Stump sermons

October 15, 2012

Beware when politicians sound like preachers and preachers start sounding like politicians—it’s likely that religion is being used for political ends. But some preachers are apparently eager to use religion for political purposes. For the fourth year in a row, a movement called Pulpit Freedom Sunday has encouraged pastors to back political candidates from the pulpit in a direct challenge to tax laws that prohibit churches from engaging in electoral politics. On October 7, 1,477 pastors took part in Pulpit Freedom Sunday. That’s a tiny percentage of pastors, but up from just 33 pastors who took part in 2008. (So far, the Internal Revenue Service has declined to pursue charges against any churches.)

When the church has nothing more to say than what could be said in a political stump speech, the church has surely lost its distinctive voice. It also has forgotten that people come to church wanting and needing something quite different from the campaign speeches and ads that they’ve been hearing all week.

The church cannot and should not attempt to isolate itself from its context—political, social or economic. It is called to seek the welfare of the society in which it finds itself and to seek the good of the whole world for which Jesus gave his life. And the outcome of elections matters—for the welfare of our society and, given the role the U.S. has around the globe, for the world. At its best, the church is a community of moral discernment in which the connection between discipleship and citizenship can be a matter for serious deliberation.

One way to explore the intersection of discipleship and citizenship is to focus on the biblical and theological principles that guide our electoral choices. Theologian Miroslav Volf recently laid down 20 principles for such reflection, touching on such issues as poverty, the use of military force, the death penalty and care for the creation. He roots each principle (what he calls a value) in scripture, then outlines what the debate should be about relative to that value and what questions voters should ponder as they consider the candidates.

Volf is judicious in his remarks, trying hard to avoid partisan leanings. Yet any attempt to delineate general moral and theological principles is likely to involve a set of political values as well. That’s why so-called election guides written by Christian groups can, without naming names or political parties, make it quite clear whom they think a faithful Christian should vote for. One of the tasks of moral discernment, then, is to examine how the principles themselves are defined.

This much the church should make clear about any election: it is about fallible people choosing between fallible candidates in an electoral process that is deeply flawed. Voting takes place in the earthly city, not the City of God.


Politics in church

I agree with this article about church needing to stay out of politics.  And yet, it is involved, in it's way.  The clergy should not stand at the pulpit and try and get certain people elected.  The church's role should be to teach people to be Christ-like: to love others like we love ourselves, to serve and help others, to keep the commandments, and to love and serve God.  When churches do this effectively over time, they help to create strong families who will be able to discern, through the spirit, the best candidate to vote for, and individuals who will become politicians but would never consider lying or being selfish, greedy, or power hungry.    That is how churches/clergy can get the best/honest politician elected: by helping to "create" them from the ground up.  

The more churches are divided amongst themselves, the less effective they are at teaching this to their members.  We are then left to fight, in our weakened state, against the symptoms of the disease (same-sex marriage, murder, rape, robbery, lack of integrity, etc), rather than heal the disease at it's base (lack of faith, testimony, conversion).

I pray that we will remain firm, and continue to teach the gospel with all our heart, might, and strength.