November 4, 2008. A group of fifty-plus pastors recently made news when they threw down the gauntlet before the Internal Revenue Service and delivered to their congregations endorsements of a presidential candidate and a political party. I haven't gone on to their websites to see just who they recommended from the pulpit. To me, that's beside the point.
The point is that such recommendations are not what the pulpit is for. At least not the one which God and the church I serve have entrusted me. I hope I never forget what that pulpit is for, every time I stand up there with the authority granted me by God and the congregation. The congregation includes people who are Republicans, Democrats and independents for reasons that I understand and respect. It also includes some people who will not vote at all, never have and never will, again, for consistent reasons of faith that I understand and respect. All of them have called me to be pastor to all of them.
I am responsible to them, and to God, for everything I say from the pulpit. Eternally so. I had better be very careful, therefore, about what I say there, and not abuse that right and responsibility.
Our faith is about God and the kingdom of God. Both of those subjects are much wider and deeper than any political candidate or party or platform can ever be. It should be of no surprise, then, when one party, candidate or platform corresponds with the kingdom of God in some issues and areas, but ignores it or betrays it in another. Nor should it be any surprise when their opposing candidates, parties or platforms pick up on other aspects of the kingdom of God that their competitors ignore. That makes voting- who to vote for and even whether to vote—a dilemma for any citizen whose primary allegiance is to the kingdom of God.
Nor should it be any surprise when one citizen of God's kingdom is drawn more to one candidate or party than another, because of their proximity to kingdom values they hold most dear, while another disciple is drawn to another candidate or party because of their proximity to other kingdom values they hold equally dear. And yet their kingdom values are nearly identical, when seen in the whole. For me to tell one fellow citizen of God's kingdom that his or her candidate, party, or vote are wrong because they are different from mine, is not only to elevate my set of pressing kingdom priorities over theirs, it is to challenge their maturity and sincerity as disciples of Jesus. I had better save my authority to do that for those very rare occasions when it is obvious that someone is flouting and violating their baptismal vows to Christ and the church. Unless my Christian brother or sister is actively espousing the platform and candidacy of, let's say, a white supremacist or an Islamic jihadist, I don't think our differences between political parties, or candidates qualify as differences over which I am going to take my Christian brother to task, not even indirectly, by an endorsement from the pulpit.
Even if my preferred candidate should win, that is not where my victory lies. Or if my preferred candidates and party loses, that does not make me a victim. And if I should find and endorse a candidate whose policies and platforms conform to 90% of my faith-based beliefs, how do I know that this candidate, once elected, will not violate and betray his promises and policies? How do I know that he or she will not fall, through pride, to the original temptation of Adam and grasp at powers and titles that belong only to God? Then what becomes of my endorsement from the pulpit? How would I answer to God for aiding and abetting that recurrent tragedy of hubris and fall? It is literally the oldest story in the world.
But I won't run that risk as long as I only endorse Jesus as king of our lives and our world. He has already proven himself beyond the tempter's grasp.
But that doesn't mean that the pulpit is entirely non-political. If I have the politics of God's kingdom right, then there should be enough in my preaching about love, life and peace to make politicians of all stripes and parties concerned. I preach a kingdom which will outlast and replace all the regimes, parties and nations of the world. While the kingdoms of the world organize themselves around a shared identity that they are for, and enemies that they are against, I preach a kingdom whose only enemy is enmity, whose loyalty oath erodes and supercedes all other loyalties. Wherever and whenever there is any element of idolatry in any political party, platform or candidacy, the preaching of the kingdom of God will necessarily be political.
Whatever the results of today's election, I will pray for the winners, that they might resist the tempter's offer and humbly serve the common good. I will also pray for the church, that we might model that heavenly kingdom which alone will endure after our worldly ones have gone the way of all flesh. And I will pray for myself, that my ministry ad conduct will be pleasing to earth's rightful king. His is the only endorsement I care about. His kingdom is the only one I will unreservedly endorse.
Pastor Mathew Swora