotism
- A Christian Nationalist defines our country specifically by its Christian or Judeo-Christian heritage, with an attitude that Christians are first among equals in the public square and Christians are the guardians of “true” America
- We love our neighbors politically by working for justice, which is a different thing than working for Christian predominance
- Non-Christians can also move toward rough approximations of justice, just as Christians move toward justice
- We must recognize that our non-Christian friends and neighbors and fellow countrymen can work toward justice, and that we can work with them and find areas of agreement and overlap
- We can sometimes confuse cultural Christianity for authentic Christianity
- Christendom is not the point of Christianity. Jesus didn’t come in order for us to build a society that feigned outward obedience to Christian cultural norms. He came to inaugurate his Kingdom.
- Jesus gives separate jurisdictions to church and state, and they each have a role to play
- Our agenda in the public square isn’t building Christian society, it is building peace and justice
- When we engage politically, we should not do it in order to coerce our faith. We should engage politically to work for the flourishing of all, Christian and non-Christian alike.
- If we only cheer for the religious freedom of Christians, it’s not actually religious freedom we’re cheering for, it’s just Christian supremacy
- There is no biblical evidence that Jesus desires for us to use coercion to spread the Gospel
- Be aware, because there is a long history of governments using religion, and manipulating religious sentiment, for their own purposes
- Keep an eye out for any political candidate, right or left, who may want to use our faith, Jesus’s name, and our activism for their own agenda
- As pastors, we need to preach about the broader impacts of the Gospel (the social, cultural, political impacts) rather than focus on partisan politics or single-issue politics. The Gospel is much deeper, much fuller, much more powerful.
- If you find yourself thinking about American politics in tribal terms, us versus them, and the us is the Christian side, you are on dangerous ground. You are holding others at arm’s length, rather than seeing them as the “us” that we need to minister to. We need to reach out in love, not approach them with the stance of hostility.
- We are called to be present in our neighborhoods, in our communities, in our states, in our nation, and to be present lovingly, with grace, with compassion, with empathy. This is the path toward healthy Christian engagement in politics and culture.
Questions for Reflection
- Where do I see polarization and divisiveness deepening? Do I see it growing in our local church?
- How do I view progressivism? Nationalism? Do I see the similarities in both in relation to healthy or unhealthy limits of government?
- How is patriotism a virtue? How can unhealthy patriotism lead to “blindness”? Am I a true patriot? Why or why not?
- Do I see both our country’s good deeds and our country’s misdeeds? How does this recognition inspire me as a Christ-follower?
- How would I define patriotism? How would I define Christian Nationalism?
- What are the dangers of Christian Nationalism?
- How am I loving my neighbors, politically? What does this have to do with my life as a Christ-follower?
- Do I believe that non-Christians are incapable of justice? What does that mean for how I view people in my community? In our country?
- What is my motivation for engaging politically? Is this a God-honoring motivation? Why or why not?
- Do I think about politics in tribal terms, us versus them? If so, why?
- What changes do I need to make personally about how I approach politics so that I can honor Christ as best I can?
- How is my preaching/teaching helping people embrace the fullness of Jesus’ Gospel?
- Am I getting caught up in partisan politics or single-issue politics? If so, do I believe there are changes I need to make to my approach of healthy political engagement as a Christ-follower, and as a church leader?
- How will I move toward a healthier Christian engagement in politics and culture? What will this take?
As pastors and ministry leaders, how do we engage in the political arena in a way that is productive, honors God, and aligns with the way of Jesus?
Now that’s a tough question. And in today’s episode, I’m joined by Dr. Paul Miller. Paul is a devoted Christ-follower, a veteran who has served our country in a variety of capacities. He’s currently a professor at Georgetown University. He’s written several books, including The Religion of American Greatness. And together, we’re going to explore patriotism, Christian Nationalism, politics in general, and what does it look like to minister in the midst of all these tensions we find ourselves in today, here in our country. Are you ready? Let’s go.
