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I’ve listened. I’ve read. I’ve watched. I’ve prayed. I’ve engaged in conversation. And I’ve heard enough.

Before the first votes are cast in Iowa this evening, I want everyone to know where I stand. So I’m ready to make my endorsement for the 2016 election.

Just kidding. Well, kidding about the endorsement part, but not about letting people know where I stand.

Every minister or religious representative who endorses anyone for president (or dog catcher) cheapens their position, does a disservice to the institution of the church and dishonors God. So you won’t be getting an endorsement from me.

As members of the clergy, our endorsements have already been made. We endorse someone to lead us and guide us and direct us every Sunday from the pulpit, every Wednesday from the teaching lectern and from the “Pastor’s Corner” in the church newsletter.

Any time we lend our endorsements to anyone other than Jesus Christ, we have set our sights too low.

When you endorse a candidate, you don’t just endorse a person, you endorse a party and a platform, and in so doing you unquestionably use your position as God’s servant to encourage alignment and agreement with principles and policies that fall short of kingdom priorities.

When, by endorsement, we give ourselves over to the powers of this world, we lend our names and reputations – and by association God’s name and reputation – to be used and manipulated for political gain.

So when we endorse candidates, at best we confuse people about where our ultimate allegiances lie; or, at worst, our allegiances actually begin to drift from the kingdom of God to the empires of this world.

Our voices ought to be voices of challenge and caution, not encouragement and collusion.

We have chosen as clergy to stand specifically outside the secular circles of power precisely so that we can have the kind of outsider independence and influence that we lose as soon as we step into the political ring.

In short, we should be endorsing Christian principles and values to our candidates, rather than endorsing political candidates to our Christians.

So if endorsing candidates is off the table, how should the clergy – and the Christian – responsibly engage the election? Here are four suggestions:

1. Pray

Pray for our candidates. Pray for our elected leaders. Pray for our country. Pray for our world. Pray for God’s wisdom as you choose for whom to vote.

And pray honestly and equitably for candidates and leaders of every stripe. Pray that God will encourage all of our leaders when they need it. Pray for their health and their families. Pray for God’s growing presence in their lives.

2. Teach

We should consistently teach ourselves and the world what it means to live with Christian values and think with a Christian worldview.

What does it mean to work for a world that looks like the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7)?

How do we demonstrate resolve to not be conformed to the patterns of this world (Romans 12:1-2)?

How do we model Christ-like humility, obedience, service and selflessness in our daily lives (Philippians 2:1-11)?

These are the core ethical tenets of our faith, not the policy positions and platform initiatives of political candidates.

We should encourage our people to think about policy and politics through the lens of Christian faith all the time – not just during election season.

If we don’t, we will fall victim to the natural tendency to view our faith through the distorting lens of the prevailing political culture so that culture influences belief rather than the other way around.

We should always be teaching ourselves and the world what it means to live like Christ.

3. Challenge

We should challenge candidates to reconcile their policy positions, platforms and political rhetoric with the life and teaching of Jesus Christ.

If we really believe that we have a role to play in making this world look more like Christ’s vision of God’s kingdom, then it’s fair for us to want a political process that works alongside us toward that end.

We should ask tough questions about how each candidate’s policies align with Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. We should ask how our candidates demonstrate concern for the hungry, the sick, the imprisoned, and the stranger (Matthew 25:31-46).

And we should challenge our candidates to demonstrate in their personal lives the same Christ-like qualities of humility, obedience, service and selflessness that we seek to model in our own lives (Philippians 2:1-11).

4. Vote

If we pray for and teach and challenge our candidates, the candidates should be able to expect that we’ll vote.

Voting ought to be especially important to Baptists. Because of the priesthood of all believers, our belief in the autonomy of the local church and our steadfast belief in the freedom of conscience, Baptists emphasize democracy in church governance perhaps as adamantly and radically as any other faith tradition.

Your votes are precious, bordering on sacred – use them.

Matt Sapp is the pastor of Heritage Baptist Fellowship in Canton, Georgia. A version of this article first appeared on Heritage’s blog and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @MattPSapp.

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