Misadventures with Preachers and Politicians

Sometimes preachers need to shut up, especially as it relates to politics.

Preachers are getting involved in the presidential campaigns of both Obama and McCain. Most persons are aware of Jeremiah Wright’s tirades from the pulpit and Obama’s efforts to distance himself from them. The Senator has been part of Wright’s congregation for about 20 years, and for this reason has received criticism vis a vis “guilt by association.” Wright’s criticisms of Hillary Clinton by this time are widely known. I think Wright has enjoyed this attention and has made the most of his notoriety.

Now the Republican candidate is getting his share of attention, not desirable by the way. John Hagee, pastor of the Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, TX announced his endorsement of McCain and this was received initially by McCain. Then, Hagee came under more scrutiny for his views on the Jews through some sermons he preached. Hagee has also been targeted as anti-Catholic, and now that these opinions are becoming more widely known McCain has distanced himself from them. Hagee also believes that Hurrican Katrina was God’s judgment on New Orleans for their godless behavior, somehow forgetting that the most hedonistic area of the Crescent City, the French Quarter, was spared the worst of the flooding. McCain called some remarks of the preacher “crazy” and repudiated them. In return, Hagee withdrew his endorsement.

Every Sunday I get to preach the gospel to our church family and others in our community. These are persons from a variety of educational, occupational, and yes, political opinions. The last thing I would want to do is alienate some of them by endorsing one political party or candidate over the other. It doesn’t make sense to do this; neither Democrats or Republicans have a corner on the truth, politically speaking. There aren’t any ideal candidates, and the reality of being disappointed with one after an endorsement is a real possibility. By the time each has been fully vetted there will be enough news to trouble a lot of us.

This isn’t the first time preachers have thrown their opinions and endorsements around the political spectrum. It won’t be the last. I guess there is something seductive about getting closely connected to a presidential candidate. McCain thought he was gaining votes by accepting the endorsement of Hagee, and while he may not control who “endorses” him, I do think the burden of common sense rests more with the pastor than the politician. Politicians will do just about anything to get a vote or secure a block of support from the evangelical wing of the party. They can afford to be partisan, but for the life of me I don’t understand why Hagee and Pat Robertson types can’t stick with the gospel.

Social issues should be addressed: poverty, prejudice, injustice, hunger, and educational topics are worthy of discussion. Preachers can do this without hitching their wagon to a political star. I think offering a public endorsement of a presidential candidate devalues the position of the preacher and also presents an exaggerated sense of self-importance. It also implies that the members of the congregation share the viewpoint of the pastor in order to participate in the church. There’s also the impression that once again the minister is being used by the politician. 

Baptists have been BIG on separation of church and state. Historically, Baptist preachers have not offered political endorsements even though they might have their own political opinions. I couldn’t imagine offering an endorsement of a candidate because I represent a higher authority and don’t want to compromise the message. There are times that the church must call the government to task for its actions, and getting on the record for supporting a particular candidate could be trouble. Unfortunately, there are times when voters are faced with the prospect of selecting the lesser of two evils when going to the polls.

Whenever politics and the church become intertwined, it’s the church that suffers. Preachers ought to save their voice for the gospel and social issues that matter. Billy Graham once offered his support of Richard Nixon, only to regret it due to the disappointment of Watergate and other failures. It’s tempting and also flattering to be approached for an endorsement, I’m sure. But, preachers have a higher calling and must stay focused on our mission rather than be caught politicking for one candidate over the other.



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