Hello, friends, and welcome to another insightful episode of FrontStage BackStage. I’m your host, Jason Daye, and every single week, I sit down with a trusted ministry leader for an indepth conversation, just in a way to help pastors just like you embrace healthy, well-balanced, sustainable leadership in both your life and your ministry. And that’s really what we’re all about, and we give you an opportunity to dig into this conversation even more deeply, every single week, because we’re proud to be a part of the PastorServe Network, and we create a toolkit for you and your ministry leaders to dive more deeply into the conversation. You can get that at PastorServe.org/network, we encourage you to avail yourself of that, and really dig into the topic at hand. Now, whether you’re joining us on YouTube, or your favorite podcast platform, we’d love for you to subscribe or follow so you don’t miss out on conversations like this. And if you’re on YouTube, take a moment to give us a thumbs up and, below in the comments, just drop your name, the name of your church, we love to get to know our audience better and be praying for you and your ministry. And like I said, this is another great conversation. I’m really looking forward to it. I’m very, very excited to have Paul Miller joining me today. And so at this time, I’d like to welcome Paul to FrontStage BackStage. Paul, welcome.
Paul D. Miller
Jason, thanks so much for having me on the show.
Yeah, brother, this is going to be a good conversation. I’m very excited about it. And I’m going to do something a little bit different. Paul, and I mentioned to you, I got your permission to actually do this before we jumped on. And I’m going to label you a little bit at the very beginning of this conversation so that people know a little bit more about you, Paul, and kind of your background, where you’re coming from. Paul, you’re a devoted Christ-follower. Politically, you’re conservative. You’re a former White House staffer, you served with both the NSC and the CIA. You’re a veteran. Thank you for your service, Paul, appreciate that. You’re a Christian scholar, a political theorist. You’re a professor at Georgetown. Basically, you love Jesus, you love your country, and you’re a patriot. And I know you’re much more than that. But how did I do? How did I do with that quick labeling exercise?
Paul D. Miller
I’m also married to a wonderful wife, I have three kids, and I love hiking and video games. So what else do you want to know?
Awesome. That’s excellent. That’s excellent. I’m sure our, those watching along and listening along, feel that they know you a little bit better. Now, Paul, and I appreciate again, you taking the time to come hang out with us, because we’re going to be talking about really a topic that is not a stranger, I think to any of us in ministry. And for pastors and ministry leaders, we’re going to really be looking at what it means to engage politically, in a manner that honors God, that aligns with biblical Christianity, that aligns with the way of Jesus. And so for those of you watching along, listening in, I really encourage you to stick with us. Because before we get into some of the more practical pieces of what that looks like in our ministries, we first need to define some of the realities that we are living in here, specifically in the US. And so for those of you who are joining us from other countries, much of what we’re going to talk about is framed around what we’re experiencing here in the US. And so, Paul, we certainly appreciate the fact that you’re able to share with us. You’ve recently released a new book called The Religion of American Greatness. And you really are kind of taking time to walk through and help us really understand what’s going on currently in our country, and really reflecting back on the history of our country. and looking at things like Christian Nationalism, looking at things like what it means to be patriotic, looking at these different things that oftentimes we kind of attach ourselves to in our country. We might be sympathetic towards some of these things, we might be skeptical of some of these things. And so we’re just going to walk through and talk through some of this, because in the time that we are in now, as pastors and ministry leaders, leading congregations, you know, we have seen a lot over the last, really last decade. And even more so over the last probably five, five years, five, six years or so. And it’s a challenging conversation. And so we appreciate you being with us. One of the things that you write about and that you share is that we have, you know, what you term the progressive left, we have the nationalist right, and you contend, you share that there really are issues with both of those, that neither is really true to who America is, at the core of America. So talk to us a little bit about kind of those two, those two camps and those two pieces, versus maybe what America is really at, at her core?
Paul D. Miller
Well, I think a lot of people recognize and they feel that we’re trapped between two movements, that neither of which can we support in good conscience. We all know, there’s a problem with deepening polarization and divisiveness in American life. So I’ve tried to put a label to that or give names to that reality. And say that on the left, you have the progressive left on the right, you have the nationalist right. I think both of these movements are, I’m going to use a word here, I’m going to say they’re illiberal. Okay, what I mean by that is, I think that they are inconsistent with classical 18th century liberalism, the philosophy of the American founders, right. That’s what I mean by a classical liberalism. Both progressivism and nationalism are unconstrained political visions, they have no sense of the proper limits of what government should and should not do. I think they both have kind of unrealistic understandings of human nature. And I could go on and on. But the point here is that I think that at root, if you look at these ideas, they can be very inconsistent with the American Constitution. And so if we want to engage politically in a healthy way, let’s support the Constitution, which I think is broadly consistent with biblical Christianity. And I think supporting the Constitution, and the rule of law is a good thing for Christians to do.
