Monday Night's Debate, Saturday Night's Jokes, & Sunday Morning's Sermons

September 29, 2016

Monday night's debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump scored a record number of viewers for a presidential debate. About 84 million Americans watched it on traditional TV channels, not counting those who viewed it online, on C-SPAN, or in bars (which I'd probably like as a viewing spot for this campaign if I weren't a Baptist minister).

Pastors should take note.

With more than one-quarter of all Americans watching the debate, that means a pastor can be pretty sure that quite a few people sitting in the pews this Sunday watched it. And a pastor can also assume even more talked about the debate and the presidential campaign this week. Many people will likely also watch the Saturday Night Live spoof of the debate just before setting their alarms for church.

Why is this important? People are thinking and talking all week about something, so we shouldn't pretend on Sunday like it's not happening. Our silence about political issues allows candidates and commentators to set the moral frame for congregants. People need to hear from pastors, not just politicians and pundits.

I'm not suggesting pastors endorse candidates. In fact, I strongly argue against that in my new book on faith and politics in 2016 (Vote Your Conscience: Party Must Not Trump Principles). It's not appropriate or helpful to turn our pulpits into partisan megaphones. That doesn't mean, however, we should avoid talking about the election in nonpartisan ways.

In the midst of a nasty campaign full of lies and name-calling, we need Christian leaders to remind us about the fruits of the spirit. In the midst of efforts to force us to pledge full support for one party or another, we need Christian leaders to remind us that our first allegiance as Christians is to another Kingdom. 

At least one pastor demonstrated this well last Sunday. Blake McKinney, pastor at First Baptist Church in Lee's Summit, preached a sermon on "What About This Election?" It's only 23 minutes and I encourage people to listen to it. McKinney uses some humor to set up the topic (and probably to put people at ease). He then offered a great sermon on how we must not allow partisan politics to get in the way of our witness or allow our partisan preferences to replace our allegiance to the Kingdom of God. The ideas he offered in the sermon resonate well with arguments in my new book (especially my thoughts in chapter five).

"If you could look back in time to the first century, do you think you would see Jesus wringing his hands over who was going to be the next Caesar?" McKinney asked in his sermon. "Do you really think God is pacing around Heaven right now, saying, “Oh, Me, if this election doesn’t work out, what am I going to do?"

"The Republican Party will not fulfill your hopes," he added. "Neither will the Democrats. Your savior is not named Hillary or Donald. His name is Jesus. That’s the name every tongue will confess. He’s the one before whom every knee will bow. This election is a big deal. But it’s not the biggest deal in the world."

Watching comments on Facebook from people in the congregation, it's clear many greatly appreciated his thoughts. He seems to be getting much more public feedback than his sermons normally spark. I think that shows many people are hungry to hear an alternative perspective from that offered by politicians and pundits. If church leaders don't offer that alternative, then we're not feeding people during a critical time.

There are just six more Sundays until election day. As November 8th approaches, so will the attention the election receives Monday thru Saturday. That raises the stakes for pastors on Sundays. Let us not waste this opportunity to offer a prophetic political alternative. Hopefully Sunday mornings will shape people's worldviews more than Monday night debates or Saturday night jokes.