Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Pulpit and Politics

This past Sunday was an event called "Pulpit Freedom Sunday."

Here is a introductory video:

Certainly when it comes to politics and the pulpit, I agree that faithful preaching of the Word of God must address the moral issues of our day when the text of Scripture addresses them and according to the manner with which the Holy Writ addresses them. We should not cower when it comes to speaking the truth. If anything, the pulpit should be prophetic in the sense that like the Old Testament prophets we boldly proclaim the truth in a culture that largely rejects the truth.

Yet, I would argue that American nationalism and a quest to "save our nation" should not set the agenda for the pulpit. 

The week before Pulpit Freedom Sunday, I was preaching on Jesus' cleansing  of the temple. (I blog posted some thoughts here on the 'Cleansing'). Even though at the time I hadn't even heard of Pulpit Freedom Sunday, I briefly addressed the issue of politics and the pulpit because I believe it was a faithful application of the text.

One of Jesus' concerns in the passage is that the Temple had become a "nationalist stronghold" (C.K. Barrett, D.A. Carson) instead of being a house of prayer. It had been turned into more of a political and revolutionary symbol. It was a symbol of Jewish nationalism and anti-Roman ideology instead of being a place of prayer for Gentiles.

While there is not a one-to-one correspondence between the Temple of old and the church today, I think we should legitimately be concerned about the contemporary preoccupation with turning the pulpit into a place to address American values and American nationalism.

While Pulpit Freedom Sunday is one day a year and we should be concerned that we do not lose genuine freedom of speech from our pulpits, a more pressing concern among evangelicals should be the undo influence coming from those whose concerns are largely political and entail winning, maintaining, and/or recovering political influence. In our attempt to see that the pulpit is set free, we are pandering to a set of political values and the pulpit becomes a means to this end. 

In the applications of my sermon, here's what I said:
The Church in America today has become a place of nationalism and partisan politics. 
When evangelicalism is known more for it’s power as a voting block than for the power of God’s gospel—we have gone of the rails. 
If your concern is to see the pulpit rally the electorate, your priorities are misplaced. 
Let me be clear, Christians should take stands on ethical issues—especially abortion. You do not set your morals aside in the voting booth. We should evaluate the morals and ethics of anyone we vote for. 
But it is not the job of the church of America to save the nation of America—as a nation or a set of laws and ideals. Christians should be a salt and light in the community—but the job of the church is not to push a brand of American politics. 
I love our country and I love the freedoms it embodies. I believe our freedoms are God given rights. I believe despite stains in our history, like slavery, we have pursued our ideals and in pursuing those good ideals many people around the world have benefited. As a citizen, I want to see these rights and ideals preserved, but the church—as Christ’s body and Temple—has a higher calling to a higher Kingdom. 
America is not irreplaceable in the history of the world. America is not an irrevocable promise from God or the climax of God’s history of salvation. We do not nor did we ever have special privilege or pride of place before God. America is not sinless, nor is she mankind’s greatest hope. She is not the greatest force for peace and righteousness—that spot is reserved for Jesus. 
At best, America is a good page in the history of mankind and her preservation and voice for freedom has been used in a small way by God’s hand of providence. 
To the extent that the church today seeks as its mission to ‘save the country’ and support a national agenda is the extent to which we betray our heritage in an eternal kingdom. 
If you greatest fear/worry/ or anger right now is that __________ gets elected the country, you have a false hope. You are looking for man to save mankind. Your hope is largely misplaced. The American dream has never saved anyone and it will not matter one lick for eternity if we lose it.  
Just as Anti-Roman Jewish nationalism had no place inside the Temple because the Temple was to be a house of prayer for people of all nations so forms of American nationalism have no place inside the church.  
Do we value the ministry of the Word? The Word of God will address life issues in every area. The Word of God cannot be held captive to politics and nationalism. 
Is our church a house of prayer? 
Let me ask you this: would you be more interested in hearing a sermon on politics or America’s “Christian heritage” or more interested in coming to prayer meeting?

We'd love to hear from readers. Did your church address politics on Pulpit Freedom Sunday? What do you think the relationship between the pulpit and politics should look like?