Should Religious Leaders ‘Get Political’? Yes, But …
The U.S presidential race is heating up with the Iowa caucus just around the corner, and whenever a preacher, priest or rabbi addresses some issue of national and moral importance that our political leaders are involved in, we hear the cry, “Stay out of politics!” That view is dangerously misguided.
I have often said that religious leaders should champion principles rather than parties and personalities. When pastors rush to jump on board this or that politician’s campaign, it risks making the church appear to be an arm of a party or politician. But the solution isn’t to disengage from politics. That’s deeply dangerous. The answer instead is an energetic championing of foundational principles — including the dignity of all human life, the importance of human freedom and justice for all, the danger of unchecked political power and unlimited government, and the importance of living within our national means so we don’t drown future generations under our public debt. Championing these foundational principles means that even religious leaders sometimes will, and must, “get political.”
What if William Wilberforce had decided to “not get political” in the face of the English slave trade? What if Martin Luther King, Jr., had decided to “not get political” when it came to institutionalized racism a half a century ago? Of course they should have gotten political, and we thank God they did. But today, when faced with a culture where the innocent unborn are being slaughtered by the millions and sold for parts, and where those who aren’t aborted face the prospects of a crippling national debt a generation from now if something isn’t done very soon, well then suddenly we are supposed to “not get political.”
The truth is that all people of faith, and certainly preachers of the Word of God, are obligated to speak out boldly and to stand for their convictions. People with a secular, humanist, God-denying view that assaults Judeo-Christian biblical views and diminishes the importance of America’s founding documents are continually organizing in every community. They force their views on the population through protests and radical political activism while never voluntarily yielding an inch of their “sacred” turf, however unsacred it actually is. They expect the church community to shut up and go back to sleep, and keep our faith to ourselves.
Yes, our battle is not against flesh and blood, and we must toil for our principles winsomely and with grace, but strive we must.
There are some people who love God who have asked me, “James, are you getting too political?” Exactly what does that mean? Am I concerned? Yes. Do I care? Yes. Do I love God and people? Yes. Do I want to assist the suffering, homeless and elderly? Yes. Am I called to help rebuild the walls, restore the foundation, and faithfully present the one reliable standard — the Word of the living God? Yes, and all of this is also why I am compelled to “get political.”
But don’t misunderstand me. Although it is the right of any citizen to endorse a candidate, I don’t think it is the wisest practice for preachers in most cases. Instead, I suggest church leaders exhort all candidates, parties and voters to champion principles essential to freedom. I gladly pray for and with any candidate and have with many during this campaign.
The candidates know I don’t endorse but exhort them to seek the wisdom of Divine Providence. This keeps the door open to communicate concerns, as I have not committed to only one. I will talk to, counsel, challenge, pray for and with any candidate running for any office or holding any office. I will love them all even if I firmly disagree. But understand: I will not be silent concerning issues of life and freedom, becoming an inspire-no-one preacher. As a minister of the Gospel and one called to deliver the truth that sets us free and keeps us free, I will endorse biblical truth, compassion, strong marriages and families, and the importance of everyone assuming responsibility for their actions.
I must speak truth in the political sphere as well as elsewhere, confronting evil and foolishness in government in the same way the prophets of the Bible did. And I challenge all leaders in the faith community to stand up for faith, freedom and life. In spite of the protestations to the contrary, many of the secularists with their grip on the reins of power in our nation’s institutions don’t want an open discussion of the root problems facing our nation and world, so they focus on disqualifying the opponent. If they can get the public to dismiss or disqualify the faith perspective, they don’t have to defend their own inadequate solutions.
But don’t fall for it. Don’t fall for their invitation to practice “freedom of worship” but not freedom of religion both in and beyond the public square. Fulfill your stewardship responsibilities as people born into a republic. If you were a Christian trapped in North Korea, you would have various stewardship responsibilities as member of God’s household. Exercising the freedom to vote would not be one of them. But you were blessed to be born in a constitutional republic. That means that thoughtfully participating in the democratic process is a part of your stewardship responsibilities as a servant of God.
I am grieved to discover that only a small percentage of eligible voters even avail themselves of that privilege and responsibility. It is our nation. Its failure or success depends in no small measure on our involvement. Study the candidates and issues, and vote faithfully for those who hold truth, freedom and sound principles dear.
I also encourage qualified people to serve in public office, whether on a homeowners’ association, PTA, school board, or in a political office at the local, state or national level. We need the best to run and be elected to serve for the benefit of the people. If called to such work, it is the Christian’s duty to answer that call.
As followers of God, we believe in the biblical view of history, in a Creator, in a purpose-filled creation, and of moral absolutes grounded in a perfectly good Creator. We believe that for any law to work properly, it must align with the truths and purposes revealed in the book of the Bible and in the book of nature, both authored by a good and loving God. These include the truth that all humans are made in the image of God and so every human is precious, free and responsible for his actions.
And that truth means embracing and championing the sound principles of truth, justice, liberty and personal stewardship. We also embrace the family as a cornerstone for a sustainable society. We resist political efforts to redefine the family until the idea of marriage, older than any government, ceases to have any meaning.
We also embrace the community of faith as salt and light in this world, not as something to be left in the cupboard of society, out of the public light. We embrace civil government as the protector of our freedom but not the provider of our needs.
If championing all this means “getting too political,” then so be it. We are called to get political, not in a ham-fisted and partisan way that falls for the cult of this or that personality, but by championing foundational principles and speaking prophetically to a government that in so many ways has lost its way. So let’s be a light that helps reveal the way.