Should Pastors Endorse Candidates from the Pulpit?

September 28, 2008

Today is Pulpit Freedom Sunday, a fact you may have missed in the avalanche of news about the Wall Street bailout and the presidential campaign. If you went to church this morning, chances are you didn’t hear anything about Pulpit Freedom Sunday. You probably heard a sermon on a biblical text that related in some way or another to your life. Your pastor may have had something to say about the current economic woes. It’s more likely that the sermon contained no political references at all. Most sermons aren’t overtly political, even in the midst of a hotly-contested political race.

But today, in a handful of churches across America, pastors used their pulpits to offer an endorsement for president. They are challenging a 1954 law that prohibits religious organizations that receive tax-deductible donations from endorsing specific candidates. These pastors have decided to frontally attack the law because they say it impinges upon their freedom of religion. They hope to force a legal challenge that will end up invalidating the law. 

What should we think about this? Is it a good idea for pastors to endorse specific candidates?

I personally wouldn’t attend a church where the pastor spent his valuable time giving political advice from the pulpit. Pastors can and should teach biblical principles, showing how the Word of God applies to every area of life. They ought to teach about the sanctity of life, the biblical definition of marriage, the responsibility of Christians to be good citizens, the limits of human government from God’s point of view, and the sovereignty of God over every election. More than that, churches should encourage their people to pray for our national leaders. This week a pastor from New Jersey sent me the titles for a six-part sermon series that starts today and runs through November 2:

9/28      Judgment – America: Has America Gone too far?
10/5      America – The Way Things Used To Be
10/12    The World is Ready for the Anti-Christ
10/19    The Church is Ready for the Anti-Christ
10/26    How Abortion Corrupts America’s Conscience
11/2      A Positive Outlook and God’s Promised Reward

My friend added this note:

We will end the series with a day of fasting on Monday, Nov 3, and a two hour prayer session Monday night, election eve.  We’ve placed a ¼ page ad promoting the sermon series.  I believe that people will respond because they are concerned over the financial crisis in Washington, and looking for God’s answer in these troubled times.

I think this sort of preaching can help the congregation think through issues from a biblical perspective. And I love the idea of ending with a day of fasting and an evening of prayer. This morning our church in Tupelo announced a time of prayer just before the election. 

There are many legitimate ways churches can address the great moral issues of the day without wading too deeply into partisan politics. We don’t need to endorse candidates or tell people how to vote. The state has its arena, and we have ours. As citizens we can vote, organize, write letters, make phone calls, and if we are so inclined, we can even run for office. I’m all in favor of Christians being politically active. 

But I draw the line at pastors making political endorsements from the pulpit. We have a higher calling than who wins on November 4. Endorsing one candidate or another from the pulpit makes it seem as if we think this world matters more than the eternal world. That’s the greatest danger—to become so embroiled in the affairs of this age that we forget that this age is passing away—and everything involved with it. 

Should Christians be involved? Absolutely.
Should the church be conscience of the community? Absolutely.
Should we pray? Absolutely.
Should we vote? Absolutely.
Should we apply the Bible to current issues? Absolutely.

But if we do all that, we don’t need pastors endorsing candidates from the pulpit. We need our pastors to show us the way to heaven, to point us to Jesus, to show us the glory of God, and to equip us to serve others in Jesus’ name. 

Let the preachers preach the Word.
And leave us to figure out how to vote.

If the preachers do their job, we’ll do ours well enough. 

What do you think? We welcome your comments. 

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