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Pulpit politics

"Pulpit politics" Continued...

Issue: "Bleeding economy," Oct. 18, 2008

Stan Hastey, a former pastor and now the minister for mission and ecumenism with the Alliance of Baptists, said pastors should fear the consequences for their congregations. Hastey, a former pastor, signed an Interfaith Alliance petition that repudiated pastoral endorsements. He said, "I think that, at least in a Baptist context, it is toxic, it is absolutely toxic to endorse a candidate."

Hastey said if he were to have endorsed a candidate during a recent speaking engagement at a church in D.C., half of the congregation would have gotten up and walked out, no matter who he endorsed: "It would poison relationships between members of this church for months if not years to come. I think it is absolutely an abuse of pastoral authority to stand up in a church and endorse a candidate. . . . I can't think of anything that is more theologically bankrupt than to abuse the pastoral vocation in that way."

Sam Andreades, pastor of the Village Church in New York City, said he agrees with Parker that faith impacts all areas of life. But in contrast to Parker's congregation, Andreades thinks even faithful attendees of the Village Church wouldn't be able to guess his political leanings. Andreades said several principles bear on his decision not to endorse political candidates from the pulpit.

First, pastors should be wary when it comes to commenting on matters not in their expertise. But mainly, Andreades said, America's pact with churches is "quite reasonable" and one that we can "easily respect." The law "says that 'We will protect your activities-not only not establish laws but also protect you, will make no laws that contradict your right to propagate your religion. At the same time, we have this clear line of not endorsing political candidates.'" Andreades called this a "marvelous arrangement for Christianity," because Christianity is about converting consciences and competes well in an open marketplace of ideas.

Because he believes that "Jesus Christ is Lord over all of life," Andreades said he wouldn't rule out the possibility of crossing that "reasonable line" and condemning a Hitler-like character. But even if a pastor felt compelled to cross the line, fighting to keep his tax-exempt status is the wrong fight, Andreades said: "If we lose tax-exempt status . . . in order to stand for what's right, then that's a cause for rejoicing." It means that following Christ cost us something. Besides, Andreades said, losing tax-exempt status is the mildest form of persecution-a loss of privilege, not a loss of rights.

It seems that evangelical public opinion is on Andreades' side. A recent Pew Forum survey found that more conservatives believe that churches should stay out of politics: 50 percent today, up from 30 percent four years ago. When it comes to pastoral endorsements, white evangelical Republicans are less likely to approve pastoral endorsements than they were four years ago. Some 40 percent said churches should not endorse candidates in 2004, and now 59 percent say churches should not endorse candidates.

Walker said endorsing candidates is "divisive, corrosive, and uncalled-for." It would split churches into red and blue churches, and also blunt the church's prophetic edge, Walker said: "You can't raise a prophet's fist at government when you have the other hand wrapped around with a firm bear hug."

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