Why I think Christian leaders supporting a political candidate is a very bad idea

I did a very immature thing once. Actually I’ve done several things over the years that you could pile into the immature category, but only one of them is the object of discussion today.

A few years back, when the Christian Right was all the rage, I got so irritated at the posturing and politicizing of groups like the Christian Coalition and the Moral Majority, that I actually threw my vote away. I purposefully voted for a candidate that I knew could not win…one I didn’t particularly agree with…just because I was so fed up with the attitudes that the candidate I normally would support had surrounded himself with. There were voter guides and phone trees and prominent Christian leaders telling me why one candidate was truly “Christian” and the other was not. So I bailed…threw that sucker away…might as well have stayed home and not voted.

I feel better now, having said that.

Unfortunately, I’m irritated again. This time it was the Christian Left that first triggered it.

It may have started when I saw a political ad for Barrack Obama, sponsored by the Matthew 25 network, featuring Brian McLaren and Kirby Jon Caldwell, two prominent pastors. In the ad, both encouraged me to vote for their candidate, who, according to them, is a fine Christian father and husband. He probably is…that’s not the point. The point was that two pastors were using their influence to back a political candidate.

Then I started seeing on blogs and twitters pastor friends endorsing one candidate or another. This weekend, many of my friends will come as close as they can to publicly supporting a candidate. While I understand, and to some degree share their passion for the direction of our country, I don’t think that’s smart, and I’ll tell you why:

  1. It’s not wise to hitch our wagons to a political horse (or donkey or elephant for that matter). Politics is fundamentally about power: gaining it, keeping it, and controlling it. It’s a rough game that I’m not sure the church needs to be too closely aligned too. Players change, situations arise, and sometimes people don’t follow thru on best intentions…and suddenly the horse is going a direction we didn’t sign up for…and before we know it, we are painted with the same brush that others are painting the people in power with. I’m pretty sure that’s not good for the cause of Christ.

    David Kuo spent nearly three years as second in command at the president’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. In his book, “Tempting Faith: An inside story of political seduction“, he says that his experience was deeply troubling as he saw how his Christian values, and those of millions of Americans, were being corrupted by politics. Instead of following the teachings of Jesus to serve the needy, Kuo found himself helping to manipulate religious faith for political gain.

    Can I make a bold statement? I’m not sure that the Bush White House or the Republican Party has a corner on the market in the art of “manipulating religious faith for political gain.” If you believe they do, I’ve got a docile donkey I’d like to sell you cheap. The end game for politics and the end game for the church are not the same. At times they may look similar, in the best of times they can complement each other, but they are a very different animal.

    I’m not bashing politicians. I’m also not suggesting that Christians shouldn’t seek to serve in the halls of power. I’m just saying that pastors and Christian leaders should think twice about loaning their influence to anyone or anything for any price…even if it’s free. (I’m actually proud of myself for not using the word “prostituting”.)

    We have many Godly men and women who serve in the political arena who also attend Seacoast, not the least of which is the Governor of our state. I am his pastor, sometimes confidant, and hopefully friend. His name was mentioned as a possible candidate for vice president, and who knows, he may yet serve in another capacity. I will encourage him, if asked I will advise him, but he knows I will not get up and publicly endorse him. That would not be smart for me and frankly could be detrimental to him. (Can you say John Hagee, Rod Parsley, or Jeremiah Wright)
  2. Endorsing a candidate limits who you will minister too in the future. Very few things divide like politics. If this election is close, there will be about 50% of the nation who will be very happy. If it is a landslide, there will be a little under 50% who will work very hard to “throw the bums out” in four years. The next election starts November 5th. If you want to draw a line in the sand and choose teams, just take sides in politics. I do not want to shut down future ministry to half of the available population because they see Seacoast as in one camp or another. I reserve the right to be a prophetic voice about abortion, or justice, or poverty, or anything else I see as a Biblical issue. We talk about all of them here, but if people see me as a voice of one party or another, then the volume of my message gets muted and categorized by those who don’t share my party affiliation.

    I was invited by our congressman to open a session of congress in prayer. It was an honor and an experience that I will treasure always. I brought along a childhood friend to share the day, and as we were getting the inside tour and secretly pinching ourselves to see if this was all real, I asked him a question: “Who is the most powerful person here today?”

    He answered, “The speaker of the House”…to which I replied “No”. He offered several other names and offices…finally giving up. “It’s us”, I said. “We give them counsel, prayer, encouragement, rebuke…and we answer to a higher power.” After letting that soak in, we discussed how quickly you can give that power up when you become indebted to a politician or political party. Suddenly, you find yourself working for them. Serving their agenda. Power is seductive, but when bowed too, suddenly narrows the scope of who you will minister too.
  3. My third reason is admittedly going to be a bit of a stretch. Here goes: I don’t think Jesus would do it.

    To pretend to speak for God is dangerous territory here…that’s why I said “I don’t think” instead of “Jesus definitely wouldn’t”. But, that being said, I don’t think you would find Jesus stumping for Barrack Obama OR John McCain in Pennsylvania a week before the election. I think he loves both of them, but I’m not sure politics is his gig. They tried to pull him in during the time he lived in Palestine, but he never took the bait. And, if it’s not his gig, I’m not sure it ought to be ours (talking about Pastors here).

    What would Jesus do? Don’t know…but I’d guess he would agonize in prayer, maybe all night, then go vote his conscience…and then just pretty much keep his mouth shut about it.

    Kind of sounds like some good advice for us.

    What do you think?

Kick-off party

Last night I attended the 40 DOC kick-off party at the Long Point campus…what a blast! They used the theme of a tailgate party, complete with marching band, goal posts, cheer leaders, referees doing the parking (does that say something about Seacoast drivers?), and lots of great food. Inside, the worship team, Rick Warren, and the whole connect team got us fired up about the next six weeks. Almost 800 people showed up…the food lasted to the end of a very long line…thought we were going to need a miracle. Great job Kendal, Jim, Josh and the team. Summerville and West do their kick-offs later this week. Something good is in the air and I can’t wait for the weekend.