Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Politics and the Pulpit

I was recently asked to sign a political petition. I had to think about what the implications were for me to put my signature on that piece of paper. I have really bad handwriting so no one would really know it was me, but I would know.

I quickly decided that I wasn't going to sign the petition. But since then I have thought a great deal about the role of a pastor in the life of the congregation when it comes to politics. I remember from my church history class in seminary of how the church pulpit was a very powerful platform for putting across a political view point. Politicians would join the "right" church so they could have the backing and influence of that church. I also remember reading about pastors who used the pulpit to put across their political agenda to their congregation. I realize that it isn't just church hisory, it still happens today.

In today's society, there is a very strong push to keep the separation of church and state far apart. However, it does seem that the African American church has a greater acceptance. Last week I saw a church pulpit used in a very powerful way by a presidential candidate.

I vote at every election - local and national. No matter how big or small, I'm there. I am just not about doing the political thing from my position of leadership in the church. I want to preach Christ crucified and his grace is enough for people like you and me. I want to help people get on to God's agenda for their lives and to live authentically into that. For me that also means that people make their own political decisions without me trying to manipulate them. Because that's what it comes down to for me - manipulation, when it comes from the pulpit.

What do you think?

4 comments:

Brendan Berkley said...

That's a good point. I like hearing perspectives about the role of religion in politics because it is something that is very polarizing and very relevant and -very- gray.

I believe that Christians have a degree of social responsibility, because whatever you do for the least of your brothers you do for Jesus. But at the same time I think that our energy is best spent winning people to the Kingdom, because everything in this earth, good or bad, is gonna pass away anyways.

My two cents. I like your thoughts on this and I'm glad my mom told me about your blog!

Tom said...

For now I will just use my first name, although I am sure Pastor Dave will quickly figure out who wrote this if he reads it.

When I was in college (1961-65), to refer to a person as a "Christian," suggested a person who was likely to be a political, social, and economic liberal and probably part of a mainline protestant denomination. In church circles views that deviated from doctrinaire liberalism prompted questions about depth of Christian commitment.

Now when I hear the word "Christian" from people who do or do not know Jesus Christ, the expectation is of a political, social, and economic conservative who has left the mainline protestant denominations because they have become too Unitarian, but the expectation might include a Catholic.

I find both sets of expectations repugnant.

For now I will focus on the up-to-date version. Jesus in his ministry was pretty open about his views. If we read the Bible carefully, especially the four Gospels, it is not hard to get a pretty clear picture of His value system.

It was amazing how much he showed love and respect for sinners even while addressing their sin. The only people he generally addressed in anger and without a transparent expression of respect and love were those who self-righteously promoted legalism over the love of God and neighbor. His priorities were clear.

When I read that and then observe what characteristics -- and political leanings -- people in 2007 tend to associate with "Christian" I have to question whether some of our pre-eminent Christian leaders are reading the same Bible I am reading while speaking and acting in a way that allows Christianity to be associated with such a strange image.

When Christianity is primarily perceived to be about promotion of the Iraq War, promotion of capital punishment, abolition of welfare, persecution of homosexuals, promoting tax changes that benefit primarily the wealthiest without regard for the disenfranchised, allowing huge portions of our population to be denied medical care, etc. etc., all without regard to the human suffering that may result, something has gone haywire. Many Christian leaders would say this description does not characterize them fairly, and they would be right. I am putting forward a stereotype. But it is a stereotype that we Christians have allowed to be promoted by not being visible enough in our words and actions to counteract it.

I am not denying every person -- including every Christian -- the right to take whatever position God leads him or her to take on the political issues I referenced. I am certainly not promoting the old days when "Christians" had to be liberals.

But by allowing the face of Christianity to be associated with political initiatives that, if appropriate, are trivial compared to witnessing to the love of Jesus Christ for all -- especially the disenfranchised -- something has gone terribly wrong.

Support conservative views on these issues if that is what God is calling you to do (or liberal views), but if you do, please witness even more plainly to the love and compassion that lies at the core of Christ's message and of His ultimate sacrifice. So long as we do not have our priorities straight, we are driving away from acceptance of Jesus Christ the very people to whom Jesus reached out with greatest fervor.

If our Christian leaders followed these principles consistently, this would be a radically different world. I hope I never hear a claim, purporting to be scripturally based, that the neo-conservative approach to U.S. politics overrides the love and compassion for all, including the disenfranchised, that characterized Jesus ministry.

Tom

Chris Whitehead said...

Tom,

I want the church to have a greater influence on society than the other way around. I know that the One who is in me is greater than he that is in the world.

The platform that I stand on says that Jesus died for sinners, of which I am certainly one of the worst. I believe the call that has been placed on my life is to point people into a life changing relationship with Jesus. I don't care who it is. I don't care what they have said or done. I want to build a relationship with that person so that when the Holy Spirit prompts me to have a spiritual conversation with that person, it can happen.

Even though my name is "Christian" I don't really call myself one because of all the baggage that goes along with that term today. I prefer to call myself a follower of Jesus. It may be semantics to some, but the distinction is important to me.

Today, I was told that another pastor said to someone that they were going to go to hell because they attend Charter Oak Church. This local pastor said that we don't believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The message I spoke last week was a clear Gospel message. The message I heard this morning was a clear Gospel message. I know the message I will hear next week on Easter will be a clear Gospel message.

Our purpose in life at Charter Oak Church is to help people to find their way back to God and to become completely sold out to Jesus. No matter who they are.

Tom said...

It sounds like Pastor Dave has acquired a very fine associate.

I have never met you but I hope to soon. A person very close to me has known you since you were a kid and is thrilled to know you are back at COUMC.

Tom