Seminary Viewpoints

When Christians Disagree About Politics – Andy Naselli

Sam Horn | November 19, 2019
Video Interview

The full recording of Naselli’s sessions during the Stewart Custer Lecture Series are available at the bottom of the page.

Sam Horn: Today we hosted the Stewart Custer Lecture Series that our seminary does every year, and this year our speaker was Dr. Andy Naselli. Andy’s been a good friend over the years. He graduated from our seminary with a PhD and went on to Trinity Evangelical Divinity School for a second PhD, and now is part of the faculty at the Bethlehem College and Seminary, and I think you’re an elder there as well. Andy came to speak to us on the topic of conscience, particularly conscience and politics. Question for you, Andy. How did you come up with that topic? What was sort of the context for that?

Andy Naselli: So, when you all invited me to come down, you asked me to speak on the conscience because I authored a book on the conscience. And I thought, well, I’d love to apply this to a more particular area because I’ve already written on it, and I’d like to explore another area. And this area is particularly relevant to pastoral ministry right now, especially in light of the political season that’s coming around the corner in 2020. So, I wanted to explore how Christians should think about politics, and how they relate to fellow church members when they disagree.

Horn: And as a pastor I can tell you that that really does happen. And I know that you’re getting ready to do it in the context of your own assembly. But it was a great blessing to us as we heard you speak to our seminary, and I think we had about a hundred outside guests that came today. Tell me a little bit about the framework of what you did today—you kind of asked three overarching questions. Maybe you could frame up those questions for us.

Naselli: The main question I started with was, “Why is it that Christians passionately disagree with each other over politics?” So, just “why.” And it really came down to: Christians care about justice. They’re justified people. God is a God of justice, and what happens is Christians can feel very strongly that they rightly perceive the most just political solution to various problems, and if someone disagrees, they think they’re wrong, and they want to share that. So, that’s some of why it’s happening.

Then I asked not just, “Why is it happening?” but, “Why must Christians who disagree on jagged-line political issues agree to disagree?” So I had to define what a jagged-line issue is. Basically, a straight-line issue is when it goes straight from the Bible saying something to how you apply it in a policy—like “don’t murder,” and then abortion would be evil. That’s a straight-line. There are other issues more complicated. We should care for the stranger, and we should protect our children—Biblical impulses.

How do you apply that to immigration policy? There’s so many factors to consider. I don’t think we can speak of there being “the Christian immigration policy.” So, as a pastor, I’m willing to say, “God forbids abortion.” I’m not willing to say that a particular immigration policy is pro-God or anti-God—like the only right way. I could say one has evil elements to it. It’s just that jagged-line issues are more complicated, and Christians who disagree on those issues should have charity and leave room—leeway—for Christian freedom. So I asked, “How do you do that?” And I suggested ways like allowing leeway—focusing on the mission of the church and then prioritizing love.

Horn: So let me ask you one final question as we wrap up. As a believer, I’m listening to how you define jagged-line and straight-line and really appreciated the fact that my conscience is related to justice. So, how do I inform my conscience? What are some practical ways that I can inform my conscience on an issue so that I’m sure I’m actually operating within the boundaries of what the Bible has to say about my conscience?

Naselli: Well, you want to educate your conscience with the truth, primarily truth from Scripture, also truth from outside of Scripture. There are a lot of issues that are complicated and factoring in statistics and looking at economic policies and that effect on people—like I’m thinking of immigration. You know, you want to ask, “What’s the number of migrants and asylum-seekers we should let into our country? What number will be most wise? How that affect the jobs? Economic factors for people in our country. There’s just so many things to work through that there’s not “the Christian position.”

So, you want to educate yourself with truth, primarily from Bible, and truth outside the Bible. And then you want to do it in the context of a local church. We don’t have to do this alone. We don’t isolate ourselves; we have Scripture, we have the Holy Spirit, we have the church community. So don’t do it alone. And then give it time; some issues are so complex and so embedded in our consciences that we don’t want to rush to make a change. Give it time.

Horn: Well Andy, thank you for taking your day with us. I know that some of the information that we’ve even talked about in this brief interview will be very helpful to many believers and to churches. And Andy, I think you’re actually working on a book on this. Is that correct?

Naselli: I did just co-author one with Jonathan Leeman that should come out in early 2020 on how you can love your fellow church member when you disagree on political matters. I forget the exact title. And I co-authored a more academic article that should come out in about May 2020.

Horn: Well, thank you. I know that’ll be a great blessing to the church. Let me encourage you to pray for Andy and for his ministry. We’re thankful that he was able to be with us here at the Stewart Custer Lecture Series.

The following are links to Dr. Naselli’s sessions during the Stewart Custer Lecture Series: