Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Post-Election Reflections: One Pastor's Dilemma

How should a pastor address those issues that are at the nexus of biblical morality and politics? As someone put it recently, we ought to avoid partisanship, but anyone who provides pastoral leadership will necessarily address political issues. Here's a sampling of my pastoral dilemma, as I've been wrestling with it for some time now:

1. How do I speak clearly and directly to foundational moral issues that appear in the political sphere, without sounding like a shill for the Republican Party?

2. How do I explain Scripture's warnings to a congregation in a nation shaped by a party whose platform incarnates Romans 1, without ignoring flawed or unjust—if less cataclysmic—elements of another party's platform?

3. How do I criticize the immoral aspects of the President's agenda without appearing to deny my African American brothers and sisters the appropriate opportunity to rejoice in our nation's progress, and without glossing the white evangelical racist past?

4. How do I assess and respond to complex structural injustices in the American society and economy, without embracing imprudent public policy or marginalizing other justice issues such as abortion and religious liberty?

5. How do I speak plainly about the erosion of religious liberty and the emerging pathway towards tangible repercussions for pastors and churches, without undermining the obviously biblical truth that we should expect persecution?

We're only beginning to see what new challenges will confront pastors who will not abandon Scripture when gender, abortion, and religious liberty issues converge. Long after this President's term is done, the electorate that reaffirmed his party's platform will remain. Perhaps it's time to read more about the Puritans in the mid-17th century.


Paul said...

Good to hear from you again! I figured that if anything would bring you back it would be politics : )

These are all really good questions that Pastors should be wrestling with. I look forward to your answers.

Anonymous said...

Why not just preach the Bible and leave the rest to the talking heads? (I don't mean this unkindly, but deacons weren't appointed to free up elders to offer political critique or cultural commentary).

d4v34x said...

I must have misplaced a comment along the lines of what anonymous said. Maybe I'm naive? It went something like:

Is it insufficient to preach and teach the whole counsel of the Word to the church, families, and individuals and then let them apply it when they get to the voting booth?

Ben said...

d4, I'm not talking about telling people whom to vote for. I'm talking about how to preach and teach (which includes "apply") the whole counsel of the Word. The trouble is that in churches that are not ethnically or politically monolithic, it can be challenging to preach/teach/apply the Word to political issues without being mis-heard.

Anonymous said...

The puritans had their own brand of religious persecution against the free church. Their solution was the state church idea. I don't see how they would be helpful.

d4v34x said...

Well, you can't always avoid being misheard. I'd just try to "get a tourniquet on it," as Cormac McCarthy put it.

1. The republicans will give you an ample pool from which to select examples of moral failures to illustrate your teaching.

2. Take pains to be an equal opportunity warner, commensurate with urgency of the issue. Let the chips then fall.

3. I'd be hard pressed to think of an example of what you're talking about, but one way to approach this might be, when dealing with race issues, rejoice aloud that we live in a land that has emerged from racism enough to elect a black man president, while cautioning that we as a nation and US christians probably have further progress to make in the area.

4. Stress personal responsibility both in providing for oneself and one's family and in using one's resources to help those in need.

5. There's not that many Bible passages that will occassion you to speak on religious liberty. When they come along, be frank.

But take that with a grain or two, I'm just some guy. :^)

Ben said...

James, I think the people who were not only expelled from their congregations, but also knew the smell of burning flesh, may have something to offer us. Perhaps I'm just less inclined to paint with broad strokes.

Anonymous said...

While some of that existed I am sure, they in turn did the same to the free churches. The magisterial reformers and their church-state union certainly contributed to much of their evil. They are actually great in service of a warning of what the church should not be/look like.

Anonymous said...

it is not necessarily pro-abortion to oppose making abortion illegal. anyone can review world abortion statistics and see that the abortion rate is actually the least in countries with the most liberal abortion policies.

it is not anti-christian to believe that the government is capable of doing good and should be improved instead of scrapped.

it is not anti-christian to believe that giving some kind of government-recognition to other kinds of unions is fair even though immoral. i don't need to use the government to force everyone to abide by my morality. people need to be regenerated, not converted to the republican party.

Andrew Suttles said...

Anonymous -

1) Supporting abortion is supporting killing babies. Something like 40 million have been killed in the USA. You take no stand on that?!

2) Who said the government is not 'capable' of doing good. $16T of debt is immoral, but generally wealth re-distribution is not a religious issue.

