When I talk with pastors, I usually go away reminded of how difficult it must be to navigate their role in these divided times. I know some pastors who blend political activism with their church ministry in ways that I find admirable and are consistent with my own leanings. And I know others who attempt to steer clear of politics so as not to conflate the gospel with political allegiances. Though Jerry Falwell Jr. is no pastor, we have all seen how his allegiance to Donald Trump has sparked new criticism of what some see as his “Two-Kingdom Theology” and the way theology may inform how evangelical leaders and others approach this question. (Here, here, and here.)
Of course if we like our pastor’s politics, we probably don’t mind when they speak up about issues, but if find our their views repugnant, we’ll no doubt wish they wouldn’t “get so political.” Baylor historian, Thomas Kidd, weighed in on this question yesterday. He says,
… as a matter of prudence and the health of the church, we should never want our church leaders to become partisan campaigners, regardless of the party in question. Getting involved in campaigning and partisanship disrupts the unity of the church, and invariably turns the church into a servant of temporal power rather than the kingdom of God.
Though Kidd is himself Reformed and writing for a Reformed audience, this actually resonates with the Anabaptist part of me.
BUT, as we look forward to celebrating the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. in a few days, I have a hard time reconciling Kidd’s warning with the fact that the activism of religious leaders have often contributed greatly to social justice movements we all respect. (The list of figures would be long.) Perhaps the key is the fact that Kidd takes us back to the contentious election of 1800 — an election famous for its partisanship and for the way evangelical leaders framed one candidate (Adams) as the “Christian” candidate and his opponent as the “infidel” secularist (Jefferson). I suppose this was less a case about social justice and more about straight up partisanship and conflating religious and political loyalties. So it works better with the “dangers” to which Kidd speaks.
Read Kidd’s whole piece here.