Ed: Many are asking the question: how do we navigate this political season? You’ve been called America’s Pastor. You’ve had to navigate these same challenges that many of us have as well. What advice can you share?
Rick: This is my 11th presidential election since I’ve been the pastor of Saddleback Church. Out of those 11 different election cycles this one’s the most unusual.
In my conversations with people about this election year, I’ve heard of four different things that are causing additional stress this year.
The first is the campaigning never ends now.
We’re in 24-hour, four-year campaigns. As soon as the election was over four years ago, the campaign started for this one. We’ve been in that for literally four years. We are in a constant campaign event and people are worn out by this.
Second, in this particular campaign, by all accounts, it’s been the most vicious, vitriolic, and polarizing campaign probably in modern history.
People are worn out in the name calling, the stereotyping, the stigmatizing, and the dehumanizing. People used to disagree with each other and still treat each other with respect. Now, if I don’t like you, then you’re not even a human. Then, as I said because of this pandemic, very unusual, 90 million people have already voted. This will by far be the largest election in the history of America.
Finally, more money’s being spent than ever before which means we’re being bombarded with 24-hour political messages.
All four of these issues have created in my opinion an exaggerated sense of the place of politics in the life of people. All of the news channels that used to be news channels, every one of them are now de facto political channels because that’s all he talks about anymore. It’s very rare we get any other news except politics and political opinion. This has created a lot of attention in people’s lives.
Ed: Fear is driving so many people right now. How do we help people, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, think well about politics and elections?
Rick: Romans 12:2 tells us, “Don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Change the way you think. If you’re getting all your information from your chosen news source, then you’re getting a biased view of the world. It used to be you have three channels for news, ABC, CBS and NBC, and they were pretty much news. They weren’t commentating. It was simply news. The next day at work around the coffee or the water cooler, people knew what to talk about. They had all heard the same thing from the same source. None of that’s true anymore.
Today, everybody gets their information from their biased source. I listened to the person that I like to listen to and you listen to the person that you like to listen to. As a result, we have very different visions of the world.
In Isaiah 55, God says, “I don’t think the way you think.” The world believes that politics is the driving force in everything. I discovered this years ago after Purpose Driven Life came out and I began to get invited to a lot of secular events. I did three TED Talks. I spoke at the Davos World Economic Forum three times. I spoke at the Aspen Ideas Institute, the Entertainment Gathering, Sundance Dialogue Retreat and lots of secular events.
What I discovered is that people who don’t know God and people who don’t depend on God have no higher power to change the world than government. They don’t pray about problems in the world. They don’t ask God for help with the problem.
I realized, “That’s all they know. They don’t have another world.” Since that dominates the media, it has unfortunately seeped into our Christian worldview.
You can’t read the New Testament without seeing how much God loves the church. Christ loved the church. He gave himself for the church. He gave the church to himself as a beautiful bride. It’s the only thing that’s going to last. Stop betting on politics. Revival has never come through politics; start betting on the church.
As I’ve said many times, “It’s not who we put in the White House but who we put on the cross.” Ephesians 1:23 in The Message says, “The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world. The world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and he acts, and by which he fills up everything with his presence.”
That is such a counterculture message that it’s almost unfathomable. Many people have wrapped the cross in a flag, and they created an idol. The world is peripheral to the church. We can exist without your party. In fact, we did for thousands of years, no matter what party you’ve got, but the world is peripheral to the church.
From all these, we have to first teach people how radically the Christian worldview has been lost as, politics has become front and center for Christians.
Ed: This election brought unique challenges and divisions to the church. How have you navigated that at Saddleback?
Rick: I’ve never seen an election or even a year so divide people. I don’t understand how we politicize the pandemic. I literally was listening on a Christian radio station yesterday to a Christian talk show host who said word for word, “Nobody really needs to wear a mask because this whole pandemic is just a hoax. It will be gone the day after the election. It will be over and you don’t need to worry about this.”
…It’s like the blinders of politics will not let me see reality. Politicians say, “We will solve all your problems and we will save the world. We’re going to make the world great.” Now we know those promises aren’t true, but that doesn’t stop every new politician from making the same promises and claiming the same thing when running for office. The problem is, as I said, if you hear it enough, you start believing it.
Every one of the social issues: racism, broken families, poverty, violence, all of the major social issues in the world started in the heart.
We’ve been hit with five different things. Some of us have been hit with more than that where we’ve had fires in our area or floods or hurricanes, but not everybody’s had that.
- We’ve all faced the global infirmity of the pandemic.
- There is social instability, the violence and the rioting and the protests in cities. Cities are on fire.
- There is financial or economic instability, with millions out of work, and hundreds of millions out of work worldwide and tens of millions of businesses closed worldwide, not just in America.
- We’ve got racial inequality. I think we are more able to work on that one and make more progress than any time since the ’60s. I’m very hopeful about that coming to the front burner.
- Then there’s the political instability.
All of these together are creating stress. If you attach one light bulb to a battery it will burn a long time. If you attach two, the battery will dry up in half the time. If you attach four or five, it’s not going to last. People are drained today. When people get drained, they get cranky. When they get cranky, they get picky.
Politicians tell us and every politician knows this: attack ads work better than positive ads. Politicians raise funds by creating division and fear. They call them wedge issues. You have to create a wedge issue, to create division. By its very nature, politics is divisive.
We’re not going to ever agree on every little policy, but we are to be united in thought and purpose, or purpose driven. We’re all called at the same glorious future. Politic says that you got to divide people in order to win. Jesus says, “In my church, unity is priority over politics.”