Politics from the Pulpit

My question relates to something you used to say often and perhaps still do – that is, “politics are merely the implementation of sincerely held religious belief”. I have probably butchered your exact quote, but the notion to me (a faith-filled Christian) that among my peers and in discussions with my pastor and other spiritual mentors, I can talk about faith and spiritual growth, but if the topic approaches the political arena, in this increasingly polarized society, I shouldn’t rock the boat too much! 

I am seeing some deeper divisions ‘within the church’ between right and left political opinion, and feel that the only way to “right the ship” is if more Pastors spoke the truth boldly (but kindly) to their congregations, without fear of reprisals and controversy.

Perhaps you can encourage me (make me courageous) again, as you have done so often in the past.

James G.


Dear James,

Your memory of the quote is very accurate. The sentence we use is, “Politics is nothing more than the practical application of your most deeply held values.”

While for many years we served and led a synagogue in Southern California, we have both also attended many other synagogues. As part of our ministry, we have known many pastors and priests. Invariably, we prefer those who are courageous to those who are cowardly and those whose words change lives to those who prefer to have lofty theological discussions that make no difference in the beliefs or behaviors of those who listen.

We must point out that we do not necessarily agree with the conclusions of the leaders we like. Sometimes, for a variety of reasons, they vote differently than we do. However, the values that are propelling all our votes are the same.

Here is an example. We might all share a value and religious belief that we need to help the poor. That leads us, personally, to oppose raising the minimum wage. After studying the topic, we think that the result is exactly the opposite; raising the minimum wage harms those who have the most difficulty taking that first step onto the employment ladder. In fact, we might arrive at the decision that government ought not to be coming between two people who arrive at an employment agreement. Someone else may, perfectly sincerely, come to a different conclusion. We can engage in an honest and respectful conversation sharing our sources and trying to come to an agreement on what should be done to help the poor.

A sincere Bible-based argument can be made that ‘society’ or government shouldn’t be doing anything at all to ‘help the poor’. Instead this is to be done only by willing individuals.  Of course this question has political overtones but surely it ought also to be discussed by Bible-believers not only by secular fundamentalists.

In our day and age, as the political parties increasingly split on fundamental values, it is hard to see how you can discuss any meaningful topic without touching politics. In 1864 a preacher could have given a sermon on how many angels dance on the head of a pin, but we wouldn’t have returned to hear his next sermon. If a religious leader wouldn’t talk about slavery and secession, then he was irrelevant.

We don’t mean to say that teaching Scripture should be replaced with political diatribes. It should not. But God has much to say on marriage and money, on gender, compassion and justice. Avoiding these subjects or teaching in a way that allows everyone to come to his or her own conclusions isn’t true teaching.

Sometimes the forces of evil try to dissuade pastors from discussing controversial issues from a Biblical perspective by crying out ‘Separation of church and state!’  Other times they threaten a church’s tax exempt status. However, a religious leader who shirks the hard duty of telling me what God would want me to do is of very limited use to me.

A great rabbi of the 18th century advised a young rabbi at the start of his career, “If everyone in your congregation likes you, you aren’t a rabbi; if no one likes you, you aren’t a man.”

Even one of the greatest Hebrew leaders of all time, Mordechai, was liked only by “most” of his brethren, but not by “all” of them.

For Mordecai the Jew was viceroy to King Ahasuerus, and great among the Jews and accepted by most of his brethren; seeking the good of his people and speaking peace to all their seed. 
(Esther 10:3)

We encourage you to find churches headed by brave and principled leaders.

Be strong and of good courage,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin


21 thoughts on “Politics from the Pulpit”

  1. Great question. Great answer and some really great comments! Love Karen’s quotes. Here is one more from Polycarp
    “Let us, therefore, foresake the vanity of the crowd and their false teachings, and turn back to the word delivered to us from the beginning.”

    Politics and religion have always been linked. When told that those are the two things we should never talk about in public, I have been known to respond with, “Those are the two things we should talk about! One affects our life here and now and the other affects our life in enternity.” I believe that if people had continued talking about politics, as they did from the time our country was first founded, we perhaps now would not have this huge divide. If our Constitution was taught objectively to our children, we would not have so many Americans with serious misunderstandings on how our government should be working. I highly recommend Hillsdale Colleges free on line course on The Constitution and our government. Our churches have become silent on matters of Biblical truth when it doesn’t line up with the modern day narrative. The Bible never changes. It is the one consistent we have to lean on. But bottom line, we are all responsible for seeking out the truth. Thank you, Rabbi and Susan. Always learn so much from you and love all your columns, podcasts and TV shows!

