Should the preacher be influential when it comes to politics? The USA is coming to the end of the presidential primaries and moving towards the most controversial presidential election ever. The UK is fast approaching a long-awaited referendum on EU membership. Other countries are facing equally significant decisions. Should the preacher be influential in these things? I believe the answer is yes, we should. But how?
How we are influential is a very important question. And it is a complicated question. Here are 4 of the ways that preachers handle politics and the pulpit . . .
1. No mention of politics. Some preachers will avoid reference to politics in their preaching and keep the focus on the good news of Jesus. This does not, and should not mean that they have no political influence. It does mean that the influence will be more subtle and indirect.
2. Standing on ethical/moral issues without being party political. Some preachers will overtly take stands on certain issues, but without becoming party promoters. They might sound like they affiliate with one party for an issue like the sanctity of life, and then sound like they affiliate with another party on an issue like social justice and care for refugees.
3. Jump on the bandwagon and preach to the choir. Some preachers will go with the majority party in their audience. Some churches will want preachers to sound very conservative, while other subcultures lean much more to the left. How easy it is to be fashionable in these things. So some preachers will effectively jump on the bandwagon and end up preaching to the choir, fearful of displeasing the perceived majority. One danger, of course, is that the few dissenters who listen may struggle to hear what really matters and feel unnecessarily alienated.
4. Use position of influence to push an overt political agenda. Some preachers seem to think that their political influence is a primary calling. They won’t just tow the expected party line, as in #3 above, but will seek to push and change the opinion of others. God has given them influence, and they feel their calling is to shape opinion for the good of society.
In a year like this one, I believe we should prayerfully think through several issues regarding politics and our preaching:
A. We are to influence society, but the greatest influence will not be the outcome of the next vote. Yes Christians matter in society, yes we should be voting, yes we should be informed, and yes, these decisions matter. But our calling has eternal ramifications, not just four-year cyclical implications. Don’t confuse political decisions with the far greater influence that knowing Christ will bring to our society one person at a time. Our hope is not in any party, but in Christ.
B. People need hope, not bitterness, if things turn out differently than expected. Whether we have nailed our colours to the mast or not, we will need to pastorally point people to Christ once results are in. Don’t be so politically invested that you then become a beacon of bitterness for your hurting political subculture (or triumphalist if things go as you hoped!)
C. Could we be placing trip hazards on the path to Jesus? This is huge. In our church we say we don’t want anything to get in the way of people meeting Jesus. How about in yours? If they hear the rhetoric they are getting all week in the media when they step into church, could that not be a huge trip hazard that keeps people from Christ? Do we want to see all coming to Christ, or just those that agree with us politically?
D. Is there a difference between preaching and social media? Just to finish, here’s a caveat. I have chosen to generally avoid being political in my use of social media, but I fully respect the rights of others to use social media differently. Our preaching and our social media proclamations don’t have to match. Maybe you choose to avoid overt party politics in the pulpit, but choose to tweet and share articles that you think will be helpful in forthcoming elections and referenda. Obviously it is worth prayerfully pondering the points above, but by all means seek to influence in the way that you feel is appropriate.
May God give every one of us wisdom to know what to say and when to say it. May we be known in heaven for influencing eternity on our knees, and shaping culture for good, but never for simply soapboxing with temporal blinders on. May we have real wisdom in how we vote, and how we care for the souls of voters too.