Of Pastors and Politics

While Washington is not a swing state in national politics, there are a number of electoral decisions we will have to make.  There is, at present, a closely contested gubernatorial race as well at two hot button ballot initiatives involving the legalization of marijuana and the question of gay marriage.

On the local level, my mailbox has been barraged with competing ads from Rosemary McAuliffe and Dawn McCravey, two women who are running for a State Senate position.  The ads have been…interesting, and I’ll be glad when the election is over.

Perhaps the most notable flyer I’ve received is one that came in the mail just a few days ago.  Take a look at both front and back:

Attempting to appeal to pro-choice and progressive/liberal voters in our district, McAuliffe has tied McCravey to conservative Pastor Joe Fuiten.  While I am not sure of the relationship (if any) that exists between McCravey and Fuiten, that a local pastor (and fellow Assemblies of God minister) would be a character in the midst of such political turf warfare is rather…disheartening for me.

To be clear: I do not have a problem with Pastor Fuiten having his own political views and perspectives.  I think that’s part of what being involved in American democracy means.  But when those politics can implicitly or explicitly color what is said from the pulpit, I began to take exception.  I realize that as a non-member of his church I cannot speak to what is said week-to-week…but when the political flyer above offers links to Fuiten’s own websites (www.joefuiten.com/bio) and (www.franklyfuiten.com) to mine its data, I feel that a pastor has gone too far.  “Pastor’s Picks” for the election?  I have concerns.

I come from what is admittedly an old-school style of ministry that believes that partisan politics have little place connected to the pulpit OR in the public life of the pastor.  Rightly or wrongly, pastors are considered to speak for the Church…and sometimes even for God.  To confuse, divide, or anger their flock with political stands or candidate endorsements seems unfortunate.  As my former pastor in New Jersey once told me, the local congregation has both Democrats and Republicans in it.  As their pastor, what good does it do to take a partisan political stand and divide the people rather than minister to them in the name of Christ where they are?

Though we as pastors have our own political philosophies and we must vote as private citizens, I get very worried when we publicly “choose sides” (and particular candidates) in such debates.  Christian believers have a lot of legitimate reasons for voting for a host of different candidates.  For a pastor to endorse one or the other forecloses on the deep reflection believers must make in the face of our electoral process, and opens the pastor–and the whole Church–to involvement in the kind of mudslinging politics that the pamphlet above illustrates.

Pastor Fuiten’s particular political positions are not what I am critiquing here (and remember that, as a political attack ad, the flyer pictured above is likely rather biased and sensational).  What I am rejecting is partisan politics operating so closely to the pulpit that it opens the church to such attacks in the first place.  There are times to stand for things in the name of Christ, yes.  There can indeed be momentous issues of the day so pressing that forgoing one’s tax-exempt status to speak prophetically to the nation is the best thing one can do.  But to be so regularly involved in matters political that your church, its people, and, dare I say, the cause of Christ might be looked at negatively because of it?  I question that position.

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16 comments on “Of Pastors and Politics

  1. Viletta says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with what you have stated here. From my years of watching elections play out, I’ve seen a double standard when it comes to predominantly Black congregations. The same standard should hold for all pastors and congregations. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are regularly in churches touting the Democrats on the ballot. And very few people call them out on this. I think that pastors should encourage the members of their congregations to exercise their right to vote. I don’t think they should tell them WHO to vote for.

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Viletta. The African-American church is a somewhat peculiar exception to the rule, isn’t it. Perhaps this has to do with the close linkage of theology and politics in that tradition, or as a way of acknowledging the wrongs of the past?

      • Viletta says:

        I am Black, and I don’t think we should be given any exceptions in this regard. It is not fair. We (all churches/Christians) should follow the same rules. It starts a slippery slope. What about churches with a diverse congregation of many races (like the one I attend now)? Does someone ‘count’ the number of minorities before it’s okay for the pastor to give specific endorsement or to allow people running for office to speak in a church?

  2. layne says:

    Joshua have you actually asked Pastor Joe about this? I think he would be the correct one to check with regarding your questions. Politics and positions on issues by Pastors has a proud history in the U.S. It seems to me that the African-American churches are more historically in tune though I would find myself more likely disagreeing with J.J. and Rev Al. and agreeing with Pastor Joe. I dont speak much about politicians from the pulpit unless the positions they take are referenced pretty specifically in the scripture even then it is more regarding the issue than the person. I appreciate and agree with Joes attitude and his belief that the church should influence the culture.

