Mormonism, Politics and Democracy
Part 3 – A Preacher’s Political Endorsement
Dr. Robert Jeffress, the influential pastor of a Dallas-based mega-church, offered his formal endorsement of Texas Gov. Rick Perry Friday at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C. Friday, shortly before he explained why Perry’s opponent atop the GOP field, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, is a cultist. ( http://news.yahoo.com)
My last shudder from Dr. Jeffress’ recent dust-up from his introduction and endorsement of Governor Perry for President at the Value Voters’ Summit a few weeks ago has to do with the spiritual propriety of a preacher publicly endorsing a political candidate. He insists that he did it as a private citizen and not as the pastor of Dallas’ most historic Baptist church, but just exactly how does that work? Tell me, when exactly is Dr. Jeffress anything but the pastor of Dallas’ most historic Baptist Church?
I believe that it is either naive or disingenuous for any ordained Christian minister to think that there are times when he or she is not representing Jesus Christ, or leading the church, or providing the world with a witness. Oh, Dr. Jeffress can wave his arms and insist loudly that his endorsement of Governor Perry on a national stage with the limelight’s focus was just a private, personal choice. So why then did he feel compelled to tell us all about it? Clearly he wanted to wield some influence. But why did he think he had any influence? Why did he think that anybody would care about who he was endorsing as a candidate in a partisan political contest? Any “influence” Dr. Jeffress might have comes by virtue of one thing and one thing only – HE IS THE PASTOR OF DALLAS’ MOST HISTORIC BAPTIST CHURCH!
Now, I believe that Dr. Jeffress has every right to vote for any political candidate he wants to. But as an ordained minister, I also believe that he is called to be a public representative of Jesus Christ, and as such, I would argue that his public pronouncements need to be carefully and conscientiously circumscribed by the boundaries of Scripture lest he be found to be “misrepresenting God” (I Corinthians 15:15). “Where the Scriptures speak, we speak. Where the Scriptures are silent, we’re silent.” That’s one of our well-known Stone/Campbell slogans, and I would suggest that to take any other position as an ordained minister on matters of public record risks the dangerous blurring of the crucial distinction between what is revealed truth and what is one’s own political conclusions and private opinions.
We in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) have traditionally understood that the Bible teaches its truths in different ways. We’ve often talked about the commands, the examples and the inferences of Holy Scripture. And we’ve traditionally recognized a descending order of authority with each of these categories. What the Scriptures explicitly command we try to do without question. The examples the Scriptures offer we try to apply as faithfully as we can to our particular situations. And the inferences we necessarily draw from what we think the Scriptures teach we hold with the greatest of modesty. As Thomas Campbell, one of our church’s founders, explained, the inferences we draw from Scripture must be held “without any pretense to a more sacred origin.”
Inferences are necessary because it’s frequently left up to us to make the relevant application of Biblical truth to a particular situation. The Scriptures provide us with a compass and not a road map on many of the most pressing moral, personal, social and political questions we face. God in His wisdom trusts us to draw our own conclusions on many matters; informed by Biblical principle, sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s nudging and modest in our claims to know with absolute certainty the right position to take on each and every question. And since the Bible never directly tells us which candidate to support, which party to join, which platform to endorse, how we vote is always going to be an inference from what we think the Scriptures are teaching. And while what we think the Scriptures are teaching is always a legitimate conversation for the church to have, it is never legitimate for us to be telling each other who to vote for because it’s the clear “Christian” choice. When a Christian does this, especially a high profile public Christian like Dr. Jeffress, a boundary has been crossed over onto the territory of inference where we simply have no business intruding on one another’s consciences.
“Soul Competency” is an historic Baptist doctrine, one that I as an “historic” Disciple can easily and enthusiastically embrace. Because it is “technically” theirs, I will let my Baptist brothers and sisters explain what this is themselves (www.baptistdistinctives.org) –
What does “soul competency” mean? Various terms have been used for this concept, such as soul freedom, freedom of conscience and soul competency. Basically it means the God-given freedom and ability of persons to know and respond to God’s will. Baptists believe that God gives people competency–that is ability–to make choices…
In brief, the Bible sets forth these truths in regard to soul competency:
–Individuals have a God-given competency to know God and his will.
–God, who is sovereign over all creation, has provided this freedom
–This competency is a gift from God and not a human creation.
–Persons therefore are free to make their own choices; they are not puppets.
–God does not force or coerce compliance with his will; neither faith nor love can be forced.
–With this competency and freedom comes responsibility and accountability. Choices have consequences.
–In exercising soul freedom, a person should seek insight from members of the faith community, both present and past.
–But each individual is finally responsible for his or her own choices. Faith response must be by the individual and not by a group of which the individual is part.
–Governments and religious organizations ought not force persons to belong to any particular church, confess any specific creed or conform to any form of worship. To do so violates liberty of conscience and flies in the face of God’s will for his creation.
…One of the reasons why both secular and religious despots have persecuted Baptists heavily through the centuries is that these persons despise freedom. Fearing freedom, they attempt to force everyone into their religious mold.
In the face of such efforts, most Baptists have exercised their soul competency and responded positively to Paul’s admonition: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1).
Ironically, when Dr. Jeffress – the pastor of Dallas’ most historic Baptist church – endorses a political candidate as the “Christian” choice, he does so in violation of an historic “Baptist distinctive.” But more importantly, in doing so he risks “invalidating the Word of God” by confusing it with a mere human tradition (Mark 7:13), one of the fundamental spiritual errors that Jesus Christ criticized the Pharisees of His day of doing. It was the late Evangelical theologian Francis Schaeffer who observed that Biblical authority can get diminished in two very different ways: by ignoring what The Bible clearly teaches, and by adding to what the Bible clearly teaches. Whenever a preacher takes a partisan political stand, I believe that he or she risks doing the latter.
A predecessor of mine at a previous church I served supplemented his income by selling a line of popular cleaning products. And members of that church told me that whenever they saw him walking up the sidewalk for a home visitation that they never knew who was calling – the preacher whose concern was for the welfare of their eternal soul, or the soap salesman whose concern was the shine on their kitchen floor! The preacher who endorses political candidates is no different from that soap peddling parson. In doing what he did, Dr. Jeffress traded his trusted spiritual position as a preacher of the Word for a bowl of tepid partisan porridge (Genesis 25:27-34).