Monday, October 10, 2011

Once again on pastors and politics

Over the weekend I happened to catch the pastor of First Baptist Dallas being interviewed by Anderson Cooper on CNN. Earlier, this pastor spoke at the Values Voter Summit in favor of Rick Perry while making the case that evangelical Republican voters shouldn't support Mitt Romney because of his Mormon religion and questionable conservative credentials. In the interview with Cooper he defended his Romney comments and went on to cite the "unbiblical" policies of President Obama as reason why he would reluctantly support Romney if in fact he turns out to be the nominee.

Now I agreed with the substance of some of what he said, but the whole thing made me sad because of the collateral damage being done to the cause of Christ and this pastor's standing as a minister of His gospel. The context and tone were all wrong. It seemed to me that he was doing what the Apostle Paul said he would never do: putting obstacles in the way of the gospel.

Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. (1 Cor. 9:12)

The "right" Paul is talking about here is the right to be compensated by the Corinthian church. He hasn't taken advantage of this right for fear that it would interfere with his ability to be heard as an apostle of Christ. And not just here. Throughout the New Testament we see Paul jealously guarding his ability to preach the gospel without hindrance.

Yes, prominent pastors have rights, including the right to publicly speak out on politics. But should they make use of that right? By taking such a public stand in support of Rick Perry -- and making inflammatory statements about Romney and Obama -- this pastor has pretty much guaranteed that at least 50 percent of the population of Dallas/Fort Worth will never consider darkening the door of his church or listening to anything he has to say about Jesus. Plus there's the matter of his flock. Might not some of the members be troubled by the fact that their senior pastor has made their church a de facto arm of the Rick Perry for President Campaign? Was it worth it?

I'm sure this pastor sincerely believes that America needs Rick Perry as president, but at most Governor Perry if elected will be in the White House for eight years. A minister of the gospel is an agent of the Kingdom of God entrusted with a message of eternal consequence. Later in chapter nine of 1 Corinthians Paul gives a model for ministry that Christian leaders would we wise to consider before jumping into the fever swamp of presidential politics.

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

Russell Moore, a Southern Baptist colleague of the pastor in question, tweeted: "Too many evangelicals want their pastors to be politicians and their politicians to be pastors. That's a pitiful reversal."

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