Pastors and Politics

Unknown+copyRev. 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.

Rev. 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.

Rev. 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 who are 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, 2dbb9186aaf3996a953dd8e78a9c1e3emany 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.

However, as much as I admire the pastors I name here, there is another religious-political-pastors’ movement afoot that makes me very uncomfortable.

For years, David Lane has been quite successful at motivating social and religious conservatives to become more active in politics. His latest effort is a series of well-funded training sessions for conservative pastors recruiting them and equipping them to run for office. Lane’s goal is to muster an “army” of “politicized pastors.” The director of faith engagement for the Republican National Committee, Chad Connelly, was quoted in a recent NPR article as saying: “[With] 5 percent more Christian evangelical people who are serious about the word of God and voting biblical values, we change the nation. We change the nation forever.”

I can’t justly criticize David Lane’s process since I applaud Rev. Pinckney for his political involvement; since I support Rev. Barber’s efforts to influence North Carolina and the nation; since I praise the prophetic voice of Rev. King. Every American has a right to choose their belief system and to live accordingly. Every citizen has a right to speak their mind and to argue their position in the public conversation. Just about any American has the right to run for city council or state school board or president of the United States. Religious people are not excluded from these freedoms and responsibilities.

But the part that makes me uncomfortable about Lane and Connelly and others is their presumption that it is only their values that are the quintessential “biblical values.” One, I disagree that their values are appropriate biblical values and Two, I disagree that their values ought to be the values of our nation.

I too am a Christian, a pastor, a serious student of the Bible. I too am one whose political views have been shaped by my understanding of Scripture. I too am one whose current “ministry” is blogging and speaking my mind from my own Christian faith into the larger public conversation. I too am taking advantage of the political process by writing my monthly letters to Senator Cruz and trying to influence his positions. (Yeah Yeah; I know; you don’t need to say it.)

David Lane and Chad Connelly and Ted Cruz and so many others in the conservative camp are motivated by the values of conservation and preservation of the traditions of a people. They believe that America’s strength lies in going back to an imagined halcyon way of being society together. They argue that America’s hope lies in remaining faithful to original visions. (I’m trying to state their position fairly and not argue a straw man here.) And yes, conservative religious people can argue their position from the Bible because there are definite strands of traditional, culture-bound, conservative thinking in Scripture.

But I see something different in that same Bible – a different, more appropriate way to envision what it means to be faithful people living together as a society of humans. I find in this Bible something that has created within me very different “biblical values” from the ones motivating Lane and Cruz.

Instead of a sectarian, exclusivist, judgmental reading; instead of going backwards, I emphasize Scripture’s prophetic vision of Shalom – where the lion lies down with the lamb; where all people live together in peace; where the widow and orphan are honored and the stranger among us is welcomed. It is because of my grounding in Scripture that I must emphasize Grace – where redemption and reconciliation trump revenge and retaliation. It is because of my biblical values that I am compelled not to seek my own good and the privilege of a few but rather the well being of the whole community.

Religious Conservatives emphasize individuality.

Religious Progressives emphasize community.

I listen to my conservative Christian friends and I hear the language of individuality: a “personal relationship with Jesus,” personal piety and personal responsibility. It is logical, therefore, that people who hold these kinds of religious values will hold comparable political values that emphasize individual freedoms, individual rights and private charity. (That is, of course, unless we are talking about personal decisions made by a woman with her doctor or the personal decision of a gay couple to marry. Yeah Yeah; I know; the topic for another blog another time.)

I listen to my progressive Christian friends and I hear the language of community: seeking unity within our diversity, not just tolerating but celebrating our differences, protecting the vulnerable, standing with the oppressed, advocating on behalf of “the least of these” (Jesus’ words). gty_selma_montgomery_civil_rights_walk_mlk_thg_120130_wblogThese are the “biblical values” that have motivated King and Pinckney and Barber and so many others to work tirelessly for the good of all. These are the values I hope will change the nation; change the nation forever.

David Lane knows his army of politicized pastors will probably begin locally: school boards and city councils and county commissioners courts. Since our laws protect against religious tests of elected officials, these pastors have every right to run for public office.

And the rest of us have the right – and more importantly the responsibility – to critique the values and motivations of candidates and elected representatives within our states and communities. Let us be alert, aware and active. Let us test the candidates, not for their religious associations, but rather for their values that will surely shape their positions and policies. Let us ask bold questions, challenge self-centered attitudes and advocate for the principles that can create among us gracious, welcoming, caring American communities.


