Imagine a prominent white Baptist pastor taking to cable news to make a case for Joe Biden and then appearing at rallies to campaign for the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. All hell would break loose. And that pastor would soon be accused of splitting the church and likely lose church members.
So how, then, does Robert Jeffress get away with his never-ending campaigning for Donald Trump? And for that matter, how does Al Mohler, president of the flagship Southern Baptist seminary, get a pass when in an April podcast he vowed to vote for Republicans the rest of his life: “If you have any association with any version of historic Christianity or any link at all, then you’re going to be more Republican than Democrat on the political spectrum.”
If any white male seminary president said the same thing about voting for Democrats for the rest of his life and associated the Democratic party exclusively with God’s agenda, that school would lose funding and students and the president likely would be fired.
But not so with Jeffress and Mohler. Is this not a double standard? Perhaps a double standard only is a bad thing when neither of the standards suits your liking.
Meanwhile, I have pastor friends in churches that think they are progressive who are being skewered by angry congregants because the pastors are “talking too much about race.” In this moment, when race is the national conversation, these church members don’t want to be challenged by biblical teachings that make them uncomfortable. Apparently, they want to come to church to hide from the inconvenient truths of the world around them.
I have pastor friends in churches that think they are progressive who are being skewered by angry congregants because the pastors are “talking too much about race.”
Ever since the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, churches have been firing or running off pastors who “talk too much about race” — as though they have departed from preaching holy Scripture.
As someone who has worked with a church personnel committee for nearly 17 years, I’ve got to wonder what the personnel committee meetings are like at First Baptist Church of Dallas. Does anyone there ever raise a concern that their pastor has pulled up the welcome mat of the church for more than half the county’s population that doesn’t vote Republican? Does anyone worry that the church has become so identified with a political agenda that it might sow division? Does anyone worry about the church’s tax-exempt status being jeopardized by worship services that look like campaign rallies? Does anyone question the pastor’s blatant mistreatment of Scripture?
I know my church’s personnel committee would be having those kinds of discussions if any of our pastors took such a bold and partisan political stand.
Remember also that not all church member complaints carry equal weight in the real world. Church members with money who threaten to leave a church get more attention — not that they should — because other lay leaders know the church can’t afford to lose them. So those with the gold get to determine what’s told.
Yet for some pastors like Jeffress, “being political” seems to bring in money and members.
There’s another reason this double standard thrives in American Christianity today, and it has to do with a false narrative that has been spun for 40 years. A cardinal rule of communications is that the person who tells the story first gets to define the narrative. That’s why when crisis or scandal hits a church or a business or an institution, that organization must get its message out first and define the discussion. And this is exactly what the Religious Right has done in America: It has told a story that there’s only one way to be a faithful Christian, and now that story has been shaped into a political agenda. The result is when other faithful Christians try to tell a different story about what they believe it means to follow Jesus, they get labeled as “political.”
When other faithful Christians try to tell a different story about what they believe it means to follow Jesus, they get labeled as “political.”
In this momentous year of presidential politics, COVID-19 and racial reckoning, it’s time for Christians to reclaim a message that is biblical — whether it appears political or not. Politicians should not be the ones defining what is a biblical view, and neither should church members who just want to avoid being challenged in their biases.
Right now, we’ve got the cart before the horse, and everyone seems to act like that’s just the way things ought to be. Except it isn’t.
Some concepts are so essential to Jewish and Christian Scripture, in particular, that they must always transcend political labels. We may rightly disagree about how to do some things, but Scripture itself leaves no room for debating whether we should do these things.
Among these big ideas that have been labeled political but actually are biblical:
God created all people. All. People. No exceptions. And God is “no respecter of persons,” meaning God does not discriminate and does not tolerate second-class or third-class labels for God’s own creation.
God loves all people. Even sinners. Regardless of birthplace, skin color, sexual orientation, marital status, education, wealth or political leanings. God does not love me more than you or love you more than me.
All life is sacred. Scripture has more to say about preserving the life of the already born than it does about abortion, but the “pro-life” movement in America focuses on only one aspect of what it means to preserve life. The Bible calls us to a consistent ethic, not an isolated ethic.
God hates injustice. Go read the Hebrew prophets to see what God says about uneven scales and deceitful business practices. Go read the New Testament epistles to see what God says about discrimination and haughtiness and love of self.
God takes the side of the poor and underprivileged. Sorry if you don’t like this, but it’s clear as a bell throughout Scripture. God never sides with the rich or even the would-be rich. From Genesis to Revelation, God works to lift up the lowly and bring down the mighty. God takes the side of immigrants and refugees and widows and orphans.
God breaks down walls rather than building walls. From the call of Abram in Genesis to go to a land unknown to the growth of the early church through the known world, the movement of God across all time acts like a rushing stream that tears down barriers in its wake.
These are not “political” ideas. These are biblical ideals. Faithful Christians should shape their citizenship based on such truths as a starting place, not as a convenience when available.
Yet long-term research shows that many Americans choose their political views first and let those views shape their religious beliefs and practices. This likely explains why someone like Robert Jeffress can stand in the historic pulpit of First Baptist Church of Dallas and blatantly endorse one candidate and one party with no one blinking. Over time, aided by our corrosive political climate, his congregation has made itself into a homogenous unit — birds of a feather, don’t you know?
The political segregation of the American church is bad for government and bad for religion. When everyone sitting together in a Sunday School class or worship service shares exactly the same political view, it is easy to confuse “Thus saith the Lord” with “Thus saith the party platform.”
Which brings us back to church members threatening to leave their congregations because the pastor is “talking too much” about race or social justice or care for the needy. Failing to engage these biblical conversations because you’ve been told they are political or because you are afraid of them only leads to greater segregation of the church.