Why do ministers run from political issues like Bill Clinton scrams from Hillary when she’s in one of her… “moods”? Part I, of this three part series, gave three reasons for the current clerical cultural aversion: 1. Fear of Man; 2. Ignorance regarding the pressing problems; 3. Division and not wanting to be divisive when, in fact, it is vital.
Here are three more motives why, according to my experience, ministers do not step up to the political plate and take a serious swing at righting our societal wrongs.
4. Last Days Madness. Many ministers do not get involved in political issues because they believe that, “it simply doesn’t matter” since “the end has come”, and Jehovah is about to run the credits on this failed earth flick. These defeatists believe that any change in the jet stream, war, earthquakes, success of a corrupt politician -- even a new Britney Spears video -- is “proof” that God is getting really – really -- ticked off and His only recourse is to have Christ physically return and kick some major butt.
Their only hope is in “The Rapture”. They see the church and themselves as impotent and having no real ability to change things culturally with any long range ramifications. Thus, any stab at a better tomorrow is simply an exercise in futility for this crew. Attempting to right culture is, in their eyes, equivalent to polishing brass on a sinking ship. They are, therefore, content to simply pass out tracts, tramp from Christian rock concert to Christian rock concert, eat fatty foods, and stare at Christian TV.
5. Sloth. Classically defined, sloth is lethargy stemming from a sense of hopelessness. Viewing our nation and the world as an irreparable disaster, where our exhortations, prayers, votes and labors will not produce any temporal fruit, leaves one with all the fervor of a guy who’s forced to French kiss his sister.
If you wonder why your flock is so apathetic, ask yourself, Pastor Grim Carnage, if you have stolen their earthly hope that their valiant efforts can actually prevail in time, and not just in eternity? If you constantly pump the doom and gloom message, if you teach them that evil will ultimately triumph on our terra firma, if you spew messages that consciously or unconsciously convey “big anti-Christ and little Jesus Christ” … then you have effectively zapped what’s left of your parishioners’ passion.
You see, Pastor Carnage, most congregants can do math. If there is no hope, then they’ll figure …
· Why vote?
· Why go to grad school?
· Why build a multi-million dollar church?
· Why go to church?
· Why give the church a dime?
· Why care about anything?
· Why not just self-preserve?
With Last Days Madness comes, Sloth, and its attendant ecclesiastical and societal paralysis. Christians tanked up on way too many tawdry “end of the world” movies have become socially slothful, non-zealous, totally unwilling to get into the political and cultural fray and fight for the good society.
Hopelessness and its spawn, sloth, are main reasons why Christians manifest all the energy of a manatee munchin’ Quaaludes trying to swim upstream in warm goo. The church’s current malaise is a manifestation of what Solomon stated a few thousand years ago: “Hope deferred [will] make the heart sick”.
6. Tax Exemption Pre-emption. Many pastors, priests and parishioners have been cowed into inactivity by the supposed loss of their tax exempt status if they say anything remotely political. This can make folks who don’t or won’t get good legal advice as politically active as Howard Hughes during the flu season ... but it needn’t.
First of all, there’s no need to have an IRS 501[c] tax exempt charitable status to assemble and be a proper church. The church has been around a little bit longer than the 501[c] statute, right? We are afforded the right to assemble, by God and by the Constitution. Not having the tax exempt status simply means you’ll have to pay taxes at Costco when you buy hot dogs for the church picnic.
Secondly, 501[c] or not, we are called to obey God rather than men, and God has called his leaders to be involved in civic affairs, and to represent Christ and his word in all areas of society. And that entails expounding the biblical worldview all the time, including election time. Sometimes you have to rebel against unrighteous, limiting laws. There’s nothing wrong with proper civil disobedience when the need arises, especially if the government tries to stifle your scriptural rights and obligations.
Now, remember pastor, you don’t have to don your James Dean rebel duds to discuss political subjects from the pulpit. Why? Because ministers are not forbidden to do so under the 501[c] statute, or any other. The statute is actually supportive of pastors and churches in extending their mission to making productive citizens. The only things that a 501[c] organization may not do are  endorse or oppose a particular candidate or piece of legislation, and  contribute to or raise money to support a candidate or legislation [including free use of the church mailing list].
The church may, among other things, register their members to vote, pass out voter guides, invite all candidates in a race to speak [and it’s okay if not all of them -- even if only one -- show up] and speak directly about specific issues.
Off the clock, in his personal capacity, the pastor or priest can endorse and support – or oppose -- whoever or whatever he wishes, like any other citizen. There are no limitations to the individual; the ones which do exist under the 501[c] statute are only for the church entity and/or the pastor in his official capacity, not for the pastor or the members who make up the church.
If we believe in the importance – yes, the primacy – of God in our personal and national lives, clergy and congregants must become involved in the issues of the day, political and otherwise. We’ll wrap up the final four causes for pastors being politically pusillanimous, in next week’s column.