Pulpit and Politics

There seems to be two polar extremes that pastors/churches take on the place of the pulpit and politics.

One extreme is that the pastor is so sure of his place as prophet concerning political issues and candidates that he uses his pulpit to preach concerning these things. I’ve heard from both the left and the right – preachers who have conflated their Christian theology with a particular form of partisan politics. This only undermines the gospel and lifts a person’s political agenda to the level of the gospel itself.

The other extreme is to keep totally clear of political engagement. Politics is seen as a realm of our existence that is separate and unrelated to the gospel. These preachers make it a point to never offer insights from the Bible concerning political issues. The best reason for doing this is that they do not want to come across as one of those they’ve seen who conflate political agendas with the gospel; the worst reasons for doing this is a fear of ostracizing people in their congregations with differing political positions (thus perhaps hurting attendance and giving), or another reason is that the preacher actually believes that Jesus had nothing to say that was political.

It’s a thorny issue, granted. But a third way is possible:

A preacher must not shy away from the fact that the gospel has major ramifications concerning political engagement. However, he must be extremely explicit that while Christians must be politically engaged, there must also be room within the Christian community to discuss and even debate the issues beyond the normal partisan punditry. The preacher must make it clear that there is not always the one “Christian” stand on any given political issue. And, to paraphrase Os Guinness, Christians, of all people, must engage in political discussions with civility.

In this age of partisan punditry and escalated rhetoric from both the Left and the Right, the Preacher has a unique opportunity . He can model this third way; he can show that Christians can thoughtfully engage in the issues of our day without being sucked into performing the political hack-jobs that the person in the pew usually sees on the cable news channels. He can offer Christian alternative ways to engage the issues. He can tell people that they need to listen to all sides before making their decisions. He can demand that the church library not only carry “World” Magazine, but also “Prism,” and “Sojourners” (or the other way around if the church has traditionally leaned left) so that other Christian viewpoints can be placed on the table. He needs to be well-read, regularly quoting people with diverse political viewpoints, both from the secular and the Christian worlds. And, he must be willing to say what he feels needs to be said, but with humility and civility at all times - with a willingness to say, "This is how I see it. I may be wrong."



Byron Harvey said...

Pretty good word, there, Bob!

Bob Robinson said...

Wow! A post on politics that we can finally agree on!!