3) Marriage was created by God as a holy institution. Is it fair to God for me to reject His definition.

Andrew Suttles said...

James -

Which Puritans did you have in mind? The Savoy ones?

Anonymous said...

Re: Andrew Suttles:

abortion is a long subject, and we could be here forever without any resolution, but...

1a there is no evidence that making abortion illegal would reduce the number of abortions.

1b we live in a representative democracy. a minority cannot hope to impose a severe restriction the majority rejects for any length of time. if by some miracle the government deck happened to be stacked for a short while and some significant action could be taken, it would be quickly undone.

1c abortion did not even rank one direct comment in the bible, even though abortion was available at least as far back as 1550bc.

1d the biblical evidence for ensoulment at conception is extremely weak. while all the church fathers taught that it was wrong for a believer to abort, the consensus was delayed ensoulment.

1e there was no campaign by the early church to compel unbelievers to stop abortion. there was not even any campaign to compel unbelievers to stop the exposure of infants.

2a a large number of republicans believe very strongly that the private sector is always more capable and efficient and that all kinds of things should be privatized.

2b there is are a significant number of republicans that seem to be the next incarnation of mccarthy, always sniffing out the beginnings of american communism.

3a there is no benefit to compelling an unbeliever to follow some externality of biblical morality.

3b where is the campaign against divorce? or against affairs? or against gays living together? or against straights living together? or against swingers? where does it end?

3c i don't see how allowing spousal benefits for unbiblical arrangements changes the believer's responsibilities in their own relationships.

Anonymous said...

Anon, I would personally encourage you to post more. As to your points:

1a of course there is no evidence, because it isn't illegal. How could you have evidence to the contrary? Coincidentally, there is no proof that making it illegal to transport elephants by birthday balloons will cut down on the number of elephants being transported by birthday balloons.

1b supposedly abortion is not favored by the majority. Prolife isn't the minority view.

1c False. God made it clear that He is responsible for the formation of human life within the womb. Abortion is then murder. Murder is sin. I don't remember seeing anything about hits ordered by mafia heads as murder either, but I am pretty sure it is still murder.

1d I love appeals to the church fathers. You could get the crazies like Origen or the good ones like Justin. Or maybe there is a different set of fathers you had in mind. At any rate, at conception, life starts. What kind of life is it if not human? Is it a plant?

1e there was no campaign by the early church to compel unbelievers to stop __________. There, that works too. There were all kinds of social evils in the 1st century that didn't provoke a campaign to stop. Once people became Christians though, they did act different from the society. It kind of puts some of this "christian" political activism in a negative light.

Anonymous said...

Andrew, I was thinking colonial America. The whipping of Obadiah Holmes comes to mind. The idea of religious liberty for the puritans was you can have liberty if you agree with their religion.

Anonymous said...

Re: James Kime:

1a. don't think so simplistically. there have been many surveys of global abortion rates like this one:

1b. huh? all the attempts to make early abortions completely illegal have failed miserably. also, you're asking me for proof, when you give lousy answers like this?

1c. God also formed adam, but adam did not become alive until God breathed life.

1d. well, augustine's view ruled the day.

Andrew Suttles said...

James -

Thanks for answering these. Everything you've stated is correct. Someone who advocated for the murder of babies is not (could not) be regenerate!

1a) This is so silly that it requires no refutation. Should murder not be illegal because making it so wouldn't deter murder? Foolish!

1b) You are wrong on your facts. Besides, I make moral decisions based on what God's Word says, not based on opinion polls or surveys.

1c) Wrong again! (I see a pattern here)

“If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

Also, regarding your false assumption that life begins when there is breathing, the Scriptures ground the life in the blood, NOT the breath. Study this out...

1d) The biblical argument for 'ensoulment' at passage through the birth canal is even more weak! What is your evidence? What is your evidence that God does not create life and has no Sovereignty over conception?

3a) You say there is no benefit to compelling a non-believer to follow a form of Biblical morality - then what form of morality should we impose?

If society needs to have some form of moral norms, what should be base them on? Christians should not be informed by our Creator when we consider what is right and wrong for the Creatures? We should ignore the Bible and run to (who) for answers?

3b) These are all addressed from the pulpit. Sexual immorality is bad - murder is worse!

I'm sorry anonymous but you can't combine your liberalism with the Bible - they don't fit.

mlwj said...

Well said.