Yeah, that’s excellent, that’s helpful. And one of the things that we’re going to kind of dig into is the idea of Christian Nationalism. But as we look at kind of the landscape of politics here recently, and we have this, as you said, this great division. One of the things that you share in your book is this idea that being an American, at least in part, means that we celebrate the historical good deeds, you know, of our past. They are a part of our shared story. And we give ourselves to engaging in more good deeds in the future, while at the same time –and this is kind of a tension– at the same time, we are acknowledging and even lamenting our past misdeeds, and committing ourselves to working for justice in the future. Now, Paul, can you talk to us a bit about the importance of this actual tension, because we see a lot of people gravitating to either, you know, celebrating good deeds and kind of dismissing problems, dismissing issues, or vice versa, they see everything as a problem, and kind of want to erase history altogether, and don’t even look at the good that has come from America in the past. So talk to us a little bit about this tension.
Paul D. Miller
So the first thing I’d say there is, I think, as a Christian, I think patriotism is a virtue. I think it’s a good thing. I think it’s the virtue of gratitude. I think we should be grateful for our homes for where we come from, for the things that have shaped who we are. CS Lewis has this thing in The Four Loves about how it’s, it’s a normal and good affection, to be kind of loyal to where you came from, to the familiar sights and sounds and smells at home. And I think that’s true and and if if you don’t love where you came from, I think it’s sort of the sin of ingratitude, of being an ingrate, and taking for granted the things that have helped you become who you are. So Christians should be grateful and in America, we got a lot to be grateful for. Despite our problems, I think it is still the greatest country in the world. I’ve studied the world, I teach international affairs. I’ve traveled, and I’ve served in Afghanistan. I’ve seen what some of the rest of the world is like. And I tell you, we Americans, we really do have it pretty good, and so there’s a lot to be grateful for. If, however, our patriotism is blind, tribal loyalty, we can miss the things that our country doesn’t get so good. I think a true patriot sees our country with clear eyes, we see the truth about our country, and we want our country to be better than it is. Seeing our country with true eyes means we recognize a pretty long and substantial record of national sins and wrongdoings in the past. And that should lead us to contrition, sorrow, lamentation, and a passionate desire to see justice done and to see us do better in the future. And so we shouldn’t be only triumphalists, celebrating everything we got right. We shouldn’t be only full of lamentation and, and cynicism about America either. I think it’s both/and.
Yeah, and so talk just a little bit about that attitude, that posture, and how that relates to some of the things that we’ve seen bubbling up through Christian Nationalism. Because one of the challenges and again, you share this in your book, is that when it comes to, as you said, justice, liberty, human rights, stable government, freedoms, whatever it might be, America really comes out on top. Historically, we have so much to be proud of. But there is this danger to that… it can become idolatrous, right? We can love it so much that it displaces really what Jesus has called us to. So Paul, how do you see that at work in in what we see in Christian Nationalism?
Paul D. Miller
Well, maybe to answer that question, I should give you my understanding of what Christian Nationalism is. Having just defended patriotism, I think it’s good for us to love our countries. I should say Christian Nationalism, isn’t that. It’s different than this patriotism. I think some people maybe are confused, because when they say nationalists, they think that just means patriotism. And for those listeners, I want to clarify that nationalism is really an argument about how you define your country. If I asked you what does it mean to be an American, as a patriot, I’ll answer something about just loving my country as it is and loving the Constitution, the declaration and what it stands for, and our history and how we’ve overcome and done better. But a nationalist tends to answer by talking about American culture or heritage, specifically, our Christian or Judeo-Christian heritage. And that’s the thing that they love, and they insist on defining our country by those terms and not other terms. Christian Nationalism is sometimes an attitude, an attitude of that we Christians ought to be kind of the first citizens, the first among equals in the public square, because because they say, or they imply, we kind of invented America, and now we have to share it, and we kind of deserve pride of place. We’re the first citizens, the guardians, the architects of the American experiment. There’s almost an attitude sometimes of a kind of a Christian tribal shamanism that we, again, we deserve recognition in the public square. I think that’s how Christian Nationalism kind of manifests sometimes, in our culture, which is, again, very different from patriotism, I can love my country without falling into the trap of all this stuff. I just want to caution listeners that that kind of attitude, I’m not sure it’s loving towards our neighbors, many of our neighbors are not Christians, many of our neighbors think of America differently. If you insist on recognition of Christian supremacy in the public square, tell me how that’s loving for our neighbors. I think it’s incumbent upon us to love our neighbors politically by working for justice, which is a different thing than working for Christian predominance.
