In this intense political season, one reads stories about certain religious leaders who have endorsed particular politicians or who have spoken up against others. In many elections over the years, clergy and other church leaders have been heavily involved. The examples are certainly numerous and they reflect different political perspectives, covering both right and left.
As a local parish pastor, I have been asked many times about my opinion regarding the relationship between preaching and the pulpit. As someone who feels strongly about a wide variety of issues that find themselves being debated by politicians ( the death penalty as but one example), I have given considerable thought to this question and in this short space, wish to share that with you in the hopes of being part of a positive dialogue.
I wish to begin by stating some principles:
1. It is important for preachers to preach about real life issues that may have political implications. Not to preach about such issues can convey the unfortunate and wrong impression that one’s faith has very little to do with the nitty gritty of the real world. Therefore, a separation of religion and state should never be confused with a separation of morality and political decisions. There have been troubling historical examples of negative effects occurring when church leaders failed to speak up. The Holocaust in Europe is a glaring horrific example, for sure!
2. Individual religious leaders, including clergy, possess civil rights as American citizens and as such should be free to engage in support of candidates.. Many over the years have sought and held elective office. They have been both Democrats and Republicans. Robert Drinan (Democrat) and Mike Huckabee ( Republican) are but two examples.
3. This support and political advocacy should not carry over to the pulpit.
4. In stating # 3, this does not mean that a preacher should not speak about an ISSUE that may happen to be supported or opposed by candidates who are well known. Rather the focus should always be on the issue, not the candidate
5. This is extremely important! The preacher must do her/his very best to insure that one does not equate moral truth with any one particular political party, platform or approach. As a matter of fact, as a Christian pastor, I will contend that the ‘Kingdom of God’ must never be equated with the agenda of a particular party. God’s realm transcends ALL political agendas.
6. As a Christian pastor, I firmly believe that each individual person must make moral decisions in conscience before God AND that honest, faithful people may reach entirely different conclusions. I affirm that wonderful slogan promulgated by Sojourners that ‘God is not a Republican……..OR DEMOCRAT’ Sincere believers before god can hold differing positions.
7. With # 6 in mind, I would then assert that a preacher has the responsibility of helping to inform the individual conscience in making decisions in a way that is deeply respectful of that conscience.
In my view, these principles center around the distinction between addressing moral questions( which a preacher really must) and contending that the one right way to do the right moral thing is to endorse a particular candidate.
There is a significant difference. Whereas I wholeheartedly affirm the former, I do NOT support the latter!
Finally, it is necessary to point out that even were one to strongly agree with a candidate on a particular issue, that, in and of itself, is not necessarily grounds for endorsement. Over the course of my preaching and voting life, there have been candidates with whom I have strongly agreed on certain issues but for whom I have never voted because that agreement happened to be on that particular issue alone. An individual citizen makes decisions on the overall positions ,effectiveness, personal qualities and character of candidates, not necessarily on her/his position on one or two issues.
In fact, in a world which could use far more civility and mutual respect in its political discourse, it’s not such a bad thing to lift up those positions that are built on sound moral principles, even if they might come from a politician for whom one might never vote.
I would be interested in reading your opinion and answering your questions on this topic. You may comment here or email me at email@example.com