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Just one point in your letter, Lynn–
      I must tell you that in our work in which I speak for many churches around the country every year, I encounter many churches and church leadership filled with Biblical wisdom, courage and commitment. Yes, I am sure there are those who evade the call of God, just as there are synagogues and temples who sadly do the same, but there are many who are admirable in their Biblical voice. Wherever you live, you should have no trouble finding one.

  2. Hey Susan – IMO, its not that they are unthinkably following these new age rabbis, its 100% willingly. 3 million plus US Jews are happy to do and think as their rabbi says…..the Pew Poll 2012 called them “the nothing Jews”….. its not that theyre robotic, its that they are truly passionate about rejecting any and all biblical foundation. They are taught by these humanistic rabbis “to act as if everything depends on you”, that you are lord of your life…its very freeing! and very attractive….these false teachers are very appealing to the general US jewish population.

  3. Teacher- where i live there is a new age progressive (reform) congregation and also another congregation but they like to call it “conservative” (LOL).

    In any case they both have Facebook sites and I have NEVER seen anyone post anything that would take issue with any of the rabbis posts – EVERYONE CLICKS “LIKE”…

    (ps, there are gay marriage ceremonies at both and they have claimed in their monthly bulletins to the congregations that gay marriage is legal under Jewish Law)

    but i digress! my point is that if everyone likes the rabbis its not only that theyre not rabbis, it also that the members of the congregation are actually members of a new age humanistic jewish cult…..theyre drinking the kool-aid…so that approximately 4 out of 5 US Jews are programmed cult members….

    and apparently they are having good success exporting this to Israel….

    1. Bob, the quote about, “If everyone in your congregation likes you, you aren’t a rabbi; if no one likes you, you aren’t a man,” didn’t distinguish between denominations. Whether synagogues, churches, universities or audiences, it is unhealthy when everyone unthinkingly follows in a robotic way. You can certainly accept someone’s greater knowledge and judgment over your own, but we are all supposed to be thinking people.

  4. “the only way to “right the ship” is if more Pastors spoke the truth boldly (but kindly) to their congregations, without fear of reprisals and controversy.”

    Good luck with that.

    Over here in Europe, the people are dying out right along Christianity. And what are the pastors doing about it? Well, exactly nothing. They just preach normally while their church literally dies out and the people in the community become hostile to Christianity.

    My general conclusion is that most pastors just don’t care. So it is likely that James’ suggestions will be politely ignored. The problem is much bigger than one or two pastors.

    1. Matt, my husband spoke at dozens of evangelical churches in England a few years back. They were packed. The Anglican Church was dying, but these churches were blooming. Many of the pastors were immigrants from Africa. Europe is, as is said, a post-Christian society, but sometimes when you hit the bottom, you start moving in the right direction again. The problem is huge but repentance and reawakening is always available.

  5. “God has much to say on marriage and money, on gender, compassion and justice. Avoiding these subjects or teaching in a way that allows everyone to come to his or her own conclusions isn’t true teaching.”


  6. Dear Rabbi,
    As a child and teenager I was raised in church of a certain denomination. ( I won’t mention the name). On field trip with our youth Pasteur we began to discuss evolution. He said that Adam and Eve represented a time in history when man acquired a soul. Now, I was taught NEVER to argue or talk back to grownup. But I couldn’t keep quiet. I told him that if he did not believe that the Bible then I did not see how he could minister or preach the Bible. I don’t know if it was what being taught in seminary or just his personal belief, but never went back to that church or denomination again. If you can not preach the Bible as God’s unvarnished truth for fear of hurting someone’s feelings you need to find other employment. As a Christian I have realized that much of what we celebrate is based on myth and paganizim. That’s why my wife and I really appreciate your teachings and insights. God bless you and Mrs. Latin as well as you entire family. Keep that ancient Jewish wisdom coming.

    1. Brian, recently a TownHall columnist wrote a piece condemning politics from the pulpit. He was conservative and the synagogue he went to was from a liberal denomination, both politically and religiously. I think your message is what the author didn’t understand. Why should he trust that rabbi spiritually when the conclusions the rabbi drew from Scripture disagreed with everything the columnist understood to be true?

