Last week President Trump signed an executive order on "Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty." This order, among other things, states that the Trump Administration will not enforce the Johnson Amendment that forbids non-profit organizations from endorsing political parties and candidates. In short, churches and pastors now have the legal freedom to endorse a political candidate in local, state, and national elections (although this Order does not guarantee that they will not be prosecuted for doing so in the future - see here). Joe Carter has written a very helpful piece that explains in more detail what is accomplished by this Executive Order.
Although this Order gives churches and pastors the freedom to become more visibly and publicly involved in the process of political campaigns, as a pastor, I have no intention of endorsing a political candidate or backing a particular party as part of my ministry, and nor will Riverview Baptist Church do so as a non-profit entity. There are at least three very clear reasons why:
1. It might be a stumbling block.
We live in a polarized political world where most people are clearly on one side of an issue or the other, and support either this candidate or the other, and never between the two shall meet. In other words, everyone has their opinion and is sticking to it - no matter what. It would seem unwise to me, then, when in the position to be a minister of the gospel, that I would cloud that message with an endorsement of a political candidate. Such an endorsement may hinder someone who disagrees with my candidate of preference from hearing the message that I really want to declare: the gospel. In other words, if I endorse a republican candidate from the pulpit, it's going to be hard for democrats to hear the gospel, and vice versa. If there will be a stumbling block in front of a person, it will be the word of God, not the pastor's political persuasions. I don't want to put any stumbling block of my own creation that does not come from the Bible in front of a person who needs to hear the greatest news ever given. For this reason, I will gladly sacrifice my right to endorse a candidate from the pulpit.
2. The marriage between the church and politics has largely left the church weak and ineffective.
In my opinion, much of the present weakness in the American church is the result of its close association with political parties. Far too many Christians have put their hope in the government for their salvation, believing that elected officials have the power to enact biblical change. This is not true, nor is it the role that God intends for government to perform. Additionally, far too many Christians have abdicated the work that the Bible clearly calls the church to accomplish, and has left that work up to the government. The church has given up much of its authority to the government, and has looked to government programs to achieve change instead of the gospel, leaving it weak and ineffective. The results of this marriage have been tragic. Since the church has abdicated its work to the government, many of America's 300,000+ protestant churches have become entertainment centers that focus on life-enhancement rather than the gospel. The endorsement of political candidates from the pulpit would only further this weakness.
3. The church is a divine entity created by God - not a political party.
The church is distinct from all other institutions in the history of the world. We are the called-out-ones; the disparate band of sinners redeemed by a great Savior. We come from a variety of backgrounds, cultures, political persuasions, and every other qualifier imaginable. We are to partner with God in his mission to bring the gospel to every corner of the earth. In this process we are to call all people to repentance and faith - from the lowliest peasant to the highest king or president. We are to call all politicians and political parties to repentance - not to get into bed with the party we prefer and call the other one to repentance. To endorse a candidate or party would muddy the waters of knowing what the church is and its purpose in the world.
All of this being said, the church is still bound by God to address topics and issues that are often political in nature in our culture. We will still talk about moral issues, and we will do our best to speak clearly where the Bible speaks clearly. The influence of the gospel permeates all areas of life - including our engagement with politics. But make no mistake: we don't speak about these issues and take the stances we do because of an allegiance to a political party, but to God. We are ambassadors of God's kingdom, not ambassadors for the kingdoms of the democrat and republican parties. We will endorse the King of kings, and no one else.
As Christians who follow King Jesus, we understand that there are times when we may be called to sacrifice our earthly rights for the sake of the gospel. I, for one, feel that sacrificing the right to endorse a political candidate for the sake of the gospel is a good one to make.