    • I admit: I have not spoken with Pastor Fuiten about this blog post, and please understand that I am not here criticizing him for the political positions he holds. Yet regardless of whether we agree with him or not, I don’t believe the kind of politicking he does is helpful.

      I too agree that the Church has a role in the culture, but by operating in the fashion he seems to, Pastor Fuiten invites entry into the political fray rather than working for the cause of Christ on a different level.

      Is the Church a political force or a sacrament in the world? This is a question we could discuss, I think.

    • Jace says:

      You raise a lot of questions, Layne.

      For example, can a Christian be a Republican? Can a Christian be a Democrat? If the answer is yes to both, then what are we accomplishing by ripping our church in two? What kind of example are we setting to the world, and if an outsider to the faith is sitting in our church as we choose a side and draw a line, are we becoming a stumbling block to them encountering the Gospel in our church if they don’t agree with us politically? Are we willing to take that risk?

      I agree with Josh in that I fully support Christians having a political opinion, or to be politically active in their personal lives, but I believe that it is incredibly dangerous to embody that political activism within our churches.

      Can we force a person to become a Christian at the edge of a sword or by word of law? If we construct a legal system that forces every American to follow a preferred moral code or virtue system, will that gain them entry into Heaven? Of course not! That’s ridiculous. We can’t force someone to believe something they arent willing to, and we all know that we are not saved by our works. Our good works must flow out of our faith. We can’t get the cart before the horse.

      So what are we accomplishing?

      God commands us to love him, love others, and pursue his mission given to us through the Great Commission.

      Focusing so heavily on nationalism and politics flirts with idolatry, and relentlessly stomping over others in the pursuit of treating incredibly complicated topics like sexuality, justice, and war as though they’re simple means that people will be hurt in a way that they may not be if we took the time to stop and love them like we’re commanded to. Putting such a significance on the legality of moralism certainly suggests that we believe in law-over-grace and a works-based faith that is antithetical to the Gospel we are called to preach.

      In other words, it defeats every purpose that Jesus called the Church to pursue. It turns Christianity into something that it isn’t.

      I would be hard pressed to think of a single good thing that could come out of a politically focused pulpit, and I can think of dozens of things that terrify me.

      • Jace,

        I would challenge you, however, to not reject all political work by the Church, at least broadly conceived….I’m mostly concerned in this post with partisan politics and the pulpit, not Christians working together as the Church making a difference in the world.

  3. Robert Mori says:

    I think you have fallen into the trap of either or dualistic thinking instead of seeing that we serve a both and God, a God who is involved in all the realms of life. . I believe there is Biblical precedent for God’s leaders to lead the community of God in all realms of life–pastorally, politically, militarily, agriculturally, economically, and what ever other human reality that you can think of. As Christ’s representatives, we are to lead. in church, in society, at home, in the field, in the city, in politics, in business, ar the capital, whereever people are.

    Take for example Abraham who is considered thru out the New Testament as one of our prime examples of faith. When confronted by enemies kidnapping his relative Lot and family, he raised up an army bore arms and led in the killing and maiming of the perpetrators to bring his family back home. Was that God’s will? Is that an example of God’s ministry? From what I read in scriptures, it seems to be:

    Genesis 14:18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, 19 and he blessed Abram, saying,

    “Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
    Creator of heaven and earth.
    20 And praise be to God Most High,
    who delivered your enemies into your hand.”

    Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.

    Look at Moses, another of God’s leaders who is listed in Hebrews 11 as a hero of faith maybe the greatest human leader in the Old Testament and if memory serves me right considered the meekest man ever to walk the face of the earth.
    .
    Yet, what is he famous for? Maybe the main thing he did was help God to perform miracles to defeat the Egyptian Pharoah and free the children of Israel from slavery and bondage. What was he involved in? Mostly destruction and killing from my point of view. Not that Moses wanted this to happen. It was because he was up against a hard hearted Egyptian king who refused to follow the will of God. Was this God’s will for Moses? Was this divisive? Even among God’s people, was this popular? Later he led the government of Israel, for close to 40 years as it’s effective prophet and chief minister. He was the head of the government . Was this God’s will for him?

    Was the apostle Paul out of God’s wil by dirtying his hands by being both a tent maker and an apostle? How about Peter as a fisherman and as God’s pastor?
    I could go on, but I hope you get my drift. Pastor Joe is doing what he believes God is calling him to. He is a pastor and a politician.. He is doing his best to hear God’s voice, thru the word of God and prayer and stand on the side of issues and pick candidates who best reflect the values and the will of God.

