Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Should Christian leaders endorse individual candidates?

Several years ago when I was still a pastor my father ran for a local political office. One day the call came that I was dreading. He wanted to put one of his campaign signs in my yard. I refused to let him do that. I explained that although I encouraged our congregation to be involved in the political process, to vote, and to consider running for office, I did not feel as a pastor that I could endorse a particular candidate, not even my father. I assured him of my vote, but I could not allow a campaign sign in my yard. I knew he was hurt and could only hope he understood my view. It took a few weeks, but I think he finally understood.

This is why I am bothered by religious leaders endorsing candidates in the upcoming election. Jerry Falwell, Jr. has endorsed Donald Trump as has some other religious leaders. One pastor I know criticizes Trump on Facebook every chance he gets and is promoting Ted Cruz. I think this is the third person he's endorsed as the other two have virtually dropped out of contention. His congregation and FB friends must be getting real confused by now.

Pastors have an obligation to address moral and social issues that may be hot topics in the political arena, but to endorse a political party or a particular leader, in my opinion, crosses the line. Believe me, I was all over Clinton when the news broke about his affair with Lewinsky, but I would have done the same thing if it had been Reagan or Bush who had been involved.

Endorsing a particular individual is a very divisive thing to do in a church. I understand that a pastor has the right to personally endorse anyone he or she wants to as an individual. But, has any news outlet not included the fact that Falwell is the President of Liberty University as they've reported his endorsement of Trump? As a pastor we are connected in the minds of others with the church we serve, and any endorsement we make will come across as an endorsement by the church. In a private conversation with friends I might talk about who I believe is a stronger candidate, but I am not going to announce that to the newspaper, post it on social media, or discuss it from the pulpit.

Several years after my father ran for election he walked out of a church service one Sunday morning. Later that afternoon he called to tell me what he had done. The church had an interim pastor who, my father said, went on week after week about how evil the Democrats are. My Dad was a long-time worker in the local Democrat party, and he got tired of hearing how everything the Democrats stood for was wrong. On that Sunday morning my Dad, a deacon in that church, walked out. He told me when he got to the car he sat there for several minutes, shaking, trying to compose himself. That was not something he thought he would ever do, but he had had enough of partisan politics in the church.

Partisan politics in church erects barriers that do not need to exist in the church. When the pastor endorses a particular candidate for office another wall goes up for someone who prefers a different candidate. The church is about proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The cross is enough of a stumbling block. Let's not add to that.

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