Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Should Pastors Be Members of Political Parties?

Michael Westmoreland-White recently asked "Should Christians join political parties?" I would like to modify that question and then pose it to my readers: should pastors be members of political parties?

I am a registered Libertarian and until recently, a dues-paying member of the Libertarian Party. But I had already planned, upon my first appointment to a church, to resign from the Party.

Why? Well, when a pastor takes strong and detailed public policy positions, identifying himself in a particular way that others my disagree with, he can become a stumbling block to acceptance of Christian teachings. Faithful Christians in my flock who might identify with the Democratic, Republican, or other parties, might hear of my party affiliation and be offended by it. That sentiment might cause them stop hearing the Gospel message. I was reminded of this possibility when my own blogfather, an atheist and Leftist, delinked me more than a year ago because he found my political views repulsive. I had permitted my politics to stand in the path of Christ. Thereafter I have tried to reduce the political content on my blog. So even though I read Instapundit, Ace of Spades, and LGF more than any other blogs, I rarely write on their same subject matter.

The difficulty in doing so is that one of the roles of the minister is that of prophetic witness. Many pastors have rightly taken strong and loud political positions, as seen during the Abolitionist and Civil Rights movements. By doing so, were they stumbling blocks to people who disagreed with them politically? Did they divide their churches into squabbling over political affairs instead of uniting to serve the Kingdom of God? Maybe so, but sometimes a pastor must stand up for truth.

The hard part is deciding what political battles are critical enough to fight for and worth (1) dividing the church and (2) erecting stumbling blocks for the Gospel. This is a huge gray area, but in my judgment, officially affiliating with a political party is a bridge too far.

What do you think? Should pastors be members of political parties?

I apologize in advance for any offense that I may give to various readers who are political party members, such as Beth Quick, who is a member of the SuperHappy Women's Party, her brother JockeyStreet who is a member of the Scorched Earth Party, Mark Winter, who is a member of the Pansexual Peace Party, Jeff the Baptist, who is a member of the Thermodynamic Law Party, and Gavin Richardson, who is just plain weird.


Art said...

I think I agree with you that pastors should not be officially affiliated with political parties.

I don't want my pastor preaching politics over the Gospel (not that he ever would).

But there are times, as you point out, when the Gospel demands a strong position on an issue and sometimes those positions coincide with the positions of one party or another.

If a pastor is a known member of one party or another (especially the 'big two') and preaches on an issue that sounds like a political issue then parishioners who disagree (politically speaking) can point to that and say "The pastor's preaching politics".

I've seen it happen. It can cast doubt on the pastors intention and on his or her message.

j2 said...

I agree with the sentiment, though I do believe Pastors have a right to their personal political views. I don't think being a member of a political party is necessarily promoting that view to parishoners. Should I find myself in the position of pastor I would not consider a political affiliation an automatic no-no, but reflect on how private that could be kept. It is unfortunate that we all tend to size people up when we know anothers political leanings, I do the same thing with my pastor, and I wish he were more discrete about his personal politics for that reason.

Beyond pastors, though, I think the UMC connectional body, thingy, whatever should be under even more restraint in the political arena, and yet they are in so deep right now you can't really tell if they aren't a political party unto themself. You know, like "Communist for Kerry" or something like that. It is just my small voice but the lobbying work of the GBCS violates this principle to the nth degree! It is one thing to inform public debate from a Christian viewpoint and advise political leaders WHEN ASKED by those leaders. It is a completely different matter when a few people within a church body begin deciding what political policy issues to support or not support in an official capacity. Endorsements at this level can only be divisive within the Church and should be considered immaterial to the mission of the church, which isn't dependent on any worldly policy. Pastors or Board Members should separate their personal politics from the trusted positions granted them within the church body. Likewise, church members should not force representatives to act politically against the latter's dictates of conscience.

Andy said...

Dr. W.E. Knickerbocker, one of my proffs at seminary talked about this by saying that the pastor needs to have the ability to say, "Thus says the Lord" and not have their folks believe that are saying that only because of their political opinion.

