Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Pastors and Politics

Every presidential election year the longstanding debate about the proper role of the church in the American political process is renewed when some pastor somewhere cannot resist the temptation to use his pulpit as a political stump. 

Fear not. My resolve on this issue is firm. I’ll not be announcing my support of President Obama or Governor Romney this Sunday. And my motive is not simply to protect your ability to deduct your contributions to Rivermont Avenue Baptist Church on your next tax return. I would not endorse a candidate from the pulpit—or from my living room couch for that matter—regardless of the judgment of some government bureaucrat regarding the propriety of such an act. My job… my calling… is to preach the gospel, not to promote a political party or a particular candidate for public office. When I forget that it is time for me to find another way to make a living. I believe that I can speak with some authority on matters of faith. My expertise on things political is no greater than that of any other church member. And my endorsement of a particular candidate would have no more merit or authority than my endorsement of my favorite cold remedy. 

Even if we assume that I am better informed about the candidates than you—a most dubious assumption to be sure—I would still resist the temptation to jump into a partisan debate. Political opinions are often fervently held and emotionally charged. Political differences have cooled friendships, estranged family members, and even ended marriages. The only thing that can divide people as deeply as politics is religion. 

In other words, my role as a pastor is divisive enough already. Every time I mount the pulpit I risk offending people when I preach the word of God. I call people to account for their actions. I tell people that they are sinners, that the way they live their lives will incur God’s wrath. What’s more, I try to persuade them to change. To repent. To give up their sinful ways and commit their lives to Christ. Why would I even consider doing something that would make that difficult task even more difficult? No election is important enough for me to risk alienating a politically-minded sinner that I might otherwise lead to Christ. 

If that were not reason enough, there is the fact that RABC is a politically diverse congregation. I know for a fact that some of you are Yellow Dog Democrats (you’d rather vote for a yellow dog than a Republican). Others among you are dyed-in-the-wool Republicans. No doubt there are others in the congregation who couldn’t care less about politics. And I’m called to pastor the lot of you! For this reason I feel more constrained to keep my political opinions private than I would were I just another church member. Not only is my pulpit off limits to politics, so is my Facebook page.