Yeah, so talk to us a little bit about the idea of justice, in regard to kind of a biblical ethic and in the way of Jesus, because some people will pull those together and say, hey, if I’m fighting for justice, then naturally I am fighting for the way of Jesus, and therefore I am pushing forward into this kind of idea of a Christian nation.
Paul D. Miller
Yeah, it’s a very fine line to draw. But I suppose I should maybe ask a few challenging questions. Do we believe that non-Christians are incapable of justice? I hope people will join me in answering no, that’s not what we believe. We believe other other people can reach towards rough approximations of justice. And by the way, our approximation is also fallen and flawed in this world. And we will always in this world be joined in community with Christians and non-Christians alike. Augustine called it the City of Man. And within the City of Man, when you have a mixture of Christians and non-Christians, we have to work the best we can, for a rough kind of earthly order and justice. We have to find areas of agreement, areas of overlapping agreement. Again to think of Augustine, earlier Church Fathers talked about the so called virtuous pagans, the Romans, the Greeks, whom they admired. They admired the Romans and Greeks for achieving some degree of peace and order, and even a rough kind of justice, without Christ, without Christianity, they didn’t know Christianity. So I think we today can recognize that our non-Christian friends and neighbors and fellow countrymen, we can work with them, we can find areas of agreement and overlap. If you want to use a theological label for it, we can appeal to natural law, the idea that God has inscribed a kind of moral order to the universe that we actually can understand even without the Bible. And so we can appeal to it and say to our non-Christian neighbors, hey, look, here’s this standard of, of justice that you and I can agree on. I’m a Christian. So I believe it because I’m a Christian, but you don’t have to be a Christian and agree with me on that. We can together work for order, justice and peace. I think that’s that’s the attitude we should have as we enter the public square with non-Christians.
Yeah, that’s, that’s really helpful. Paul. One of the things that you talk about and write about is this idea of Christian culture sort of swallowing up, you know, kind of true, authentic Christian faith. And we see that taking place, in the US. So help us kind of think through how we’re looking at this idea of Christian culture versus our Christian faith. Because again, people begin to draw those two things together and think they’re the same thing. So help us kind of process through that a bit, if you could.
Paul D. Miller
So that phrase I want to give due credit, was Roger Williams, the 17th-century Puritan who became a Baptist. He wrote that Christian culture swallows up Christianity. And what he’s getting at there is, we can sometimes confuse cultural Christianity for the real thing, the outward external behavioral manifestations, Christendom, right? Before the modern age, there was an aspiration to build a united Europe around a single vision of Christian society, and they called it Christendom. It was a very close alliance between church and state under Christendom. And I think my argument is that Christendom is not the point of Christianity, right? Jesus didn’t come in order for us to build a society that feigned outward obedience to Christian cultural norms. He came to inaugurate his kingdom, which he will consummate and will make real when he returns, we’re not the ones who build His kingdom. We might, insofar as we act as citizens of his kingdom today, be foreshadowings or foretastes of it, and that’s a good thing. But Jesus’ kingdom doesn’t need our help, and it will come about with or without us. That means that our agenda in the public square isn’t building Christian society, it is building peace and justice. Is there. Do these things overlap? Is there a close connection between them? Can it be confusing to understand where the one stops and the other starts? Yeah, I understand that. You know, we know from the book of Proverbs, what does it say: Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people. So we do want to see righteousness done. We want to see justice done. But we also know that Jesus said, My kingdom is not of this world. We also know that Jesus gave very different and separate jurisdictional authorities to church and to state. So when we use the organ of the state, when we engage politically, we’re not doing it in order to coerce our faith. We’re not doing it in order to build symbolic recognition of our predominance in the public square. This is not our agenda. This doesn’t, that doesn’t matter that much. What matters is justice. What matters is working for the flourishing of all, Christian and non-Christian alike.
Yeah, Paul, the idea of power is something that really plays into this conversation. This idea of even “Christian power” you know, in the political arena, in government itself, versus, you know, the idea of Christian principle, which I know is kind of what we’re talking about right now. Can you talk a bit about what that “Christian power” has been looking like, you know, over, the 60s 70s 80s 90s up till today. Like what have we been seeing, and people growing up, you know, in this time in history in the US… some things that we just naturally might, you know, take for granted? What is that really, you know, looking like when it comes to the idea of power, a Christian power and trying to prop up some sort of Christian power in kind of our political world in the US.
