The Best Reason for the Church to Stay Out of Politics
- 2008 23 Oct
These days, something new is in the ecclesiastical air: pastors are insisting that "I have the right to be political from my pulpit." It's a freedom of speech thing, they say.
The IRS responds that you certainly do have that freedom, so long as you don't mind giving up this little thing called Tax Exemption.
Methinks some pastors are about to find the cost for exercising this freedom is more than they want to pay.
My father has been in Heaven for almost a year now, but he had a perspective on this issue that some of our pastors could benefit from.
One Sunday, Dad drove 50 miles and attended the church my brother Ron pastored in Graysville, Alabama, just north of Birmingham. This was some 10 or 12 years ago, during the Clinton presidency. Ron had a well-known guest evangelist in that day and Dad wanted to hear him.
Later he told me what happened.
"The preacher got in the pulpit and spent half his time slamming the liberal Democrats and cracking jokes about President Clinton."
Now, my dad was a lifelong coal miner--he worked in the deep pits of Alabama and West Virginia until forced to retire at the age of 49--and was a confirmed union member. That almost automatically made him a Democrat, too, at that time. But anyone who thought Carl McKeever was a liberal needs to find some new definitions for his political lexicon! Dad was anything but liberal, and had a low tolerance for fools, whether in politics or any other part of life.
After letting his report on the visiting evangelist's folly sink in, Dad said to me, "What if there were unsaved people sitting in that church that morning and they happened to be Democrats? How would they have reacted to what that preacher said? They won't listen to a thing he said about Jesus because they were so upset at what he said about their politics."
He added, "That's why a preacher has no business bringing politics into the pulpit."
My dad had only a 7th-grade education, but he had more common sense in his coal-stained pinkie than most of us carry about in our enlarged seminary-educated craniums.
There's an old truism that goes: "The church that marries the culture today will be a widow tomorrow." That surely applies also to the matter of pastors endorsng political candidates and their churches identifying exclusively with one party or the other.
So, why do pastors do this?
I can find only two answers:
1) There are some important issues. No one is disputing that. The matter of abortion looms largest on my own political horizon. Furthermore, the economy of this country and what this nation should be doing in the Middle East are crucial matters. There are moral aspects to these issues which pastors can address and should be helping their people with.
Only, they don't need to be endorsing candidates.
2) As critical as those issues are, none are as important as the church's primary task of bringing the gospel to the community and the world. Plainly, some pastors have lost their way and some churches have forgotten their task. When they are willing to risk the salvation of lost people who wander into their services in order to get certain candidates elected, one has to wonder if these men of God have forgotten their assignment from Matthew 28:18-20.
In my own city, we have an eight-term congressman running for re-election this year at the same time he is facing a federal trial in a few days for racketeering and taking bribes. Almost every day, the New Orleans Times-Picayune carries another sordid revelation about the doings of William Jefferson and his extended family. It appears they had their hands out for payoffs at every turn and that the congressman's siblings and numerous children all were feathering their nests at the public trough.
In a field of eight candidates, Mr. Jefferson won 25 percent of the vote in the primary and in the runoff faces the single white canddiate, a former television newswoman Helena Morena, who garnered 20 percent of the vote. And yet, a group of clergymen met this week to issue a ringing endorsement of Mr. Jefferson and urge everyone to vote for him.
And we wonder why people no longer respect the ministry for its integrity and courage.
I am not suggesting that Christians ought to stay out of politics. Far from it. But only that politics should stop at the front door of the church.
We have far bigger fish to fry.
When Israel was in Babylon, God sent a message to His people through the prophet Jeremiah. "Work for the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile and pray on its behalf. For as it prospers, you will prosper. (Jer. 29:7)
Work for it, pray for it, yes. Encourage your people to be politically active, surely. Just don't bring the campaigns into the church building.
The worship center isn't called a sanctuary for nothing. There ought to be at least one place where we are protected from such.
Dr. Joe McKeever is a Preacher, Cartoonist, and the Director of Missions for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans. Visit him at joemckeever.com/mt. Used with permission.