Republican. Democrat. Independent. Liberal. Conservative. Insider. Outsider. Drain the swamp. These are just a few words and phrases we’ve heard in increasing numbers this year. 2020 will go down in history as the year COVID-19 paid an unexpected visit, and it will also be remembered as a year of political, social, and racial division in the United States. Your Bible study group is the last place that politics should be a divisive topic. But if you’ve been in Sunday School long enough, you know that many of the most heated debates among your group members revolve around political parties, elections, and candidates. With a major presidential election coming in November, our group members are going to have thoughts and opinions about which candidate or party is the right one for America. Your group members may not hesitate in sharing their opinions in your group.
It has been said that the only two things in life that are guaranteed are death and taxes. In my experience, there’s a third: It’s guaranteed you’ll blow up your Bible study group if political conversations aren’t managed. Perhaps you’ve been in a group when politics came to the forefront of the discussion. People literally have felt more passion about political topics, candidates, and policies than they have about evangelism, financial giving, or serving. You can bet that there will be political conversations in your Bible study group that will have the potential to be a powder keg. Every time a political conversation heats up, it’s almost a guarantee that you’ll have guests in your group that day! As a group leader, you must guide your group through some “landmine” conversations. Veer just a little bit to the right or left and, boom!
How can you lead and teach your group, guide them well, and manage the political conversations you know are going to come up between now and the presidential election in November? Here are some ways you can do that and keep people from hurting one another by their words and actions.
1. Agree that a political conversation is only allowed if it directly relates to the Bible study at hand.
This one simple rule will greatly reduce the impromptu speeches that can take place when a passionate member of your group waxes eloquently about politics. Call a foul and ask the group member to not introduce political comments into the Bible study. Remind them that it is acceptable only if it relates to the study at hand.
2. Set ground rules.
It’s not too early to lay down some ground rules in your group since the presidential election year is moving right along in spite of all of the COVID-19 distractions. Explain to your group how you’re going to lead them when the conversation turns political. Above all, remind the group that you will follow biblical mandates such as pursuing peace (I Peter 3:8), relating to one another with humility (I Peter 5:5), and showing patience towards one another (Ephesians 4:2).
3. Acknowledge that there are no perfect candidates.
There is only one perfect ruler, and His name is Jesus. Our ultimate allegiance is to Him. Every candidate is going to have strengths and weaknesses. If you believe your candidate is a saint, be ready for a rude awakening when people in the group point out his or her shortcomings.
4. Pursue the biblical mandate of unity.
Unity doesn’t mean uniformity, but it does mean that I place my thoughts and actions aside for the greater goal of maintaining unity in my group and in my church. You wouldn’t want discord in the Bible study group to spill over into the church and cause the church to develop a reputation for being a divided congregation. That wouldn’t be a good witness to your community.
5. Agree to disagree.
As much as you try, you’ll never completely agree as a group about a political candidate, a government policy, or issues surrounding a political party. Disagreement is going to be a part of life, and a part of group life even in the church. Generations of people’s families have voted a certain way in some cases, and no amount of reasoning or Bible thumping is going to change their minds and cause them to vote against their family’s traditions.
6. Agree that both political parties are represented in your group.
Anything said to malign one political party is going to offend a percentage of your group members. In most Bible study groups, there are men and women who feel passionately about one party or the other. Your group members need to keep in mind that if they speak against one political party, they are risking offending their brothers and sisters in Christ who are of a different political persuasion. It’s possible to speak up strongly for your party and lose friendships in the process. Help people think about the fact that people on each end of the political spectrum are in your group. Many people remain quiet about their political persuasions and you may not know who you’ll offend by telling a joke about “the other guy” or making a snide comment about something in the news.
Christians and churches should talk about politics and consider the positions of candidates and parties, but it can be a powder keg. Do your best to approach political conversations with great humility and a dependence upon God to know how to guide your group’s conversations. Above all, remind people that the earthly leaders we have are temporary leaders we are placed under while on earth. We have a heavenly King who is our ultimate authority — the One who is right, just, and will one day return to establish His kingdom where righteousness will reign. Until then, we pray for our leaders as Scripture commands us to do, and we eagerly wait for Jesus’ return.