Paul D. Miller
So it might help if we talk about a specific example, I find this… you know, I’m a, I’m a professor, so I like the abstract stuff. But I know that examples always help. So one area of public policy in which I think the difference really comes to be very clear, is in the realm of religious freedom. I believe in religious freedom as a biblical doctrine, first and foremost, religious freedom and its establishment, as a biblical doctrine. Because again, Jesus gives separate jurisdictions to church and state, and they each have a role to play. The government is not given the authority to regulate right worship of God. Happily, we also live in a country that recognizes religious freedom as a constitutional principle, that’s wonderful. And so there’s a consonance, between a biblical political theology and the US Constitution. When we have a case, like, just a couple of months ago, this football coach who was praying after the game, and he got fired or something, case all went all the way up to the Supreme Court, and he won. Okay, so we can celebrate, I’m not terribly familiar with the facts of that case. And it may not be the best case to talk about religion. Regardless, let’s pretend that this is the best case. We can celebrate religious freedom. What if that football coach was a Muslim? Would we be as ardent in our celebration of his victory? I think we should be right, because religious freedom is a Christian principle, it’s a biblical doctrine. And even if it’s a Muslim whose case is before the court, we should still be supporting his religious freedom, because his religious freedom is a biblical doctrine, even if he’s not a Christian. So there’s a clear example, if we only cheer for the religious freedom of Christians, it’s not actually religious freedom we’re cheering for, it’s just Christian supremacy. So we need to advocate for the religious freedom for Muslims, or Jews, for atheists, for secular progressives, for Methodists, for Baptists, for everyone. That’s the true Christian stance on religious freedom. And it may sometimes feel uncomfortable to advocate for the freedom of someone who’s believing in a false religion, but that I think, is what the Bible calls us to do. Because Jesus does not want us to use coercion to spread the Gospel, there’s no evidence of that.
Yeah, that’s good. And, and to go one step further, because the responsibility of pointing someone to Jesus is not abdicated to the government, that is for us, as brothers and sisters in Christ, that through our lives, through our relationships, that we have the opportunity to share our faith and our love and our grace toward them and point them to Jesus. Which sometimes it seems like we want the protections of the state to really oversee that and keep things comfortable. As opposed to us taking on the mission that God’s called us to, and living our lives as the light, you know, as the salt of Christ, right. So, let’s get really practical when it comes to a local church, a pastor, a ministry leader. You’ve shared some about Christian Nationalism, patriotism, you know, kind of what that looks like. Let’s talk a little bit about the difference between Christian Nationalism and just a healthy Christian political witness. How do we live out a healthy Christian political witness without slipping into this idea of Christian Nationalism?
Paul D. Miller
It’s very hard for me to answer that with without maybe alienating a few listeners. And I’ll do my very best, but we’ve managed to have this conversation so far without saying the words Donald Trump. But I think I may have to because one of the ways I think that we Christians should live out this responsible ethic is to listen with critical ears when a candidate for public office says, I’m the Christian candidate, and I’m going to fight for Christian power, which is almost a direct quote from Donald Trump in 2016. Right, he said, I will restore Christian power. I think we need to be critical when somebody says that whether it’s Donald Trump or Ted Cruz or somebody else, right? Because there’s a long history of governments using religion, and manipulating religious sentiment for their own purposes, which I think we saw some evidence of over the last six years. And, okay, so listen with a critical ear when we hear that and keep an eye out for any political candidate, right or left, who may want to use our name and Jesus’s name and our, our activism for their own agenda. Right. The Bible’s political agenda does not map neatly onto right or left, Republican or Democrat, it really doesn’t. And so if one party or candidate says, We’re the Christian party, just be very cautious about that. Please do and just to be fair, I know there’s some folks on the left who do this as well. Frankly, I think it’s a bigger problem on the right these days. And so it’s fair to pay more attention there. Okay. Did that answer your question, Jason? Do you want me to give another example? All I said was, all I said was listen carefully and be critical. Let’s continue. Yeah, I mean, that’s kind of a tall order. But Okay. Should I go further? Or do you ask another question?
Let’s go further.
