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Breaking Up the Christian Party

Imagine this: You walk into church and find your good friend "Linda" in tears. Linda, an active member of your church for more than a decade, confides she's in the United States illegally and is facing imminent deportation. What do you do?

As part of a campaign called the New Sanctuary Movement, churches in 20 cities are publicly offering protection to undocumented immigrants facing deportation. These churches know their actions are illegal, but they say they're taking this stance to draw attention to unjust immigration laws and the plight of affected families. Their website reads, "When we see families in need or danger, we are called by our faith to respond." In a USA Today story published earlier this month, a former pastor who supports the movement says, "This is what we're called to do by our Christian principles."

These statements—being "called by our faith" and moved by "Christian principles"—make me wonder: Are these activists claiming their actions are the Christian thing to do? Imagine Linda again. Is your faith less real if you don't hide Linda in your church? Must you, because of your Christian faith, come to the same conclusion as the New Sanctuary Movement supporters?

Add the New Sanctuary Movement to the growing list of campaigns in which Christian groups are actively engaged: marriage amendment, pro-life, environment. That's a whole lot of political activity within the church. Christians should care about human rights, moral and family issues, and God's creation. But the church may be on a dangerous path when Christian faith becomes inextricably linked to a specific set of political stances.

An agnostic friend told me he sees politics as a roadblock to Christianity. "I could never be a right-wing Republican," he says. He believes all Christians eventually take on an unequivocal political position because of their spiritual beliefs. I'm becoming more convinced—and concerned—some Christians believe that, too.

During a conversation with some Christian girlfriends, one woman asked, "How could any Christian be pro-choice?" (It was more statement than question.) A second woman carefully explained her concern for rape victims and expectant mothers with life-threatening complications. Then several of us admitted uncertainty about those issues. The first woman piped up, "I don't see how any Christian could support baby murder."

I was troubled by how her statement both oversimplified the issue and seemed to imply someone wasn't truly a Christian unless she was unflinchingly pro-life. Later, I spoke with a woman who'd remained silent during the abortion discussion. She told me that several years ago, on the advice of her physician, she'd terminated a pregnancy. That decision still tormented her, but she was afraid to reach out to church friends. (The "baby murder" comment seemed to justify her fear.) Another Christian friend of mine who's a nurse at Planned Parenthood is cautious about revealing her workplace. She believes her job offers amazing opportunities to show Christ's love, but isn't so sure other Christians will understand.

Sometimes I wonder if I'm one of those Christians. Are my political opinions preventing me from loving others? What am I assuming about other Christians' opinions? My friend Peggy has a hilarious story from her childhood. On discovering a church member was a registered Democrat, she asked her father, "Is he going to hell?" Young Peggy thought "Republican" meant the same thing as "Christian." It was the mistake of an innocent. Yet how often do the media insinuate there's indeed a "Christian Party"?

The media aren't the only ones who've made this assumption. The early church struggled over whether adherence to the Jewish law (circumcision, dietary practices) should be required for salvation. Some church leaders insisted a person couldn't be saved until he or she obeyed these laws. The apostle Peter disagreed, telling the other leaders, "Now why are you trying to make God angry by placing a heavy burden on these followers? This burden was too heavy for us or our ancestors. But our Lord Jesus was kind to us, and we are saved by faith in him, just as the Gentiles are" (Acts 15:10-11>, CEV). Similarly, Christians today shouldn't make their own opinions mandatory for other Christians. Suggesting that faith moves people to only one conclusion is like adding an amendment to salvation.

Admittedly, I've occasionally wondered, If she's a Christian, how could she hold that opinion? In those moments, I have to remember every believer first answers to God (Acts 5:29, Acts 10). I must trust God's ability to move individuals, and even concede God may be revealing something to Christians who don't share my opinions.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

Holly Vicente Robaina
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