The First Amendment (Amendment I) to the United States Constitution prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances. It was adopted on December 15, 1791, as one of the ten amendments that constitute the Bill of Rights.
The First Amendment is a good thing for a nation that seeks to “separate church from state.” I can’t imagine that many American pastors would want a government that would tell them how they have to preach.
But in times of political turmoil, I also can imagine that it would be hard to not take the pulpit and comment on the times, especially when our culture needs words of guidance.
Pastor Hamilton cites two cases of pastors who represent opposite ends of the political spectrum and how their expressed views did not help.
I have lived long enough to remember Pastor Jerry Falwell, Pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg Virginia and one of the founders of Liberty University. I am less familiar with John Shelby Spong, retired American bishop of the Episcopal Church. He is a liberal Christian theologian, religion commentator and author.
If you have had a television set for the past thirty years or so, you have seen Reverend Falwell on his “Old Time Gospel Hour”. Sadly he grabbed headlines a few years ago by saying things from the pulpit like 9/11 was caused by the American Civil Liberties Union, abortionists, gays and lesbians.
Spong has been made famous to some by declaring that most of the historic doctrines of the Christian faith are bankrupt. In fact, what most Christians believe has been thrown out by Spong [a sample is the virgin birth (understood as literal biology); Spong states that the virgin birth makes Christ’s divinity, as traditionally understood, impossible]. To understand more about him, look up his “Ten Points of Reform”. Talk about controversy…
What is the role of the pastor today? What can they say and do to help the situation in American Society today? Does a Pastor need to influence his or her congregation in the voting process? Is it important for them to discuss their own political views from the pulpit or should they avoid such topics?
I have been sitting in congregations when pastors made statements about politics and I have never seen it turn out well. In fact, I have talked to parishioners who left the church due to a political comment made by a pastor. One woman left due to one sentence in one sermon. It was a judgmental sentence and she felt it judged her. That was enough.
Yet, Presidents have sought pastors for their guidance; probably the most influential pastor has been Reverend Billy Graham, who has counseled every president from Harry S. Truman to George W. Bush [eleven in all]. What did Graham do that impacted these world leaders? They know and God knows. You can bet he had an influence.
Despite reports to the contrary, President Obama has a spiritual caucus of five pastors that he consults and prays with on a regular basis. The details of their relationship with the President are not well known but he reaches out to them to keep himself spiritually grounded.
I have had private conversations with pastors who have talked politics. When they do, I always get uncomfortable, like they are making pronouncements that they should avoid.
Still the question is there, what can they do? What is their role?
I liken their job to that of the watchman. In Isaiah 21:6 the Lord said to Isaiah “For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth.” Isaiah was a prophet in the Kingdom of Judah, probably between about 740 B.C. and 698 B.C. In this verse, he is prophesying about the fall of Babylon. He is warning of impending doom, for Judah has not been doing what God has demanded. God wants total dedication from His people and they have been worshipping idols and doing unspeakable acts against God.
Our culture needs a watchman, a person who keeps an eye on our culture and warns of repercussions for our behaviors. My pastor skirts the issue of politics, by not talking about it at all, preferring to discuss “higher” issues than American political affairs. When Adam Hamilton is asked whether he is a liberal or conservative he answers “yes” to that question. Obviously he cares about America or he would not have written Seeing Gray but he does not feel compelled to take sides.
What was the role of the watchman? Like the Old Testament prophets, they warned Israel and Judah that they were doing wrong in the eyes of the Lord. They warned that God was going to punish them if they did not repent of their sinful ways. Judah did not listen to Isaiah.
America may not get it.
America may pay the price for ignoring its watchmen.