Politicking in the Pulpit—a Caution to Pastors

Brian Lee writes a cautionary piece to preachers who are encouraged this election season to be openly political in regards to particular candidates. 

That’s what Jim Garlow and the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) are urging preachers to deliver. ADF is promoting October 7th as “Pulpit Freedom Sunday,” and is asking ministers to dedicate their sermons to explicit politicking. According to an online pledge, sermons should evaluate the presidential candidates according to “biblical truths and church doctrine,” and make a specific endorsement. Launched in 2008, over 500 pastors signed last years pledge, though promotion of the event seems to peak in election years.

Mixing politics with religion is a slippery slope.  A line should be drawn.  If a candidate makes a remark or a political party has a platform that the Bible addresses as true or false, this should be acknowledged.  Many have said that abortion is a ‘political issue,’ and thus should not be preached from the pulpit.  I disagree—this is an issue that the Scriptures directly address and should not be hijacked by political figures and , thus, make it off-limits to preachers.  God has spoken, and thus we should speak.

But for those who stand up and say that God supports a particular party’s platform and all that it addresses is treading on thin ice and, in my opinion, is squandering his biblical authority. 

But Lee closes this article with a spot-on message for us as ministers, and for all believers who walk into church and might be subject to another political advertisement behind the pulpit.  Read and heed!

 

Furthermore, the New Testament offers no encouragement for direct political action. When Jesus was asked a trick question about the propriety of paying taxes — is there any other kind? — he asked whose name was on the coin, and told his followers to “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” Later, when on trial for his life, he did not deny his royal authority, but instead claimed “My kingdom is not of this world.”

At a time when the major issue in Jewish politics was the overthrow of the oppressive regime, neither Christ nor his Apostles had a word to say about it. The Apostles surely could not conceive of a democracy, or shaping imperial Roman policy, yet they urged submission for the Lord’s sake “to every human institution.” In his letter to the Romans, Paul twice called the deeply flawed governing authority of his day — that of Nero, persecutor of Christians — a “minister of God” for good and evil. With Jesus, he urged for this reason the paying of taxes that were owed, along with honor and respect. Clearly, loss of tax-exempt status may be an injustice as well as a threat to our constitutional liberties, but it poses no threat to the well being of the church.

The primary message the New Testament commends to preachers — “Christ, and him crucified!” — is scarcely a political one. But this doesn’t mean preachers should be constrained from speaking politically. One care barely open one’s mouth on a moral question of the day without giving political offense, and no one would suggest God’s word has nothing to say on these matters.

But the further the minister of the word ventures from the claim of “thus sayeth the Lord,” there is a spiritual and political price to be paid. We risk squandering moral authority and offending the politically disaffected. The Gospel we are commanded to preach to all reaches a precious few, and the heavenly respite of worship becomes a good bit more earthly. Almost a century ago, J. Gresham Machen voiced a similar concern with the rise of politically progressive pulpits:

The preacher comes forward…not with the authority of God’s Word permeating his message, not with human wisdom pushed far into the background by the glory of the Cross, but with human opinions about the social problems of the hour or easy solutions of the vast problem of sin. Such is the sermon. Thus the warfare of the world has entered even into the house of God, and sad indeed is the heart of the man who has come seeking peace.

The minister doesn’t speak for himself; the title means “servant.” Perhaps preachers should ask themselves, before they step up to the pulpit this Sunday, whether they’d feel comfortable reading on behalf of their boss the standard campaign disclosure when they’re finished:

“I’m Jesus Christ, and I approve this message.”

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