In front of a packed house at the National Press Club, Curtis Chang, original Good Faith co-host David French, and editor in chief of Christianity Today Russell Moore launch The After Party project publicly.
The project seeks to heal the currently troubled relationship between Christians and politics. The conversation was hosted by Trinity Forum president Cherie Harder.
In this wide ranging discussion, they talk about where we as Christians have gone wrong and how we can reform our political mindset with timeless Biblical truths.
The following transcript excerpt has been lightly edited for clarity.
CHERIE HARDER: Curtis, what would it look like for a church to kind of cultivate discipleship, where one is focused not primarily on outcomes, but on the broader approach, the how?
CURTIS CHANG: Well, this gets to the project that we’re—the three “wise men” — are doing. David, Russell, and I are launching a project called “The After-Party: Towards a Better Christian Politics.” We will produce a curriculum for small groups within the church.
Why are we doing this? First, the problem most urgently needs to be addressed in the church. There are lots of problems out there in society, but we are most responsible for the church to be faithful to Jesus.
Why is the church under severe siege? This gets to why 40 percent of pastors are thinking of quitting. It is very difficult for an individual pastor to address these issues of politics via their normal means. Two of us here have been pastors before. As a senior pastor, I’m just human. So when I think about what to preach, part of me is calculating: what is this going to do to me on Monday morning? What emails are awaiting me on Monday morning?
In this polarized environment, a preacher knows if some of these factions are present in the church. They also know if they mention politics on Sunday, they are dealing with a world of hurt — angry emails, people complaining, people misrepresenting – on Monday. For most pastors, it’s just not worth it.
Who can blame them? Most pastors are not trained in political theology. They didn’t get into ministry to deal with complex issues of politics. They might have good moral instincts and good theological instincts. But can they come and preach for 30-40 minutes on why Christians ought to support liberal democracy? A pretty small percentage of pastors will be up for that task.
Passions have risen in the churches in the last two election cycles, spurred on by the broader forces and secular media. Churches have actually gotten quieter. Pastors have gotten quieter. Basically, they’re trying to white-knuckle through each election season. They’re trying not to say anything to upset people, not to bring up anything contentious, and just try to make it to November. This is a dominant feeling among many church pastors.
Well, what does that do, then? It cedes the spiritual formation of the church to secular forces.
We’ve heard this so often from pastors. “Look, I get my people one hour on Sunday. Fox News gets them for 12 hours a week.”
That’s really what’s happening. Pastors are paralyzed.
We should’ve seen this coming.
In 2016, if you looked around, your typical evangelical pastor had very few resources on politics. I guess those of us who are supposedly wise men can be forgiven for not having produced anything to help them.
Who saw 2016 happen?
However, when 2020 came around, there was no excuse. We all saw what was happening. Yet, could you point to any resource for politics equivalent to Alpha for evangelism? There has been no equivalent to Alpha for politics.
There should’ve been for 2020, because we all saw that chaos coming. But we didn’t. So pastors had to white-knuckle through another election season. If we allow that to happen in 2024, that’s on us. There’s no excuse. We cannot let each individual pastor have to try to figure this out alone or white-knuckle their way through another election season. That 40 percent will go to 60-70 percent if we allow that to happen.
We want a solution. The After Party is not going to solve everything, but we will at least plant a flag of Christian political identity not defined by the right and left, but rather by the cross. That’s the reason for our strategy. We’ve got to provide some relief.
The pastor of your typical evangelical church needs to have a play to run. And currently, they don’t. We at least want to give them one play to run, one that offloads the conversation from the Sunday morning pulpit. Preaching about this is frequently a disaster, because it’s a one-way form of communication which you’re invariably going to be misunderstood as a pastor. It offloads us into small groups, face-to-face, communities, and relationships, where people can do this kind of question-asking and mutual exploration with at least a better chance of success. This will be done in a way that’s been teed up and wisely structured by us.
CHERIE HARDER: Well, I’d love to hear more about this content and to acknowledge some rebuttals I can feel coming. Largely the realm of politics is different than the realm of the church. One natural thought would be, “Look. The way that one interacts, or acts within the political, is necessarily more sharp-elbowed. And to basically transfer the ways of Christ into the political arena, is to ask for defeat, as well as personal destruction.”
What do you believe the content that pastors should be teaching about our political involvement is? Does it necessarily lead to political defeat? Or can this be wise, as well as good?
DAVID FRENCH: Christians have taken politics and put it in a separate realm from everything else. I’ll be kind, unless kindness doesn’t work. I’ll be humble, until humility doesn’t work. Well then, I’m the sucker if I’m continuing to be kind, right, or if I’m continuing to be humble.
But we don’t apply that in other areas. I mean, how many of you guys have known somebody whose business is struggling? The business world is a sharp-elbowed world. It’s not like politics has a monopoly on sharp elbows. It’s a sharp-elbowed world. And your business is struggling. You may have to sell your house. Your kids’ education might suffer. It’s a stressor. Your marriage is under strain. And somebody comes to you and says, “You know what, Bob, you know what’ll fix this for you, is a little light consumer fraud.”
The Christian businessman will say, “No, no, no, no. I’m not going to lie to my customers. Because I trust God. I trust God’s got my family. I can trust that God’s got my business.” And they go, “Okay, okay. I know you’re not going to lie. But let me just—I’ve got this guy you can hire this guy. And this guy is a really good liar. And he’ll lie for you. You don’t have to lie, but he is a good liar. He’ll lie for you, and he’ll save your business.” And you go, “No, I can’t delegate lying to someone else and wash my hands. It’s absurd.” I think you get my analogy here. [laughter] I think you get it.
RUSSELL MOORE: Let those who have ears hear.
Photo Credit: Nancy French
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Curtis Chang is the founder of Redeeming Babel.
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