Monday, October 6, 2008

Pastor Presidential Picks

Amid the hullabaloo of the banking crisis and $700 billion bailout (rescue if you will), on top of the presidential election and the all-Sarah-Palin-all-the-time coverage, you might have missed a few pastors behaving badly.

A week ago Sunday, several pastors told their congregations -- from their pulpits -- whom to vote for. Apparently, some chickened out, but others boldly went forward.

What’s the big deal?  You can’t do that as a representative of the church and still keep your tax-exempt status.  These pastors -- all of whom endorsed John McCain -- said they were defending their first amendment rights to free speech.  They are supported and egged on by the Arizona based Alliance Defense Fund which seeks to eliminate this limitation to churches.

The question is, did they do a good thing or a bad thing?  As a pastor, I believe their actions were unjustifiable for several reasons.  

First, their argument that they were protecting first amendment rights is bogus.  They have the right to say anything they want, they just don’t get to keep their tax-exempt status.  That status, given to churches because in part because most of us can barely keep our doors open in the first place, is a privelege not a right.  Other political organizations pay their taxes.  This also helps protect the separation between church and state, so precious in American society.

Second, and to my mind more important, telling your parishioners how to vote is an abuse.  It’s trading heavenly authority for worldly power.  Telling them that they should only vote one way (and I have seen some who say they are allowed to only vote one way or risk hell’s fire), infantalizes those parishioners.  It tells them that they are unfit to make decisions based on their observations.  It pressures them to pick one side.

Furthermore, it demonizes the other half of the country, and that is unChristian.  Christ neither demonized nor told us whom to vote for.  He looked for the humanity in all and touched us there.  Each person, despite their views, is precious in God’s sight.

Remember this, too.  Many Christian pastors think a vote for John McCain would be immoral, just as many think the same about a vote for Barack Obama.  That means that the church leadership can’t agree who’s right -- so how could we possibly tell others what to do?

By the way, to tell others how they must vote smacks of hubris.  How are we to know that we have chosen correctly?  Over the past few years several parishioners have come to me and said, “I’m a Republican, but I am sorry I voted for Bush.”  Quite a few Democratic parishioners have expressed regret about their votes for Elliot Spitzer.  We are imperfect, and to tell others how to vote assumes greater wisdom than any of us has a right to claim.

Then there are the pastoral considerations.  My parishioners belong to both political parties.  If I were to endorse someone from the pulpit, that alienate those from a different party, especially if I’m telling them that they are not true Christians unless they vote for my guy (thus assuring them that they will vote out of fear, not conviction).  My duty as a pastor is to serve them all in love -- and to preach the greater truths -- that God loves us and expressed his love through Jesus Christ.

So will I be telling my parishioners how to vote?  No.  Period.  Maybe I’ll stick a bumper sticker inside my glove compartment.