Politicking from the Pulpit

by andrewcagle

This week, at the Family Research Council’s 2011 Value Voters Summit in Washington, DC, Dr. Robert Jeffress enthusiastically endorsed Texas Governor Rick Perry for the Republican Presidential nomination. The head pastor of Dallas, TX First Baptist Church went as far to say that, “replacing Barack Obama [as President of the United States] is more than a political issue, it’s a spiritual issue.” This is a bold statement, and says a lot about the way a large portion of American Christianity views domestic politics. Here are some of his statements at the recent summit:

Dr. Jeffress supports his endorsement of Rick Perry by saying that, “The reason, as a pastor, that I am excited about the candidacy of Rick Perry, is not because of his fiscal policies, but it’s because of his strong commitment to Biblical values.” These statements by the pastor raise some questions in my mind. Does the 10,000 member congregation of his church unanimously support Rick Perry, or even any other Republican candidate for president? Are Biblical values the only consideration in choosing a political candidate to endorse? Is Rick Perry’s commitment to Biblical values unquestionable? No one is perfect, but there are questions that might arise in people’s minds. One question off-hand is whether support of the death penalty is in harmony with anything in the gospel of radical grace presented by Jesus. Dr. Jeffress remarked that Rick Perry is the “most pro-life governor” in America today. While this may have validity in regards to abortion, his state also holds the highest execution rate in the US. Furthermore, are Christians who support Barack Obama or any other Democrat on the wrong side of this “spiritual issue”? Is there a right or wrong way to vote as a Christian? Does the perception of public statements about politics by religious leaders have an impact on non-Christians and their openness to hearing the gospel? Most of all, regarding what Jesus said about spiritual and earthly kingdoms, will Dr. Jeffress’ statements come without any possible negative implications regarding the growth of the spiritual one?

There are some concerns and important questions to ask about how we, as Christians, go about navigating the world of politics. I am a believer that someone’s voting ballot is less of concern to God than how they live their life. Do we worship God in spirit and truth? Do we love our neighbor as ourselves? Pastors, especially those who are well known, are seen and heard by Christians and non-Christians alike. Whether you agree or disagree with his position, in the mind of many people, he is speaking for you and represents your faith.

With all these things in mind, should pastors publicly endorse political candidates for office? Is there an amount of permissible political speech by religious leaders, and if so, in what manner?