Paul D. Miller
Maybe other ways of what the church can do. So one thing I’ve tried to suggest is that pastors may have a role in this that they are unfamiliar with. And I’m speaking here about pastors really, within my own tradition, evangelical, sort of the white evangelical reformed tradition. There, the evangelical tradition is very good about preaching about sola scriptura and about justification by faith alone, right? These are the theological emphases that define who we are, perhaps not as good at drawing out the implications of the Gospel for our social, cultural and political lives. I don’t mean that pastors need to preach more political sermons. That’s kind of the opposite of what I mean. We don’t need partisan pastors, and we don’t need single issue pastors who preach only about the evils of abortion. What I mean is the gospel, rightly understood, culminates in the renewal of all Creation. And so shouldn’t we understand, as the gospel produces the fruits of the Spirit in our lives, that that will spill over into our social, cultural and political lives. And that means that pastors need to preach about that. They need to preach about the social, cultural, political, broader impacts of the gospel, again, not on a partisan or a single issue way. And that’s, it might be a tall order, because we Americans are individualistic to a fault. We’ve been sort of malformed in this area. And I think that we and our pastors sometimes don’t clearly see that component of human life as well as we should see. I promised more specifics, but I’m afraid that was all very abstract still.
No, no, that’s good. That’s good. So let me ask another question. So let’s say as a pastor, ministry leader, we’re reflecting on our own kind of political bent, right, we’re reflecting on things that we like on social media or things that we, you know, kind of gravitate toward. Are there some questions, some ways for us to reflect on whether those are focusing on Kingdom principles, or perhaps we’re slipping into more of a Christian Nationalistic mindset? Because, honestly, I think a lot of white evangelicals do not sense that they are moving into that mindset. You know, they believe that they’re fighting for truth or fighting for goodness or fighting, you know, and so how do we, you know, are there things that we can reflect upon to help us know, wait a second, maybe I should step back and think through this a little more clearly. Are there some helpful you know, red flags or, or reflections or whatever it might be that that could be helpful in that way?
Paul D. Miller
Yeah, and this is a big issue because I know there’s actually quite a lot of pastors who are on Twitter. It’s a way to try to expand your horizons, expand your network, maybe get out of the bubble, although sometimes it ends up reinforcing the bubble. And, and it can be an issue. Look, I think the short answer is, if you find yourself thinking about American politics in tribal terms, us versus them, and the us is the Christian side, that’s a big warning flag, that’s a big red flag, that it’s, you know, the Christians against the rest, against the progressives. I understand maybe the root of that, because there really is some cultural hostility to Christianity in elite progressive institutions. That’s that’s a true statement. But if you respond to that truth, by by just accepting the framing, that it’s us versus them, the Christians against the progressives, you’re perpetuating that division, you are holding them at arm’s length, rather than seeing them as the “us” that we need to minister to. We need to reach out in love, not approach them with the stance of hostility. And so if you’re tweeting culture war stuff, that’s a red flag. If you’re just reflexively in a knee-jerk way, adopting the posture of whatever is most popular on the righ and whatever is most trolling towards the left, that’s a red flag. So those are the kinds of things I’d suggest pastors need to seek accountability for. I think that they need to hold each other accountable. Maybe have somebody in their congregation who’s not on Twitter, read the Twitter feed and say, and particularly somebody in the congregation who maybe disagrees with them politically, and, you know, vet vet their social media feed, to see if they’re being consistently loving, even towards those they may disagree with.
Yeah, that’s helpful. One of the things that we see in this divisiveness is this idea of spending more time talking about what the other –whomever the other is– is doing wrong or isn’t getting right, as opposed to focusing on what we can do proactively in a positive way. Right? So we get caught up in just pointing out everyone else’s faults. Talk to us a little bit about, Paul, how can we guard against getting swept up in this idea of just focusing on the negative, and thinking that that’s enough, to justify whatever our own opinion might be?
Paul D. Miller
Yeah, it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness. Look, this is something I really struggle with myself. I’m a bit of a natural pessimist myself. And so I sometimes, you know, it feels like part of my profession is to curse the darkness, rather than like, and so yeah, it can be a real challenge. James Davison Hunter has this great book called To Change the World …the irony, impossibility of Christian engagement, in in the public square, or something like that. And he talks about the need for faithful presence. And what he means is, you know, we Christians, I don’t think we’re called to withdraw from the world, or create Christian ghettos or, you know, become insular and shield ourselves off from the world. Rather, and this is a very patriotic sentiment, we have to accept our little plot of the garden that we’re given. We ought to cultivate it with love and appreciation, and we ought to be present, be present in our neighborhoods, in our communities, in our localities, in our states, in our nation. And that means be present lovingly, be present with grace, with compassion, with empathy. I think that’s a pathway towards a healthier Christian engagement in politics and culture, rather than a reflexive tribalism and reflexive pessimism, right, it requires hope. And remember, faith, hope and love. Hope is one of the three theological virtues. It requires hope for us to remain engaged and to say, look, this is worth it. America is worth it. America is worth saving, worth our engagement, our love and our patriotism, because it’s a great country. So rather than despairing and giving up and cursing the darkness, we have to hold on to that hope and cultivate this country as as our faithful presence here.
