Discussing political issues in church is always difficult, but during an election year the challenge becomes even greater. Addressing this tricky issue earlier this year, pastors at The Gospel Coalition (TGC) conference discussed the question: “Is the Pulpit Political?” TGC is a fellowship of churches committed to renewing the centrality of the gospel in the teachings of evangelical churches. Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Baptist Church in Washington, DC led the discussion between Houston-based pastor, Voddie Baucham and Northern Virginia pastor Bill Kynes.
The bare minimum to retain tax-exempt status means pastors cannot explicitly endorse a candidate or party from the pulpit, or distribute literature encouraging people to vote in a certain way. But aside from the express prohibitions, there is a lot of gray area. In some churches, a pastor will all but literally endorse a presidential candidate, but everyone knows how he will vote – and that he thinks you should vote the same way too.
Kynes, pastor of Cornerstone Church in Annandale, VA said it is difficult because “everything is politicized” in our culture. There is a difference, he said, between commenting on something cultural that happens to be political also, and making an explicit political statement. “Speaking truth” about issues the Bible teaches about that also are contentious in politics is necessary, he explained.
Dever agreed, and said because “political parties take stands on moral issues,” often it is a pastor’s obligation to comment on those same matters. Dealing with politicized moral issues may cause some to accuse a pastor of being overtly political, Baucham said, but that does not concern him. “I am political … but what I don’t want to be is a partisan. I don’t want to be a patsy for one party or the other,” he explained.
As a pastor, “the main thing I am supposed to do politically … is blow up utopianism, whether it’s to the right or the left,” Dever said. “Salvation is not going to come through your candidate being elected.” Kynes agreed, and said “my role as a pastor has more significance than people on Capitol Hill … the issues we deal with are far more important ultimately [than politics].”
“Our responsibility is to hold sound doctrine, exhort sound doctrine, and refute those who contradict it,” according to Titus 1:9, Baucham said. He continued: “that is not limited to people who just happen to not be in the political realm. When people are directly contradicting sound doctrine, I have an obligation as a pastor, and as a steward of the gospel, to confront that error.”
Baucham went on: “Our confession talks about marriage, so can Caesar then come and say, ‘by the way, marriage is now a political issue so you don’t need to talk about it from the pulpit.’ What happens when Caesar says something about the nature of Christ, or the nature of the Gospel? Do I stop preaching that because it is now political?”
Further, addressing political issues within the Church is not about accumulating power and forcing our will upon the rest of society, Baucham explained. Instead, it is about “the obligation to speak truth even to power regardless of what it costs us,” he said. Dever pointed out the limited role government can play in promoting Christian morality. “Illegal is not the same thing as immoral, and moral is not the same thing necessarily as legal … the law is a pretty brute force with a very important but limited responsibility.”
This issue matters to those of us in the pews as well. Kynes said he “get[s] nervous when people are … not so much concerned with right and wrong, but right and lef, and when they line up with a political ideology and then baptize that as Christian.” Our political views must be “tested by biblical theology,” he explained. Although it is easy to focus on what is at stake for our nation during an election year, Christians must be careful to always owe their allegiance to Christ far above and beyond any political party or politician.