Pulpit Ministry & The Presidential Election: Part 1

Posted with permission from Theologically Driven.

As an interim pastor charged in part with exposing the Scriptures so as to inform the moral and ethical decision-making of a congregation, I have been forced to consider the role that the pulpit should play in the upcoming presidential election. The simplest model, and one that will no doubt feature prominently in many pulpits over the next few weeks, is what I’ll call the values/proof-text model. It has two basic variations:

  • One variation stresses the biblical emphasis on conservative Judeo-Christian moral values (e.g., abortion, the institution of marriage, work/reward, etc.) and influences the election toward one party.
  • The other variation stresses the biblical emphasis on generous Judeo-Christian social values (e.g., social justice, legislated neighborliness, and the welfare of the city) and influences the election toward the other party.

If one could manage to be completely objective with this approach, then it is probable that one party’s list of biblical values and the supporting proof-texts would be longer than the other’s. Or, alternately, one might decide that irrespective of the length of the lists, the weight of one or more of the items on the list (say, abortion) is such that the argument for one side or the other is sealed.

But here’s the thing: that’s not how Christian decision-making usually occurs. While some life decisions are decisively informed by a clear Bible verse, many of our most complex decisions are not. They rest instead on a network or complex of Christian commitments: that is, on one’s system of theology. Since many systems of theology don’t self-consciously extend very far into the political realm, however, many believers enter the voting booth with a capricious brush pile of disconnected interests—some biblical interests, to be sure, but also personal, economic, and security interests sprinkled with a hodgepodge of demographic/community concerns.

So what is the solution? How do we bring the full weight of our system of theology to bear on our decision-making process? The solution is far from simple, of course, because systems of theology are numerous and rarely simple. Below are some representative theological approaches that seek to assemble the “values” and “prooftexts” detailed above into coherent models. Most readers will resonate with one or another of these approaches.

  • One could take the stance offered by cultural transformationists (e.g., select theonomists, neo-calvinists, liberals, and even some Romanists) and argue that since neither party offers a demonstrably Christian candidate, Christians should opt in faith for an obscure Christian candidate on principle, even though that candidate is likely to lose.
  • One could take the stance offered by pessimistic counter-culturalists (e.g., select sectarian groups and some dispensationalists) and argue that it doesn’t matter who wins: The world is destined for destruction, so why bother polishing the rails on this sinking ship? Our citizenship is instead in heaven and our hope in Christ.
  • One could take a stance featured in some two-kingdom systems (e.g., select Baptists, Kuyperians, amillennialists, and some dispensationalists) and argue that since Caesar and Christ occupy separate spheres and neither sphere may legitimately influence the other, then one must on principle say nothing from the pulpit.
  • One could take a non-foundationalist stance and say that both candidates bring positive features to the table and that there is no one “right” choice. Instead of asking the elusive (but nonetheless objective) question, “What would Jesus do?” we ask instead, “What would Jesus do if he were me?” with the assumption that he might choose differently depending on the diverse circumstances represented in the congregation being addressed.
  • One could take the pragmatic stance that even though one candidate might be demonstrably better than the other, we are stuck with a hopelessly “better of two evils” decision over which it would be foolish to jeopardize the unity of the church.

There are undoubtedly other options and twists that could be offered, but these seem to cover most of the bases. For my next post I will offer my own attempt at closure on an issue that is certain, despite these efforts, to remain open for a very, very long time.

[node:bio/mark-snoeberger body]

1410 reads

There are 4 Comments

TylerR's picture

Editor

My inclination would be to not make this an issue from the pulpit, other than an aside or two. However, I think any thinking Christian should ground their choice in how closely the values of the candidate align with Biblical model. The law given in the OT is reflective of the holy character of God. He is holy, so His people Israel were called to be holy also. God's people should be set apart from the world. The need to keep the law to maintain a right relationship with God was fullfilled in Christ, but the basic point still stands. We are called to be holy because He is holy. Our candidates should be chosen based on how closely their values and worldview aligns with the Biblical model. This may leave us with no real good choice, but we should pick the candidate closest to that mark.

After thinking about it, I am still hesitant to make it an issue from the pulpit. I certainly wouldn't preach a message on it, but it would be fitting to use this as an illustration in a sermon about worldviews and the sufficiency of Scripture for looking at the world.

Note - I am not saying the law saved anybody, but as the ruling factor under that dispensation, it characterized the manner of a right relationship with God. Faith has always saved. I thought I'd make that clear! . . . .

Good article.

 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

2 Cor. 10:5 - Our aim needs to be to bring every thought into obedience to Christ. We're not free to exclude political thought, so while it's possible to avoid "a sermon who to vote for," pastors do need to build that system of thought/theology that enables believers to think biblically about political choices.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I agree with that. If we truly have a Biblical worldview, that should naturally reflect in the choices we make for political candidates. This idea of living out a Biblical worldview in practical terms, in real life, should be emphasized. I'm just saying I wouldn't focus specifically on politics in a sermon, I would focus on how a Biblical worldview should play itself out in the real world, politics being one aspect. Regardless, it would be a sermon for Sunday night/Wednesday night - not for the Sunday morning crowd.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Sometimes (hopefully, usually) we start with texts and derive meaning and application. But sometimes we start with questions and go look for answers. 

I've seen this done appropriately with questions about money, questions about marriage relationships, questions about business ethics. Why not with questions about "political" issues? 

I didn't really do a sermon like that this year. Reason: just about everybody in our congregation has been in it for a good while and they've been getting the components of a biblical approach to processing social issues for a long time, repeatedly. Example: when we studied anthropology in our doctrines study, we spent a fair amount of time considering implications of (a) the wickedness and weakness of the human being and (b) the arrogance and folly of human society. Both of these work together to directly puncture the popular ideology of the Left that human beings and human society are moving toward a better and better state that might eventually culminate in a perfect society (free of war, crime, poverty). And that the way "forward" is to systematically abandon ideas and practices that are "old."

It was a delusion in the days of Babel and is still a delusion now. 

Help keep SI’s server humming. A few bucks makes a difference.