Discerning spirits for the common good
It’s fair to say the American political system’s recurring election process has
often, if not always, included some pretty distasteful activity on the part of
candidates or their supporters. Such behavior is not new. But the level of
vitriol and animosity in recent campaigns tends toward the most negative in
history. And we in the upper Midwest, though not immune, are rightfully not
as comfortable with this style.
But soon we may be. Attempts are underway to politicize parts of lives that
will be detrimental to the common good.
Races for judgeships in Minnesota have a tradition of nonpartisanism. In
nearby states like Wisconsin and Illinois, however, politicization of judicial
races has led to $9 million campaigns, with large corporations basically
funding the campaigns of candidates who have already promised how they
will rule on issues important to those corporations … before even seeing the
merits of the case. (Gov. Al Quie has chaired a commission to try to head off
such races in Minnesota.)
Now the pulpit may also become more politicized, if one group gets its way.
The Alliance Defense Fund, an Arizona-based group, is encouraging pastors
to defy the 54-year-old ban on pulpit endorsements by religious leaders by
making endorsements on September 28.
Congregations, in order to receive an exemption from certain forms of
taxation, cannot endorse candidates. Now, if these congregations are willing
to reject the exemption, they can support or reject candidates of their choice.
The cost is simply financial.
Now I truly believe that people of faith need to be more prophetic on behalf
of the common good, so I am in no way suggesting that we withdraw from
social engagement. The Biblical impulse requires our active response within
the social order, in my read.
But endorsing candidates from the pulpit does not encourage the prophetic
voice. Instead it inhibits it.
Should clergy be in a situation where congregants are encouraging them to
endorse one way or another? Could a tithe be used for leverage on a religious
leader? How well can the Body of Christ work on behalf of a voiceless and
powerless group when religious leaders have provided cover for an elected
official’s actions? Is losing this independence worth it?