Martin Luther King Jr. changed America. His stirring sermons stirred the pot for revival that spilled out of churches and eventually swayed a nation. Voting rights. Workers rights. Civil rights. Equal rights. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was both a Baptist minister and a political game changer.
Clementa Pinckney stood tall for liberty and justice for all before his brutal murder at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in South Carolina. State Senator/Reverend Pinckney was both a passionate pastor and a passionate politician.
William Barber continues the legacy of King. His leadership within the NAACP, his Moral Mondays efforts and now the renewed Poor Peoples Campaign are inspiring thousands upon thousands of people to become committed to a moral revolution in America. Reverend Barber is both a zealous pastor and a political activist.
In an era when we frequently discuss and debate what it means for America to function within the parameters of the First Amendment, many religious people continue to strike a healthy balance as they live out their faith in the public arena. In a time when our divided society argues about the separation of Church and State, many religious Americans – motivated by their faith – continue to make significant contributions to the shape and meaning of our national politics.
But some pastors are out of balance. They steal the spotlight with their unhealthy vision of religion and politics. Their perverted faith is shaping a perverse national politics.
Robert Jeffress leads the First Baptist mega Church in downtown Dallas and serves on the president’s religious advisory committee. He’s always one of the first voices to defend Mr. Trump’s outrageous words and actions because he believes this president is especially god-ordained. The way I see it, Jeffress’ acrobatic theology twists Scripture in heretical ways.
James Dobson used to be one of my favorites but he should have stuck to family counseling. The way he interprets the Bible and applies it to the political landscape is often thoughtless and careless. He convinced himself that Donald Trump is a born-again Christian and now that description allows him to justify supporting policies and practices that damage the most vulnerable in our society.
Jerry Falwell, president of the fundamentalist Liberty University, says that Evangelicals have found their “dream president” in Donald Trump. He is proud of the fact that over 80% of white evangelical Christians voted for Trump because (evidently) he thinks God prefers that the world be “white” and “evangelical.
Six examples of religious people who understand well their First Amendment rights. They know America guarantees their ability to engage in the public conversation and participate in the political process.
But I would say, only three of these six understand the gospel.
MLK and Pinckney and Barber – in the bold tradition of the biblical prophets – have spoken on behalf of the lost, the lonely and the left out. They have proclaimed the good news that ALL people have value and deserve respect. They have lived the biblical conviction that the poor and the oppressed are the beloved of God.
There is nothing wrong with being a “political pastor.” But there is something very wrong with political approaches that manipulate public policy in favor of a select group of Christians. Public policy should be just that: for the public.
“Forming a more perfect union … Establishing justice … Promoting the general welfare.”
There is nothing wrong with being a political pastor. I am one.
But there is something very very wrong with religious approaches that marry secular politics and breed heresies.
What Jeffress, Dobson and Falwell are proclaiming is anti-gospel. It is small, smug and exclusive. It is judgmental, unjust and unkind. It is not at all “good news.”
On this Martin Luther King Day, I am grateful for all the political pastors who – motivated by faith – continue Dr. King’s work and cultivate the dream. I’m thankful for the political pastors who continue the work of Jesus: turning the tables of greed and corruption and standing firm for liberty and justice for all.
This is healthy politics. This is good news.