From here on to next November, the temptation grows–the temptation to use your pulpit to help the party of your choice get elected. That’s nothing new, of course.
These days the politicization of American religion is taken for granted. Newspapers published the raw figures last week. Twice as many church folk will vote Republican as Democrat. Twice as many secular folk will vote Democrat as Republican. TV preachers will thunder about social policy. Congregations will get ostensibly impartial voter guides. Spin-meisters in both parties will work diligently to portray their man (assuming the Democrats nominate a male) as on the side of the angels and the other guy as the devil incarnate.
But is it right? Certainly Jesus preached about what we today would call issues. He championed the poor, the oppressed and the powerless. He opposed racism and called for morality in high places. Modern preachers who fail to do those things clearly fail to follow the Master’s example.
No preacher should shy away from preaching on specific moral issues. What we should avoid, I believe, is identifying the cause of Christ with the agenda of any political party.
Why? The reason is quite simple. Political parties are about earthly power, gaining it and keeping it. That is their raison d’etre. The church of Jesus has a different agenda. We’re about promoting the sovereign reign of Christ, a kingdom he himself taught us was not of this world.
It may, and indeed does, happen that on a specific issue on a given day the agenda of one party or the other may coincide with the agenda of the church of Jesus. We’re permitted to cooperate when and where we can.
What we’re not permitted to do is to marry the church of Jesus to the Republicans or the Democrats. She must remain the bride of Christ and Christ alone. And that means preachers must resist the partisan temptation.
There are all kinds of more pragmatic reasons, of course. No congregation of any size will be purely one party in sentiment. The government frowns on tax exemptions for electioneering. Party platforms are always ethically eclectic. So you may find that you support them on one issue only to identify yourself by implication with a position you abhor on another.
But the most important pragmatic issue is also the most important theological/ethical one. Allowing our preaching to become partisan inevitably sidetracks us from the true mission of the church. We’re not here to win elections. We’re here to win hearts, minds and lives for the cause of Jesus Christ. You just can’t serve two masters.
Ron Sisk is professor of homiletics and Christian ministry at North American Baptist Seminary in Sioux Falls, S.D.