Thursday, August 04, 2016

More on the importance of pastors staying out of politics

I wrote here that I think that pastors need to refrain from talking about politics.

Yesterday, Pastor Eric Swensson posted a link on his Facebook timeline to this blog piece that makes much the same argument, although the author claims that pastors should speak out on gay marriage and abortion.

I would agree that the Scriptures are clear on the value of human life, so abortion is an issue I have felt free to comment on. I consider the Bible to be pro-life. And that includes compassionate understanding of the tragic circumstances under which abortion may be indicated. Historically, most Protestant Christians have recognized that abortion is warranted in cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is threatened. (My own birth was difficult for my mother and it appeared at one point that my parents would have to choose between saving my mother's life and saving mine. My father was clear, and I think that he was right, that if it came to that, he would opt to save my mom's life.)

And while I believe that marriage in the eyes of God is a covenant involving God, a woman, and a man, that there is no Biblical warrant nor any suggestion from Jesus that He had changed the definition of marriage from the Old Testament understanding, as a Christian pastor I was able to accept the US Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage as a civil covenant. I talked about that here. So, this is another issue on which I wish the Church and pastors--whether "liberal" or "conservative"--would remain mum.

The article's author essentially agrees with me about the importance of pastors not getting involved with politics.

A few lines:
We need to remember...that many of the hotly debated issues today fall squarely in the area of Christian freedom. As Christians, we can honestly disagree on immigration, the economy, gun control and the like. The Bible does not say whether you should be allowed to own a gun or not. The Bible does not advocate or condemn socialism. The Bible does not tell us the best way to protect our borders. 
Faithful Christians can fall on both sides of the aisle.
When posting the link, Eric asked for others' opinions. This is what I wrote:
I believe that pastors should steer clear of advocating particular political positions or particular candidates. As ministers of Word and Sacrament, our call is to patiently plant the seeds of the Gospel, trusting Christ to build His Church, make disciples, and transform minds.

You cannot achieve Christian ends and you can't make disciples through the coercive tools of government, as essential and God-ordained as governments and their coercive tools are.

People become disciples of Christ and are transformed as people as they are wooed by the Holy Spirit unleashed in God's Word.

That, in turn, can transform the ways we think, act, live, and vote, though God is clearly not a Republican or Democrat, not a Libertarian or Communist or Fascist. God is God.

Political engagement from the pulpit or from denominational bodies is almost always a worldly way to force God's Kingdom on people rather than trusting in God to bring His kingdom to people by the power of the Word and the activity of the Holy Spirit. Doing so expresses a lack of faith in God's method for transforming people, replacing God's wisdom with our own. Not good!

There are exceptional circumstances under which it may be necessary for the Church or its pastors to speak on public policy, but only if governments command its citizens to do things contrary to the will of God. Romans 12 and 13 give us good guidelines on this: Don't be conformed to this world; but be transformed by the renewing of your minds in Christ. AND honor the emperor.

The bottom line is this, to me. First, the world is not waiting to hear what we have to say about political issues. Second, the moment we advocate for one position over another, we lose the chance to give witness for Jesus and make disciples with those who disagree with us or who rightly understand that opining politically is not our job!
Quite frankly, I feel that pastors and denominational bodies who have pressed their personal political views on the world, selling them as derived from God, which they are clearly not, have made the Gospel message of Jesus Christ odious and offensive to people who otherwise be reached. The Gospel, with its call to repentance and surrender to Christ, is offensive enough to we human beings, something the New Testament talks about frankly.

But political pastors, right and left, have done more to harm the spiritual welfare of the United States in recent years than any other group I can name. It's tragic.

What do you think?


Holly said...

I'm sorry, Mark. I disagree with you on this. From a position of comfortable ease, it is easy to say and do nothing to trouble the waters. It is safe. However, sometimes God calls pastors to step out of their comfort zone. Jesus had plenty to say to religious leaders who do not want to get their hands dirty with the unclean masses outside of their own set apart sanctified community. A pastor's primary job is preaching the Gospel, but often that involves walking outside the doors of the church and using other means of "preaching" besides words. Demonstrating God's care for children, the poor, the hungry, those in prison, the oppressed, and those in trouble is indeed part of the pastoral calling. There are times when pastors need to stand before those in power and declare the truth--like Nathan preaching to King David about the stolen poor man's sheep.

Living the Gospel may certainly mean becoming involved in politics. In fact, it may necessitate it.

Edmund Burke put it like this, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." Could it be that some of the evils of our day are a consequence of the philosophy that pastors should not become involved in politics?

Mark Daniels said...

I certainly don't advocate doing nothing, Holly, and both as an individual and as leader of a congregation, we serve the homeless, provide for the needs of children in a government-subsidized housing development, do mission work in Haiti, India, among Native Americans, in Appalachia, and elsewhere, and so on. That is preaching the Gospel too.

What I tried to say here, perhaps inadequately, is that none of our preaching should ever be tied to worldly partisan agendas or the agendas of political candidates. Our agenda comes from Jesus alone.

Hope that clarifies what I tried to say here.

Holly said...

Lectionary based preaching should solve that problem easily.