conservative, political theology

The Irresponsibility of the “Pulpit Initiative”

I’m sure some of you have heard about the Pulpit Initiative. For those of you who haven’t, its a bunch of pastors in their clergy position, getting up on Sunday and telling their congregants who to vote for. I’ve distilled a few troubling points from the MSNBC article on the subject (if you have problems with the points, go back and read the article first):

1. This largely seems to be a one or two issue vote: “‘I’m telling you straight up, I would choose life,’ … ‘I would cast a vote for John McCain and Sarah Palin,’ he said.” Choose life in this instance apparently only means abortion — American babies specifically.

2. No sense of holistic discipleship, but still calling people to account: “But friends, it’s your choice to make, it’s not my choice. I won’t be in the voting booth with you.” Either the church has the guts to call its congregants to a faithful life of the Gospel, or it doesn’t. Nice to know the church will give way in the face of the state’s “freedom” vote, but still be “radical” in its voice.

3. Assumes the definition of politics supplied by the state (state categories): “The basic thrust was this was not a matter of endorsing, it’s a First Amendment issue,” Hice said. “To say the church can’t deal with moral and societal issues if it enters into the political arena is just wrong, it’s unconstitutional.” Free speech? What about freedom of religion?

4. Their only real form of civil disobedience? There are better ways and issues.

5. Thoroughly national, and lacking a sense of the international nature of the church.

Now, conservatives, we need to have a talk. Liberals, we’ll have a talk some other time. But conservatives, the Republicans are taking you for a ride. They’re using you. How do I know this? Six years of a Republican controlled Congress and a proclaimed Christian Republican President and nothing, not a damn thing on abortion was done. You had the best chance you’ll ever get and nothing came of it.

As for the “theological” proclamations, to simplify and assert the simplification as right, as correct, as dogma — as Gospel — is fundamentally irresponsible. One has led one’s congregation into a simplistic theology, and as if that is the only true remembrance of Christ that exists. The combination of all these points don’t fall into good exegesis, but instead in the paradigm of “culture wars.” In fact, as far as I can tell, this is largely a conservative phenomenon and more to the point, you want to make your stand here? Its beyond me. This doesn’t seem birthed out of the radical, subversive nature of the Gospel. Instead, this seems to be fear driven. Insular conservative Christians reacting within the paradigm of the state? Right. Clearly some theology needs to be rethought.

If you’re going to be radical, if you’re going to be subversive, if you’re going to go through with civil disobedience, you might want to check with how the rest of the church in America does it. We happen to know a thing or two, and in fact, we could help you make a better stand and live into a prophetic life, rather than a fearful bourgeois Christianity. As it is, this is just embarrassing. If you’re going to disobey, which I am whole heartily for, do it well.


4 thoughts on “The Irresponsibility of the “Pulpit Initiative”

  1. “To say the church can’t deal with moral and societal issues if it enters into the political arena is just wrong, it’s unconstitutional.”

    That is flat wrong. This is a matter of IRS policy and not first amendment rights. Pastors in America have and continue to enjoy the privilege (or folly) of endorsing political candidates. All that is at stake is tax-exempt status. If churches want to use the political/legal process to change that rule, that is fine by me. But if they have silenced themselves for tax purposes, shame on them.

    David, #2 is a great point I have been wrestling with. How can a faith-informed vote be individualistic? If we really believe that our faith necessitates us to vote for one candidate or another, we should absolutely come to a decision together and vote for the same person as a church Body. But by valuing privacy and individuality above other factors, however, we are really expressing that we think voting is simply a matter of personal preference (which I happen to agree with). If that is the case, there is no need for it to be addressed from the pulpit, in the same sense that we do not address Pepsi v. Coke from the pulpit.

  2. Well, I have a sinking suspicion that a faith-informed, individualistic vote is a vote through civil religion and the belief in the supremacy of a culture. Its in the idol-less shrine (Cavanaugh reference) that individualist, “free” choice has its action.

  3. Steve says:

    D.W., I don’t follow your comment reply. Can you explain your “sinking suspicion” in more detail? Votes are individual and private, not from any idolatry of the individual, but so people can vote how they want without fear of intimidation or reprisal.

    Regarding the content of the article, my chief complaint is that it’s a power play. Implicitly or explicitly, these pastors are invoking the name of God, or at least the church, to tell people how to vote. “Do what I say, or risk offending the Lord!” You called it irresponsible, but I’d call it dangerous and manipulative.

  4. I don’t like pastors telling “their” congregations (as if the Lord’s sheep belonged to anyone but Him) who to vote for anymore than you guys do. It should be a discussion that should be allowed to happen among the people at the individual local expressions of Christ’s body. However, I’m also for the right to make a jackass of yourself without the IRS changing your tax status. The history of the circumstances that brought about this code are pretty shady. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want a pastor telling anyone who to vote for, but, if they could freely, I’d want to know if my pastor would cross that line (if I were still attending an institutional fellowship). It would tell me a lot about him, if you know what I mean. Or, perhaps, it would foster discussion among the people as to whether or not he should. That the congregation could explore that idea together would be a positive outcome. Perhaps, in that context, it could be “right” for a specific congregation.

    All I know, is that I’m either voting for Superman or Miss Piggy. I don’t think I can vote for either major party candidate. We need a real multi-party system.

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