I guess I missed out on “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” on September 28th. Apparently, 33 churches participated in this event designed to protest the Internal Revenue Service’s prohibiting churches from endorsing political candidates. Those pastors who spoke out specifically in favor of or against a presidential candidate had the support of the Alliance Defense Fund. Churches risk losing their tax exempt status should they offer official endorsement of a political candidate, so the ADF served notice that it was ready to defend pastors who defied the IRS.
An example of what these congregations heard came from Wiley Drake, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church of Buena Park, CA: “According to the Bible and in my opinion, there is no way in the world that a Christian can vote for Barrack Hussein Obama.” Obama’ middle name is a common Arabic name and has been cited as evidence that he is really a Muslim, despite facts to the contrary. Drake is well-known in Southern Baptist life for being somewhat of an eccentric and will do just about anything to get some recognition.
I’m not surprised that Drake is among the whopping 33 pastors who wanted their names affiliated with this kind of antics. The primary issue is that it is a mistake and a waste of valuable time to offer endorsements of political candidates from the pulpit. It is unworthy of the pulpit to interject partisan politics when people have come to hear the gospel and how Christ can make the difference in their lives. No political party or candidate is free from weaknesses and sin, and time and time again this reality has been demonstrated by the failures of those who receive the endorsements of Christian leaders. It’s not a good idea for a pastor to attach his or her wagon to a political star. This kind of recklessness devalues the role of the pastor as spiritual leader of the flock and primary spokesperson for the church.
Regardless who wins the election, pastors will need to minister to their people. It is naive to think that everyone in the pew feels and believes exactly the same way about issues and politicians. And to suggest that “one can’t be a Christian” and vote for a certain candidate at least in this election is misguided. All of us have certain issues that resonate more than others, but it is a mistake to limit social issues to a select few as some church leaders and even denominations are inclined to do. Casting one’s vote is a precious right and all of us should be encouraged to exercise that privilege.
By the way, I don’t need a special Sunday to enjoy pulpit freedom. Every Lord’s Day at our church is Pulpit Freedom Sunday. I can preach whatever I think is from the Lord based on the Bible and know that our members will receive it. This doesn’t guarantee every one will agree with it or like the message, but at least I will take responsibility for the effort. No one has to pre-approve what I’m going to say. This Baptist sentiment has been around for centuries and I am the beneficiary of it.
This latest effort sponsored by the Alliance Defense Fund is a joke. Churches are not for profit organizations and even more important than that is the idea that our Kingdom is not of this world. I’m not sure how folks sitting the pews of these 33 churches responded, but my hunch is that they are going to vote pretty much the way they want to regardless of how their pastor does. And some of them might have been alienated unnecessarily by a reckless stunt.
Pastors should focus on preaching the gospel and bringing attention to social issues through the ministry and mission of the church. I’m not going to bring additional friction into our church by questioning a person’s faith based on whom he or she votes for in this election. What persons ought to hear from their pastors is a clear message about Christ and the hope he brings for all people. There are no red states or blue states in Kingdom work, and no political party has a corner on the truth. When I minister to our people, I don’t see Republicans, Democrats, or Independents. I see the people of God.
The Apostle Paul called it “the foolishness of preaching” and it is a humbling responsibility to speak to God’s people Sunday after Sunday. It’s best to focus on Jesus Christ and endorsing his life, ministry, and offer of salvation to all people. This is much more important and eternally significant that who wins on November 4th.