Questions and Ethics is a monthly series in which Dr. Russell Moore provides insight into how Christians should navigate through life’s most challenging moral and ethical issues. The following is a transcript of this audio.
Today’s question is how do pastors handle politics from the pulpit without communicating too much trust in Washington?
Well, I think the first step is standing up and making sure that your people recognize that the things that they are talking about or hearing about at the time are important, and they are. These are really significant issues, but they are not ultimately important. And so it is kind of—election time is a good time to teach people Matthew 6:33 to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness—literally his justice—and all these things will be added to you, which Jesus says that doesn’t mean that food and clothing and these things aren’t important—it means that the kingdom of God is ultimate. And so just taking the time to say that, and then taking the time to signal to your people that you are not—
What typically happens is really, really overtly political churches, they tend to become churches that aren’t taken seriously either politically or theologically because if your people start to get the feeling that what you are really doing is just taking your political issue and you are kind of using the preaching of the word in order to get to that political issue, then they are going to become cynical, and they are going to say this is just somebody who is trying to sell me a product. And so you have to be the sort of person who with the very way that you carry yourself you are speaking as one with authority and not as one of the political consultants. And that means standing up and speaking to political issues when those political issues are clearly revealed in scripture but spending time praying for people who are—I Timothy chapter 2—for kings and for all who are in authority and praying for them in a way that is not an announcement prayer.
I was in a church one time where people used to get up, and the prayers were really about whatever the programming was in the church. So the guy would get up and say, “Lord, as you know, we have our men’s breakfast this Saturday. And Lord, you know it’s at eight o’clock. And Lord, you know that registration is up until Wednesday at five o’clock, and we need everybody to turn in their registration ahead of time. We are going to have a great time.” And eventually people realized this guy isn’t praying, he’s announcing the men’s prayer breakfast, and he is using prayer to do that.
So you are not standing up and using your time of prayer in order to praise the people that you like and to bash the people that you don’t. But you are standing up and you are praying over time for all of your elected officials: for justice, for wisdom, for discernment. That tends to create a mood within the congregation that people eventually start to emulate.
And so the problem is political issues seem to be much more relevant to me in my life because it is what everybody is talking about around me all the time, especially as election time gets near, and so it’s easy to see it as becoming ultimate. You are coming in and saying no, it’s important, and here’s why it’s important because you have been called to live as citizens, and you are going to be held accountable as citizens. But this isn’t ultimate. It’s less about a particular strategy than it is about the mood you carry as pastor all the time.