A few days ago I learned that one of my fellow pastor friends agreed to serve on a political committee to get one of his party’s candidates elected president of the United States. My friend is currently serving as a pastor of a local church. I am disappointed that he is taking such a prominent role in influencing people to vote for a certain candidate.
This sort of thing has gotten ministers in trouble before. On more than one occasion candidates have not been completely”vetted.” When unflattering revelations about the candidate are revealed, it makes those pastors who endorse them look foolish. It is even more problematic when pastors espouse biblical values yet endorse those who have a track record of doing the opposite. I believe this confuses the people in the pew who are being challenged to live holy and effective lives for Christ.
It’s also made me more aware that in certain states, the divide between religion and politics has become almost non-existent.
Each one of us has an opinion and can participate in the political process. However, for ministers, there is an inherit danger in aligning oneself with a presidential hopeful. This is even more significant when the candidate has a long track record of character flaws and has made harsh and questionable remarks about people of non-Christian backgrounds. It’s also troubling when the candidate has somehow developed recent proclamations of faith that seemingly coincide with his effort to earn the nomination of a political party.
We’re not electing a pastor of the United States. We’re electing a president of the United States. Still, it baffles me how ministers can choose to jettison their own moral and theological views for the purpose of endorsing political candidates. This is not aimed or limited to Democrats or Republicans.
Some ministers, especially the more visible ones, feel the necessity and cannot resist the fascination in endorsing a candidate and all the publicity that this generates. This practice is dangerous and ministers are setting themselves up to be disappointed. Politicians seek to get people to vote for them, and will frequently say and do anything to accomplish that end.
This realization was demonstrated well in the television show “The West Wing.” In the episode, “In God We Trust,” the Republican candidate Arnold Vinick is having problems with his own political party who expect him to take on religious views to satisfy their concerns. Ironically, this political problem was caused by his Democratic rival who affirmed theistic evolution during a town hall meeting at an elementary school.
When asked by reporters whether he would attend the church of a well-known pastor to gain his support, Vinnick responds: “I don’t see how we can have a separation of church and state in this government if you have to pass a religious test to get in this government. And I want to warn everyone in the press and all the voters out there if you demand expressions of religious faith from politicians, you are just begging to be lied to. They won’t all lie to you but a lot of them will. And it will be the easiest lie they ever had to tell to get your votes. So, every day until the end of this campaign, I’ll answer any question anyone has on government, But if you have a question on religion, please go to church.”
Christians need to get involved in the political process to enact positive change in our country. There any number of ways to do this. However, I think our primary task as ministers is to enact Kingdom change in our world. Our people need to know that the most important cause we have is leading people to Christ.
The other thought about this political business is that the church in general is losing influence in the world. It’s disappointing yet not unsurprising to see prominent pastors bless one candidate over the other. I believe this alienates persons in the pew who hold different political views, and it also exaggerates the influence that pastors have in getting people to vote a certain way.
It’s important to learn about the presidential candidates and the issues of our day. But, pastors should be careful about how they utilize their influence. We don’t want to exchange our eternal calling for one that lasts only for a political season.