Charlotte Vaughan Coyle lives in Paris TX and blogs about intersections of faith, culture and politics on her website and Intersections Facebook page. She frequentlyIntersections logo shares her thoughts with Coffee Party USA as a regular volunteer.

Charlotte is an ordained minister within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and also blogs about Scripture from a progressive Christian approach in her Living in The Story Musings.


12 thoughts on “Pastors and Politics

  1. Just started reading The End of White Christian America by Robert P Jones,
    CEO, Public Religion Research Institute.
    Highly recommend to help understand what happened after Obama was elected, where we are going, and opportunities for new partnerships based on shared moral principles.

  2. I have no qualms about people voting according to their conscience, as informed by their beliefs. My concern is that “politicized pastors” as envisioned by David Lane will attempt to codify their particular brand of religion and in so doing violate the establishment clause of the Constitution.

  3. I agree with Mary here. I grew up in the bible belt and deconverted because of experience. I don’t think you realize that the bible was cobbled together by many different people, changed over time and translated by many hands. I seriously doubt it is infallible and I put my faith in myself rather than a higher power.

    1. Again this one blog only speaks to a limited topic: I’m addressing some of the differences between various Christians and how different Christian values play out in public. Many progressive Christians (including me) do not describe the Bible as “infallible;” that’s a conservative/fundamentalist doctrine. I seek to work together with allies from all kinds of faith – religious and humanist. We’re all in this together. Thanks for writing Brianna. Peace…

  4. Your article assumes that we are all Christians who believe in Jesus and the Bible. There are many other religions and religious groups who live here and will be voting. And many who don’t subscribe to any religion who live here and who will be voting. Separation of church and state is far more than just trying to keep conservative or progressive Christians from dominating our government and our lives. I personally Don’t want any religion telling me how to live my life unless I choose to follow that path. I choose to obey the laws of the state not those of your religion.

    1. Mary, yes, this particular article addresses those of us who are Christians. It is a response to David Lane’s current politicized “pastors” movement and it is one effort to help distinguish between the range of conservative and progressive Christianity at work in America. Other blogs ponder other aspects of “faith and culture” from other perspectives. You might read my blog in response to some ugly “christian” protest against Muslim Americans. And you might consider creating allies wherever you can find them; lots of us progressive Christians work passionately with people from all kinds of faith and no faith. We’re all in this together.

      “This is Outrageous”

      Thanks for writing. Peace…

  5. Although I agree with much of what Ms. Hargus wrote, I must totally disagree that God does not see the bad in us. Otherwise, Christ’s dying on the cross is meaningless. That sacrifice is what enables God to work through us in order to live the words that Jesus taught.

  6. Charlotte, once again you have touched the heart of the matter, and that heart is always love. When God said “Love ye one another.” I don’t think He was speaking of gushy, mushy, play-like love. I do not believe that God sees the bad in us. We all have bad in us. I believe what God (however you perceive of that) sees in us is the huge POTENTIAL is us to do what has been asked of us – to CARE for one another. To see them as God sees us. The thing in the Christian/political involvement is this: If Christians perceive a need for “political clout”, then how much do they believe in the mandate to care for one another? Obviously, not much. Not if you “need” political clout to “cover your back.” I believe that “sin” progresses in this manner: It begins with fear. You have looked at the world and have become afraid – so you group people in categories based on differences. Differences in skin colors, differences on who is wealthy and who is not, in those who have “clout” and those who do not. By nationalities. By different ways of worshipping and different ways of being. You come to fear these people. Fear gives way to anger – that is the nature of fear. Anger gives way to hate. And hate very often gives way to violence. And all of this destroys love. So it is a choice that we can make or not make. Do we stand for love, or do we stand for violence. It is not the choice of this moment. It has always been the choice. Those who stand for love choose love. Those who stand for allowing violence stand for allowing violence. And in the end, choosing love always ends in your courage to stand up for it. I have, in my long years on this earth, seen so many. from so many different walks in life, stand up with courage. I wish that I had done so more often, but I have come to see that it is a price that must be paid if we are ever to enter into true joy. So often your words fall on me like “the honey in the tree of Life.” I thank you.

  7. Charlotte, I really admire how you have come into your “voice” in this medium. You speak/write with clarity, power, and conscience. Thank you.

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