    2. How disturbing to hear that “Adam and Eve represent the moment that man acquired a soul!” Evolution or not, I wish to support Brian from another angle. We just lost a precious little cat who lived with us for thirteen years. You have heard about toddlers how ‘their reach exceeds their grasp.’ Well, our cat’s grasp exceeded her reach. She was uncanny, and it was clear to us that in many ways, despite responding to the imperatives of her feline nature, she was aspiring to be much more than a cat. Once I coldly derided people for anthropomorphism in reading too many human characteristics into their beloved animals. Yet now nobody of whatever religious persuasion with whatever dogma can convince me that our little cat had no soul. C.S. Lewis in The Great Divorce depicts a woman who transformed her pets through loving kindness and brought them into Heaven. Now I am left to wonder if he is right, but I am quite sure that our little one is now in the Lord’s hands.

  7. I don’t have original things to say because others have already said them….

    “Religion today is not transforming people; rather it is being transformed by the people. It is not raising the moral level of society; it is descending to society’s own level, and congratulating itself that it has scored a victory because society is smilingly accepting its surrender.” – A. W. Tozer

    “… Christianity did not go into the world apologizing. It went to slay the powers of darkness and undo the works of the devil, and it lived in holy triumph.” – John G. Lake

    If Satan rules in our halls of legislation, the pulpit is responsible for it. If our politics become so corrupt that the very foundations of our government are ready to fall away, the pulpit is responsible for it – Charles Finney

    “If I see alright, the cross of popular evangelicalism is not the cross of the New Testament. It is, rather, a new bright ornament upon the bosom of a self-assured and carnal Christianity. The old cross slew men, the new cross entertains them. The old cross condemned; the new cross amuses. The old cross destroyed confidence in the flesh; the new cross encourages it.” – A.W. Tozer

    One of the greatest delusions in the world is the hope that the evils in this world are to be cured by legislation. – Thomas B. Reed

    Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity” ~ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

    “The Bible is the chief moral cause of all that is good and the best corrector of all that is evil in human society—the best book for regulating the secular concerns of men.” -Noah Webster

    1. Wonderful quotes, Karen. Thank you. I am not familiar with all the authors – I will need to do some research, I see.

    2. I agree 100%. Our churches today are compromising with the world, and it is harming our youth. We go to church to worship a holy God and to be feed spiritually; not to be entertained.

  8. Hi dear Rabbi, from ‘another James.’ Your chosen question is brilliantly apropos, and you answer is of great courage. My Mother once left a church (ca. 1977) that increasingly preached ‘feel-good social’ religion and decreasingly preached the actual Word of God. So this primes me for my next comment.

    Your analysis is especially apropos today, when exponents from the pulpit shy away from discussion of standards (Jewish or Christian) that prescribe what a person of faith should do in any given circumstance. Their guidance is especially critical now, when social media are ablaze with name-calling of ‘Trumptards’ and ‘Libtards’ (etc., to say no more!) and warring factions engaging in parroting out alternate collections of facts with horrific zeal. Democrats and Republicans both are inflamed to the point of ignition, and the incorrigible Trumpophobes in my experience are the most fulminating of the lot, and the most irrational.

    In our 241 years politics, however vitriolic, have failed to destroy us. However, the cancerous hatred of factions in our present day eating away at our foundations certainly will, unless we call upon God to restore reason and sanity. A good start would be to distinguish issues of ‘guns’ vs. ‘butter.’ Focus upon actual issues such as national boundaries, the rule of law and national security (‘guns’) rather than ‘the sky is falling’ of global warming, or who uses which restroom (‘butter’). Thanks as always for your thoughts and your courage to propagate them.

  9. It is often best to tread lightly around other believers when political subjects arise and to be quiet at first and listen intently to get a reading on where people might be coming from politically. Some may not yet have run their political understanding through the enlightening prism of scripture and may not be as steeped in biblical truths or as mature in their faith. There is so much political disinformation afloat that it’s best to feel people out at first and perhaps offer only polite and constructive comments where necessary, rather than using the truth as a bludgeon.

    1. We absolutely agree. In our synagogue in Venice, we taught and never mentioned politics. Yet, people’s hearts changed as they learned ancient Jewish wisdom.

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