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Politics and Religion


I remember the day well. I was minding my own business, working away in my study when a package was delivered to my desk. It was long enough ago and not so far removed from my adolescence that surprise packages created all kinds of excitement. I quickly put down what I was working on and picked the unmarked box up with glee. Lacking the years of experience to necessitate fine office equipment like a letter opener, I snatched a pair of scissors from my drawer and went to work on the packing tape which neatly bound the cardboard flaps in place. What could it be, I wondered?

I was so enthusiastic that had the box been filled with those styrofoam packing peanuts I would have made quite a mess. But no packing peanuts. Simply a couple of reams worth of half sheet sized flyers with a cover letter. “Dear Pastor,” it began. As I read on, my enthusiasm rapidly waned as I discovered my package was filled with voter guides provided by Pat Robertson. Brother Pat had taken the liberty to survey all of the candidates in our upcoming state and national elections regarding “key voter issues” then provided the results in a one size fits all document. Claiming to be completely bi-partisan, the voter guides had evaluated, ranked, scored, and graded each candidate. The letter requested that I distribute this generous supply of voter guides to our congregation, and encouraged our church to host voter registration for our membership. All this, of course, in the name of God and country. Soon after that, I became accustomed to campaign managers calling to inform me that political candidates would like to worship with our church on a particular Sunday, and if it would be permissible, “would like to say a few words.”

What role does the church have in political elections? For years, some faith communities have been unabashed in their solicitation of votes for particular candidates, all in the name of maintaining a prophetic voice. Again this week we have seen another firestorm on the boundary of church and state separation as Rev. Dennis Terry’s “Get Out” sermon went viral on the internet. Is it appropriate for churches to endorse candidates? Is it legitimate for pastors to leverage their spiritual influence on voters, calling them to practice their piety at the polls? I have never been one to plumb the depths of politics, and certainly have abstained from preaching partisan politics during election cycles. I don’t think this makes me a coward nor does it make me spineless.

My reason for ardently rejecting such practices is simple. The cross flies higher than the flag.

I think pastors and churches miss the mark of the message of the Kingdom of God by suggesting that government can save us, be it republican or democrat. We do not live in a theocracy, nor does God intend for us to re-create the Old Testament nation of Israel. For pastors to suggest that government leaders can “save” our nation sends a misguided and mistaken message to the Church. I believe that the humanist manifesto is the document that coined the phrase, “No God can save us, we must save ourselves.” Which, in my opinion, is not too far from what I hear declared from pulpits of all sizes and colors in our nation. So maybe the question has less to do with the propriety of church leaders stumping for candidates and more to do with the lack of clarity of our own biblical message. It is the gospel that saves, not the candidate. It is the gospel that promises to bring forth new creations out of the carnage of our broken world, not the government. That is the message of the good news, and what makes an evangelical church evangelical. But alas, we’ve lost that descriptive word to those who vote a certain way.

People are desperate for hope and change, but its not the kind of hope and change that ANY candidate can promise or deliver. The hope and change that saves our lives is the hope and change that saves our souls. It is Jesus who promised to “make all things new.” He is the one who claimed to transform our lives into new creations, putting away the old and to make all things new. No human, regardless of political persuasion can promise or deliver that. And that’s the good news.

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  1. Tim Reeder says:

    Thank you for writing this. When I have been in Churches where the Pastor “got political” I always felt it diminished the power of the Word they were trying to profess.

    I have always felt that if a Pastor has led his congregation well they will have a right relationship with God and they won’t need the Pastor to tell them how to vote.

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