Stephen said...

Been registered as an Independent since going into the ministry. It doesn't bother me not to be able to vote in the primaries. Plus I think the gospel and politics don't mix very well.

John said...

I'm about to re-register as an Independent, too. I figure that if I'm not paying dues to the Libertarian Party, I shouldn't call myself one.

Elizabeth said...

I love the Superhappy Women's Party constitution. Good pick, John.

I am a registered member of a party (go ahead, one guess as to which), but this isn't information I see a need to share with my congregation. It isn't a secret, but it isn't public information either in most cases. However, with my mind on this Sunday's gospel text, where Jesus asks, "Do I offend you?", I think we walk a fine line in trying not to offend, and not offending enough when it comes to the gospel.

For me, I think politics (even if it has negative connotations as a word) and the gospel are inextricably tied together. I believe what I believe about politics and vote for who I vote for based on my understanding of the gospel and how Jesus calls us to live. I don't think that means a specific party has all the right answers, but if it turns out that what my beliefs lead me to vote and a political party's views line up fairly well... it makes sense to me to support that party.

And of course, being on GBCS, I couldn't disagree more with j2 about GBCS and its work. I'm so proud of what GBCS does, and so proud that we're not just sitting around waiting to be asked when it comes to issues of justice.

gavin richardson said...

i like being weird

John said...

Beth Quick wrote:

I am a registered member of a party (go ahead, one guess as to which), but this isn't information I see a need to share with my congregation.

Quoting from Rush Limbaugh books in your sermon probably tips your hand, though.

Sky Lowe-McCracken said...

I'm an Independent as well. Good post.

John B said...

I am a registered member of a political party (not the same one as Beth, however). If I had things my way we do away with GBCS. I think it serves little good other than being divisive, but that's another topic altogether.

I believe it's important to be involved in the political process. This includes participating in the primaries. While I don't broadcast my political affliation, most people know on which side I come down on the issues. I don't think pastors can or should hide their political persuasions. On the other hand, we must communicate that we respect the political views of those who see things differently and that our final loyality isn't given to any human institution but the Kingdom of God.

Richard said...

I think that pastors should be able to exercise their right to belong to a political party. I see nothing wrong in that, as long as they don't preach their politics as the word of God. I find it sometimes interesting to hear their reserved but principled take on world politics and events.

Dr. Tony said...

I, too, was once a registered member of the Libertarian Party. But something about who they were running for President a number of years ago convinced me that such affliation wasn't right.

I am now registered with one of the major parties but make it clear that any opinions that I express are mine and mine alone.

I also know of another pastor in this area who is registered to the opposition party. Considering this person's views, this is quite a surprising choice. But as they have explained it, it gives the opportunity to do some old-fashioned evangelizing among the heathen and unconverted.

Anonymous said...

A pastor is also a citizen who should vote and encourage others to vote. As an American citizen it is only natural to have political views and align one self with a party that reflects your values and philosophy. Obviously a pastor is not a politcal spokesperson for his party, but most people can probably guess what party I vote for.

Mark Winter said...
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Mark Winter said...
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Mark Winter said...

Sorry, but I have to correct you. I am not a member of the Pansexual Peace Party (PPP), which encourages the decriminalization of drugs, uninhibited sex education and the legalization of the growing of hemp. You have me confused with these guys.

Andy B. said...

I think it is cute how those of you who are currently members of a political party so carfully avoid mentioning it by name. Any more, affiliation with either of the two biggest parties is not a sure fire guarantee of what one actually thinks about stuff, anyway. And most people in the real world find themselves agreeing with some Democrats some of the time and some Republicans some of the time, and even some *gulp* Libertarians *shudder* some of the time. ;) I think a pastor can be as active politically as she or he is called to be, as long as the first consideration is for, as John says, nurturing people in their relationships with God and one another. (i.e. not being a stumbling block)