Everything Matters to Jesus

Serving as pastor of a local church in the United States of America has given me a unique perspective on the world, perhaps provoking more questions than answers. One question which is of timely importance during this presidential election season is, What is the role of pastors when it comes to discussing politics? What is legally permissible for them to say publicly and what is practically wise?

Legal guidelines are fairly clear: pastors/ministers/clergymen, like the staff of other 501(c)3 nonprofit organizations, are not allowed in the exercise of their official roles to publicly endorse candidates for public office. However, such individuals cannot be legally prevented from sharing their opinions, even publicly, as individuals distinct from the organizations they serve. High-profile pastor and author Max Lucado, for instance, has been very public in his opposition to the nomination of Donald Trump for president and has incurred no legal liabilities for himself, his church, or his writing ministry.

However, many still question the wisdom of pastors speaking about politics. It's unavoidably divisive, often passionately so, particularly during tense election seasons. Some say politics or the election of public officials is of little concern to ministers of the gospel, who should be preoccupied with "heavenly concerns" rather than earthly ones. Why risk gospel witness for the sake of fallen, temporary institutions such as government? After all, Jesus said His kingdom was not of this world, right? (Note that "of" does not mean "in," as Jesus makes clear in John 17 and Paul in 1 Cor. 5:10.)

For Pastor Lucado, the public reputation of God and His gospel is precisely the reason why he felt compelled to point out the absurdity of evangelicals' support of Trump in the 2016 presidential election. In his opinion, Lucado's pastoral vocation required him to correct what he believed was a misrepresentation of genuine Christian values and principles by Trump and his so-called evangelical supporters.

Lucado is just one of a huge percentage of evangelical Christian pastors who opposed Trump in the primaries. According to a survey by LifeWay Research whose results were published back in January, a mere 5% of evangelical pastors supported a Trump presidency compared to a much larger percentage of the overall population of laypeople who self-identify as evangelicals. In the words of former research director Ed Stetzer, "When it comes to Mr. Trump, there seems to be a huge gap between the pulpit and the pew." Might such a gap indicate that pastors are not doing their due diligence to shepherd their flocks in matters where the Christian faith informs political issues?

My intent in writing this is not to make a case for or against a Trump presidency, but rather to raise the question of what matters to Jesus. As Christians, we're called to value what Jesus values--no more and no less. If Jesus values the products and/or processes of political engagement, then we should too. However, if He isn't the least concerned with these things, then perhaps we shouldn't bother with them either. I think most of us believe that politics make a real difference in the world, for better or worse, and that we ought to be responsibly engaged in the process to the degree that we're able.

A robust biblical theology would reveal that God is indeed concerned with the affairs of humankind on earth, down to the smallest minutiae. There is no segment of our lives that is irrelevant to God. Everyone and everything matters to God. Your work, your hobbies, how you spend your time and your money, what you eat and wear--it all matters to the One who created the heavens and earth and every living thing that animates them. No less is God concerned with human culture, society and government. In everything, there is a way to honor as well as dishonor Him, to bear His image or obscure it.

If this is so, then it stands to reason that pastors, as followers of Jesus ordained to help God's people love and obey Him more fully with their whole lives, have an obligation to speak responsibly and prophetically to the political issues of their day. As citizens, they must do all in their power to stand for goodness, truth and justice. But like Jesus, they should do so with utmost respect and wisdom.

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