Faith may influence voters, but faith leaders shouldn’t endorse


For The Beachcomber

Religious beliefs certainly play an influential part in public life. Preaching can have a powerful influence on these beliefs and therefore on public life as well. A recent news report caused me to reflect on the preaching duties of a pastor in the light of the upcoming elections.

The “Alliance Defense Fund” (ADF) — a conservative Christian organization that describes itself as a “legal alliance defending the right to hear and speak the Truth through strategy, training, funding, and litigation” — called for a “Pulpit Freedom Sunday.” In a public announcement, the organization explained what it meant by this: It wanted pastors to “preach from their pulpits on Sept. 28 about the moral qualifications of candidates seeking political office” and to “examine their First Amendment right to preach on the subject ... without fear of punishment.”

It is significant that the ADF avoids in its own publications the term “endorsement.” Still, the ADF’s goal with this “special project,” as it called it, is clear to many observers, including me: It’s to stir an investigation by the Internal Revenue Service, so that the ADF, as it states on its Web site, can “represent these [participating] pastors should they come under fire [by the IRS] and ... fight this battle all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary.”

Such an announcement may make many people (both in and outside the church) quite uncomfortable. And indeed, very few pastors or churches even considered this appeal. As a theologian, preacher and pastor of a local Christian church, I do not share the views and goals of the ADF.

First of all, preaching is a form of proclamation within the church. It is not a First Amend-ment right or the voicing of a political opinion. (This does not mean that a sermon can never be political.) To call for candidate-specific preaching is an inappropriate misuse of the pastoral preaching office.

Second-ly, the preaching about “the moral qualifications of candidates seeking political office” will unnecessarily polarize our communities of faith. As citizens of this world and as voters, we have differing political opinions. This is good. It is also a good thing that our communities of faith remain politically diversified. After all, they are not an extension of “red vs. blue” bickering.

Thirdly, we may read the same Bible and still interpret it differently. In any case, the Bible was not written to proof-text the “moral qualifications” of our political leaders. In this regard, I find it disconcerting that a particular organization encourages pastors to argue — on biblical grounds — the moral superiority of one candidate over another. Rather as pastors, preachers or religious leaders, we should encourage the people in our communities of faith to pray for all political leaders.

In view of the upcoming elections, we should “acknowledge the instrumental role of government in society and (participate) in the electoral process,” as Lutheran presiding bishop Mark S. Hanson suggests. And when the politically informed and engaged voters cast their ballot, I am confident that they will apply broader standards than solely “the moral qualifications” of the candidates.

— Bjoern Meinhardt is a German citizen and thus can’t vote in the upcoming elections. He’s lived on Vashon since December 2004, when he was appointed to be the pastor at Vashon Lutheran Church.

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