    • Robert,

      Thank you for your thoughtful and detailed response. You raise a lot of issues here, and I’m not sure I want to jump into all of them, but here are some thoughts:

      1) I am not asserting that Christians ought to be completely disconnected from the world; I believe that though we are pilgrims here, we also have a calling to be God’s servants as we walk through our lives.

      2) You offer a good number of biblical examples (Abraham, Melchizedek, Moses, Paul, Peter), and as you do so make the case that God is not just asking us to be concerned about “spiritual” things, but the cares of this world as well.

      3) While I completely agree that that the testimony of Scripture regarding Kingdom of God/Kingdom of the Word is a both/and proposition, utilizing the heroes of the faith (and specifically and divinely called and authorized individuals) as a model for Pastor Fuiten may run the danger of elevating him to a higher level than appropriate. We might learn from these figures, yes, but to assert I or anyone is a modern-day Moses is a bold implication.

      4) I do not deny that Pastor Fuiten’s actions are indeed what he may feel called to do…but certainly we as believers ought to have a chance to evaluate what he is doing and decide whether we think it is appropriate or not. If someone, for instance, felt called to do what Joshua did and go throughout our land and kill anyone who worshiped another God,I suspect you and I both would severely call that person into question. While am I not by any means implying that Pastor Fuiten is doing ianything like that, I use the example as a means to show that believers do have a right to raise legitimate questions about the actions of our brothers and sisters.

      5) Understand that when I say that partisan politics has no place in the pulpit, I do not mean that Christians should not act in the world. I simply mean that for a pastor to get involved in the messy world of politics, with its shady deals, ugly mudslinging, tendency to divide rather than unite, and unfortunate compromises, they run the risk of miring the Church in the cares of this world rather than transforming it. Is participation in party politics really the best way for churches to affect our world?

      6) I believe faithful Christians can be Democrats and Republicans both. Pastorally speaking, does not partisan politicking connected to the pulpit run the risk of creating disjuncture in the church rather than unity? Does it not run the risk of alienation? Will being known as the “political” church in the area make others more likely or not to want to think about the place of Christ in their life, or will people in our community just lump us in with all the messy, dirty, ugly things that our political system has to offer?

    • I’m not entirely certain it’s a fair hermeneutic to apply Old Testament social and martial law as prescriptive across New Testament civic interactions (and further into modern Christian civic praxis). The Old Testament plays a vital part to understanding and interpreting our Christian faith, but it is no longer entirely prescriptive. Casuistic law is most notably regarded as essentially being irrelevant for Christian praxis. Which indicates that simply because God interacted a certain way with the sinful people of Israel as an ethnic nationality prior to the national atonement through Jesus, that does not mean it is how he chooses to interact with the Church. I don’t mean to sound dispensationalist here, but seriously. A Christian, New Testament grounded, social ethic looks fundamentally different than Torah. Matthew 5 alone serves proof positive.

      My point here is this: we don’t need to go so far as to be entirely removed from culture in order to have a healthy balance and interaction with culture. When we look to the New Testament, Jesus sets a pretty clear example that the Kingdom of God is distinctly non-political in its realization. In John 18:36, when Pilate was questioning Jesus about his political identity as King of the Jews, and trying to vett whether or not Jesus was a political revolutionary trying to overthrow Roman rule, Christ responded by saying, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

      Faith is fundamentally non-political. It can impact our political leanings. But politics are merely a fringe aspect of being a Christian. Paul had a political identity in so far as his Roman citizenship granted him certain rights… but he only leveraged those rights to get a greater audience with people to share Christ with. In instances where Pastor Fuiten and others speak to politics, and particularly endorsements of candidates, they actually alienate people from their audience, thus are the antithesis of Paul’s example of how to utilize political clout as a Christian.

      I also think that political engagement and the intermeshing of politics and faith are substantively different realities than having a civic and ministerial vocation.

      My overall frustration with the whole thing is the seeming authority with which pastors proclaim certain political ideologies as “the biblical view.” They serve to intermesh politics with a particular hermeneutic, which leads to dangers in politics, but even more so to our faith. Look, there are substantial discussions being had right now as to how to best navigate the world where Christian sexual ethics are not the norm, while still speaking hope into our dying culture. When folks like Pastor Fuiten and others claim that to be biblical you must absolutely vote against gay marriage, it alienates people like myself who think there is a better way for Christian sexual ethics to permeate culture than to force it on people through legislation. The sort of mentality that says, “My view is the correct one according to the inerrant and infallible scriptures” while it’s clearly just their opinion of an exegetical method, pushes people out of the pews. They begin to associate the political view (which is all opinion) with the faith (which is truth based on the Word of God). Even though there are many voices in the Christian chorus, some folks would rather drown out those that disagree with them, and label them as heretics based on a different understanding of how to relate to the political sphere as a faithful Christian.