Yeah, that’s excellent. Paul, as we kind of close down this conversation, it has been very, very helpful. Again, we want to encourage people if they want to dig more deeply, The Religion of American Greatness is Paul’s most recent book, and he spends a lot of time, goes into great depth, great detail and incredible explanations. I encourage you guys to take a look at that. But But Paul, you have the eyes and ears of pastors and ministry leaders right now. And as we’re closing down, are there some final thoughts, encouragement that you’d like to give your brothers and sisters who are serving the church, for this time and this place in history of our country.
Paul D. Miller
When the Bible tells us to take captive every thought, and to test for truth, to seek wisdom and understanding, I think all that applies to our political lives as well. And that means we have to be on guard against those who would seek to hijack us or our movement, or our churches, we have to be on guard against those who would make a direct appeal to us, for our, for our power, or to be our protector or defender. There are good ways for Christians to be involved in politics and to work for justice and flourishing for all, but there are some dangers in making ourselves vulnerable to those who would exploit us. And so that would be my plea is: recognize that such people exist, that not all political actors are acting in good faith. Look, I worked for the government for 10 years, for you know, and I saw it on both sides. So be careful. Be careful, as we try to love our neighbors politically, as we try to exercise faithful presence. Just be careful with who we’re working with.
That’s good. That’s good. Good advice, brother. Certainly appreciate that. For those who are watching along and listening, if they want to connect more with you, get your book, find out more about what you’re doing. What’s the best way for them to do that?
Paul D. Miller
You can find me unfortunately on Twitter, I am I’m still there, though, not as often these days @PaulDMiller2 @PaulDMiller2 on Twitter. I have a website that advertises some of my recent writing. That’s PaulDavidMiller.com, is my website, PaulDavidMiller.com. And those are the best ways to keep in touch.
Excellent. We’ll have that in the show notes. And in this week’s Toolkit, which you can find at PastorServe.org/network, along with links to Paul’s latest book, The Religion of American Greatness. And Paul, again, I just thank you for making the time to be with us. I know you’re getting ready to start a new semester there at Georgetown, with your students. So we’ll be praying for you. Blessings upon you, as you are serving God, and as you are just really trying to honor God in the work that he’s called you to do. So thank you for making time to be with us, brother.
Paul D. Miller
Thanks for having me on the show. I really appreciate and enjoyed it.
All right, God bless you, my friend. Now, before you go, I want to remind you of an incredible free resource that our team puts together every single week to help you and your team dig more deeply and maximize the conversation that we just had. This is the weekly toolkit that we provide. And we understand that it’s one thing to listen or watch an episode, but it’s something entirely different to actually take what you’ve heard, what you’ve watched, what you’ve seen, and apply it to your life and to your ministry. You see, FrontStage BackStage is more than just a podcast or YouTube show about ministry leadership, we are a complete resource to help train you and your entire ministry team as you seek to grow and develop in life in ministry. Every single week, we provide a weekly toolkit which has all types of tools in it to help you do just that. Now you can find this at PastorServe.org/network. That’s PastorServe.org/network. And there you will find all of our shows, all of our episodes and all of our weekly toolkits. Now inside the toolkit are several tools including video links and audio links for you to share with your team. There are resource links to different resources and tools that were mentioned in the conversation, and several other tools, but the greatest thing is the ministry leaders growth guide. Our team pulls key insights and concepts from every conversation with our amazing guests. And then we also create engaging questions for you and your team to consider and process, providing space for you to reflect on how that episode’s topic relates to your unique context, at your local church, in your ministry and in your life. Now you can use these questions in your regular staff meetings to guide your conversation as you invest in the growth of your ministry leaders. You can find the weekly toolkit at PastorServe.org/network We encourage you to check out that free resource. Until next time, I’m Jason Daye encouraging you to love well, live well, and lead well. God bless.
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