Should ministers run for political office?
I write this only a few days after longtime Christian broadcaster and former presidential candidate Pat Robertson passed away. As people remember his legacy, both the positives and the negatives, I thought it would be a good time to revisit some of the issues regarding the role of the clergy in the political realm.
The first presidential election i ever voted in was 1988 which was a unique scenario because there were two ministers running in the primaries, Robertson as a
Republican and Jesse Jackson as a Democrat.
Obviously, neither of them were able to win the nomination of their respective parties. Nonetheless, the subsequent years were quite telling as both of them suffered serious damage to their credibility as ministers of the Gospel. Sadly that is often the case when ministers do seek political office. While the Bible does not contain a clear cut “thou shalt not,” generally speaking it is still not a good idea.
That is not to say, of course, that
ministers should not be involved in the political process. Contrary to what many people seem to think, a preacher has the same
First Amendment rights as any other American citizen. On their own time ministers are free to advocate for any candidate or issue they want to. They can speak at rallies, knock on doors or be involved in any other capacity. The only things prohibited by law are endorsing candidates from the pulpit or using church funds to contribute to political campaigns.
Church and state are two separate entities. Jesus Himself drew that distinction (Matthew 22:15-22). However, that does not mean that they cannot work together in complementary ways for the common good.
In ancient Israel, Moses was the political leader (Exodus 18:15-16), while his brother Aaron served in the Priesthood as the spiritual leader (Exodus 28-29). A similar relationship is seen between King Josiah and Hilkiah the Priest (2 Kings 22). Another example would be Nehemiah the Governor (Nehemiah 7:1-7) and Ezra the Scribe (Nehemiah 8:1-8).
Romans 13:1-7 is a key text in understanding what the Scriptures say about the relation of civil and spiritual authority. In this passage, we see that civil government is ordained by God to punish evil, and preserve the peace in a society. It even goes as far as to call government servants ministers of God! Obviously, they do not always live up to it, but that is God’s ideal nonetheless.
In light of this, there are a number of people in the Bible that God specifically called to work for change in the political and governmental arena. This includes men and women such as Joseph (Genesis 41:39-41), Deborah (Judges 5:1-7), Gideon (Judges 6:11-14), Samuel (1 Samuel 3:1-19), David (1 Samuel 16:1-13), Nehemiah (Nehemiah 1:1-11) and Daniel (Daniel 1:4-6; 18-21).
The call to serve in a government leadership capacity can be just as real as the calling to pastor a church, but keep in mind they are two separate and distinct callings. Each one requires its own unique set of giftings and anointings and when one tries to cross into the other it often does more harm than good.
Martin Luther King wisely told us that “The Church is neither the master of the state nor the servant of the state rather it is the conscience of the state” and when church leaders allow themselves to become tools of political parties that influence can be seriously compromised.
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