      I can’t speak from personal experience at Cedar Park. Though I do know one person that this is precisely how they felt when at Cedar Park. It’s a great church, and they have done and will continue to do some awesome things. I just think that the politics gets in the way. I think Josh holds nothing but respect for Pastor Fuiten in so many other areas, but just disagrees in how he has chosen to foster his political career from behind the pulpit.

      Blessings to all, and thanks for this awesome catalyst of a post, Josh.

  4. Joe Fuiten says:

    Hi Joshua. Someone sent me your piece. Glad to know someone is paying attention. The answer in this case is rather simple. McAuliff voted for gay marriage. The people who did the hit piece on me share common leadership and funding with the gay marriage campaign. Their attack on me is pretty clearly payoff to Rosemary for her support of gay marriage. In truth it has very little to do with me and everything to do with their belief in how they protect their teacher’s union candidate who voted for gay marriage. I have met Dawn once. I don’t really do partisan politics from the pulpit contrary to what you may have heard. I do try to apply scripture to the issues of the day and don’t avoid those that are controversial.

    It is possible that the cause of Christ is looked at negatively through my efforts. It is also possible that the cause of Christ would be looked at even more negatively if I did not.

    • Pastor Fuiten,

      Thank you for your willingness to respond to and enter into this conversation, as well as your respectful approach to what is admittedly a critique.

      First and foremost, I want to let you know that I didn’t post the rather distasteful hit piece on this blog because I am a partisan McAuliffe supporter or to further her campaign. In many ways, it was simply an exhibit of the real messiness of politics and a clear example of some dirty end-of-the-line campaigning by an apparently desperate candidate. In recent weeks I have had a mailbox full of bizarre McCravey/McAuliffe attack ads, and I’ve had about enough of them. 🙂

      Second, I appreciate your “insider’s” information as to how the attack ad came about. Reminds me of Bismarck saying that politics are like sausages: we wouldn’t like them so much if we knew how they were made.

      My questions about your involvement in politics are, at some level, pastoral. With respect, I disagree with how politically involved you are. Though I am glad to hear that the pulpit is not your main arena for these positions/endorsement/etc., I do wonder whether your actions can be divorced from your role as a pastor. If they cannot, I’m not sure they are always helpful.

      However, if I have mischaracterized you on this blog, I want to apologize. As I noted in my initial post, I am not a member of your congregation and as such cannot speak authoritatively here; I’m simply operating based on my existing understanding and my own awareness of your public presence.

      With your permission, I would love the opportunity to post this exchange on my blog so that readers can understand both of our positions and, furthermore, how two Christian brothers can disagree in charity.

      Once the election season draws to its inevitable end, I would be very interested in continuing the conversation started by the questions posed by my post and your response. I, for instance, may be accused of being too quiescent in the face of real-world issues. You, on the other hand, can be and are critiqued for being too involved. What you say at the end of your response: “It is possible that the cause of Christ is looked at negatively through my efforts. It is also possible that the cause of Christ would be looked at even more negatively if I did not” is certainly a conversation worth having, whether here online or a church or academic setting.

      Once again, thank for your taking the time to share your thoughts.

      Only By His Grace,

      Joshua R. Ziefle

  5. Joe Fuiten says:

    I would love to take this discussion further after the election. I do what I do because I feel God has called me to it. Although I can’t blame everything I say upon God, I can blame my motivation on him. I can also appreciate and understand why some choose not to be involved. My father was a pacifiist in WWII and I know there is a substantial pacifist tradition within Pentecost. A form of that pacifist tradition has become huge among younger Christians and I see it often in the AG here in Washington State. Personally, I don’t think we have even started to feel the negative consequences of it but we will.

    I would also enjoy a conversation on your other post on history. I have tried to develop, or mor eproperly renew, a historiographic model based on the scripture and I would love to get your take on it.

  6. Joe says:

    I could meet most any time next week, espcially in the afternoon.

  7. Mary Jo says:

    Thank you Joshua for a most thought provoking blog. I am Catholic and the 2012 campaign and its issues were difficult for me and so many others. It brought out some sides of devout parish members and leaders of our church that I found disconcerting. Mostly, it just made me sad and sometimes very confused. I look forward to the consoling words and hopeful thoughts exchanged by you and others in this respectful and important dialogue.

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