The following article appeared in the October 2008 issue of the TBC Newsletter.
With the presidential election only about 5 weeks away – and early voting right around the corner in many areas, I urge all of you to make the effort to vote and to vote your principles and values. Every voter should be a “values voter.”
And pastors should preach what the Bible has to say about values. And churches should seek to carry out Biblical values, as they understand them, in all of the work that they do. However, pastors and churches should not be in the business of advising you how to cast your vote.
This past weekend, something happened that was unconscionable. Encouraged by an organization called the Alliance Defense Fund, 33 pastors endorsed a presidential candidate from the pulpit in violation of federal law. Organizations that receive tax-exempt status are prohibited from engaging in partisan politics. That is the law, and it is a good law – both for the political process and for the church.
No, this does not restrict a preacher from speaking from the pulpit about what he or she believes the Bible says about issues and values. I have preached many sermons addressing what I believe to be biblical teachings on ethical issues. That is my right – my legal right – just as it is the right of every preacher in this country, and we should fight any attempt to restrict what a preacher can say from the pulpit regarding biblical teachings, even when they deal with issues that have political overtones.
But endorsing a political candidate from the pulpit is something I believe is horribly wrong and destructive, not just from a church-state perspective, but from a Kingdom–local church perspective.
It is said that, if you get two Baptists together in one room, you get three opinions. So it is the rare – perhaps even nonexistent – church whose members all support one political party or one candidate. That’s a good thing. A healthy church is a church of unified mission but diverse opinions. I have friends in my home church who I know plan to vote differently than I do, and none of us would stand for it if our pastor were to endorse either candidate from the pulpit. Thank God we have a pastor who would never do such a thing.
Not all of San Angelo is so fortunate. One of our local San Angelo pastors was one of the 33 who followed the Alliance Defense Fund’s strategy last Sunday.
But hear me again on this. Preaching on biblical ethical issues is appropriate. Good, prophetic preaching challenges Christians to think about what the Bible says and what it means in their day-to-day lives. That is good Baptist theology, encouraging persons to think for themselves and interpret the Scriptures for themselves.
But engaging in partisan politics, especially to the point of endorsing a political candidate, is wrong and destructive to God’s Kingdom.
What is the next step? Will we rename our churches the First Democratic Baptist Church of Paint Rock or the Grace Republican Baptist Church of Dallas? That would be unthinkable – but no more unthinkable than what those 33 pastors did last Sunday.
This kind of partisan political preaching spreads from the pulpit to the pew and poisons relationships in the church body.
A person’s decision to vote for either McCain or Obama is not the test of whether that person is a committed Christian who believes the Bible and loves Jesus. Strong Christians will and do vote differently, and that is normal and healthy.
No matter if you and your best friend disagree, it does not make either of you right or more spiritual than the other.
Whoever wins, all of us – as Christian citizens of this country – should pray for him as our president, realizing that either can accomplish much good – or much harm.
The Kingdom of God is bigger than America, American politics, and any political party or organization or individual. Yes, government policies and activities can help to carry out values that are biblical, both in America and around the world, but keep two things in mind – one, those policies and activities should represent all Americans, not just Christians; and two, God is not limited by government activity.
Practicing Christian citizenship is important and biblical, but we must always be humble, gracious, and respectful in sharing our human opinions. Always remember that none of us knows the mind of God perfectly. “For now we see through a glass, darkly.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)
I serve on the Board of The Interfaith Alliance in Washington, D.C. I love this organization and what it stands for and works for in protecting religious liberty.
Its Web site, www.interfaithalliance.org, has posted a pledge that it is asking members of the clergy to sign. It is a pledge that is based on principles that are faithful to the Bible, our Baptist heritage, and the U. S. Constitution. It includes a promise to refrain from endorsing political candidates “in or on behalf of our house of worship.” I encourage all ministers to read this pledge and sign it. To sign the pledge, go to http://interfaithalliance.org/clergypledge. Here is the pledge, as it appears on the Web site of The Interfaith Alliance:
- To educate members of our congregation about how our faith relates to issues of the day.
- To refrain from endorsing any candidate, either explicitly or implicitly, in or on behalf of our house of worship.
- To prevent partisan speech from candidates or their surrogates, as well as the distribution of partisan materials, in our house of worship.
- To resist using or soliciting the resources of our house of worship for the exclusive benefit of any candidate or party.
- To respect candidates whose religious beliefs are different from my own, and stand against the use of religion to divide our communities.
- To encourage members of our congregation to take an active role in civic life, including casting informed votes.
Click here to sign this pledge.
Please vote November 4 as you feel led, and respect those who disagree with you. Just remember – the Kingdom of God is much, much bigger than a political election.