Pastoral Endorsements

December 11, 2007

As the presidential campaign heats up with just a few weeks until the Iowa caucus, more and more religious leaders are publicly endorsing candidates. I have previously noted problems with Pat Robertson's crazy endorsement of Rudy Giuliani, Wiley Drake's death threats along with his endorsement of Mike Huckabee, and the anti-Catholicism of an Iowa pastor supporting Huckabee. And yet, it seems that many local church pastors publicly declare their partisan voting intentions. Huckabee recently released a list of Iowa pastors supporting him, and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama each released lists of black ministers in South Carolina supporting their campaigns. Other candidates have also trotted out pastors who support them. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported over the weekend about ministers in Missouri--including Missouri Baptist Convention interim executive director David Tolliver--who are supporting Huckabee.

With all of those endorsements in mind, I wonder if such a trend is a positive one. My primary concern is not with politics but rather the spiritual impact such public endorsements could have. What happens when a pastor publicly supports a candidate? What kind of message does it send to people in the community--or even members of the church--who support other candidates? It would be a shame if a pastor's endorsement kept someone from visiting the church because they disagreed with the partisan decision. It might even lead to the situation where disagreeing members may misread a pastor's sermon to be subtle comments for or against a candidate. I am not suggesting that they stay out of politics. After all, I read lots of political information, vote, and have lots of political opinions (as my friends and family can attest). Even if it is mentioned as a "personal" endorsement, most people will not see it as merely personal (I have critiqued James Dobson for trying to make this distinction). Ministry can be difficult enough without adding another barrier because of one's public partisan endorsement. As I argued in my book (For God's Sake, Shut Up!), we must not give up our higher calling in order to play politics. Thus, I believe that pastors should avoid the temptation to announce their political decisions.

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