Jerry Falwell spoke recently in the morning chapel service at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram newspaper and a staff member of my church who attended the chapel service, Falwell made a tongue-in-cheek comment that those in attendance should, “Vote for the Bush of their choice” in the upcoming November elections.
I am both a Baptist minister and an elected public official, so I respect the fact that Falwell has strong political opinions. I also can appreciate his desire to influence his audience to follow his political views. However, if I were given an opportunity to speak to the students and faculty of any seminary I would offer a different perspective on the role of partisan politics and the church.
Here is what I would say:
The November elections are upon us and even as we sit here today people in both our congregations and our community are urging us to allow our churches to be used by and for the advancement of political parties and their candidates. As you consider these requests, I would urge you to bend a phrase from the Nike Corporation and “Just don’t do it!”
The Sunday morning service of a church is a place for Christian fellowship, worship and Bible study, not political advocacy. People of all political persuasions should be able to come together on Sunday and put their political differences aside to worship and serve God together.
In church, the Democrat and the Republican should be able to sing “Amazing Grace” in harmony.
The union shop steward and the company manager should be able to work on God’s kingdom without argument.
The no-tax and pro-tax advocates should be able to consider the needs of their church and the world it’s trying to reach for Christ and put their contributions in the same offering plate.
The only office holder we should endorse or promote in our church is Jesus, who holds the office of High Priest (Hebrews 8:1-2).
Sound idealistic? It probably is. But I am convinced God is most honored and people are best served when we keep partisan political debates out of our church. So how do we get there?
First, urge your members to be good citizens who vote and participate in our democracy, but never make political positions, affiliations or involvement a test for fellowship in your church.
Next, never endorse candidates or political referendums from the pulpit. When elected public officials visit your church, treat them with respect regardless of party affiliation; say a prayer for them and then move on to the next part of your worship service.
Finally, never release your church directories to groups who would use them for political purposes. In short, use your church to promote the kingdom of God through worship, ministry, fellowship, Christian education and outreach, not politics.”
Wayne Ogle is the pastor of Webb Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, and has been a member of the Arlington City Council since 1995.