On pastors and politics

I love politics. I have since I was a dorky little kid. I’ve told Melissa that I’d like to live 4 lives: one as a pastor and theologian, one as a musician, one as a chef,  and one as the President of the US. (Bela Fleck and the Flecktones would play “Big Country” at my inauguration.) (I’m being really vulnerable right now, and I hope you appreciate it.)

But as it is, I have one life, and it’s the one I really want: as a husband, father, and pastor. How does that work with my interest in politics? Is it OK for a pastor to talk politics in public, to blog and tweet political stuff, or does that hurt his witness for Jesus?

In the US people get this wrong every whichaway: Some churches seem afraid to speak clearly where the Bible does, but others seem entirely in the tank for one party without putting much thought into it at all. Neither of those errors are confined to the right or left. In Europe most people could care less what the church thinks; that’s a different problem.

I escape a good bit of this by living and working where I do, which is fine with me. But I still have to think about what’s wise and what’s not. So I’m a conservative with a pretty decent libertarian streak, and I’m also a Christian who believes the Bible is the final voice on all matters on which it speaks. But I’m an ambassador for Jesus, not for William F. Buckley. I want people to know the one true God, to worship him and enjoy him forever, and I want that a lot more than I want people to vote the way I do.

So I try to be careful. I don’t want to reinforce stereotypes that will turn people off from hearing the gospel. The gospel is offensive enough without me being offensive myself. But I also think people are grownups, and in general can handle the idea of a “man of the cloth” having personal opinions as well.

These may be kind of arbitrary, but I have some “best practices” I try to follow. Some are just to avoid unpleasantness, some to avoid feeding my own idols, and some are career-specific.

  • No politics in the pulpit. Generally I try to preach exegetically, so the topic is determined by the Bible, not me. I probably wouldn’t ever instruct people to vote for a certain candidate, although in a case where the passage I’m preaching on clearly addresses a topic I wouldn’t hesitate to point it out. I can’t for the life of me imagine having a candidate address the congregation during worship. That has always given me the heebie-jeebies, whether it’s a Republican or Democrat.
  • I don’t bring up politics when I’m meeting or getting to know people. If others bring it up and I disagree, I try to change the subject. (Those who know me well would be really surprised at the restraint I sometimes show.)
  • Most of the time I try to stay away from politics on Facebook, and I’m more unfiltered on Twitter and the blog. The blog does push to Facebook, but I figure the people who are interested enough to read it actually want to hear what I think. Generally, I’m not interested in arguing, unless I think the relationship with the other party can handle it and there’s mutual respect and willingness to listen.
  • I try to keep my speech gracious and respectful. I’m sure I have a broader view of what that might permit than some, but I do have a filter, and there are many comments left on the cutting room floor. (“If you knew all the things I didn’t say…”)

Who knows. I may decide one day that I’ve been wrong, and that I should keep my mouth shut entirely when it comes to politics. But this is where I am now.

What do you think? Is it bad for pastors to talk politics? Any horror stories?

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Comments

  1. James McManus says:

    Great thoughts – and I’m with you all the way! I prefer the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gospel of Rush Limbaugh – and, at this point, I don’t think the litmus test for your faith is what button you push in the voting booth. But, politics are a part of our lives and we are called to interact with it on Biblical principles and wisdom. I would much prefer to hear Biblical principles and wisdom from the pulpit instead of a lecture on what political jersey I should wear ;)

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