Legal and Political Issues in the Church - Lesson 2

Politics from the Pulpit

In this lesson, you will gain insight into the relationship between religion, politics, and society, and the importance of addressing political matters from a faith-based perspective. You will explore the biblical examples of leaders who engaged with politics, and how the Christian faith calls for seeking justice and righteousness in the public sphere. This lesson will challenge the notion of political silence in religious settings and emphasize the role of Christians in promoting positive change in society, confronting unjust laws, and honoring political leaders who uphold moral values.

Taught by a Team
Taught by a Team
Legal and Political Issues in the Church
Lesson 2
Watching Now
Politics from the Pulpit

Politics from the Pulpit

I. Introduction

II. Scripture's Warrant

III. History Lesson

IV. Response to Common Objections

A. No certainty, no confidence

B. Scripture is designed to equip us for righteousness and every good work

C. Should pastors support specific candidates or leaders from the pulpit?

D. Endorsing political parties

E. Competence and character of a candidate

F. Some people object because they say it causes division

  • Gain insights on how to protect your ministry by creating a detailed statement of faith, establishing religious employment criteria, and understanding anti-discrimination laws, ensuring your church's rights to act on and teach its beliefs.
  • Explore the interplay between religion and politics, learning how Christian faith calls for seeking justice in the public sphere, challenging political silence in religious settings, and promoting positive societal change.

In the United States today, it is important to protect your church from legal liability in areas of ministry, facility use, and membership. Kevin Theriot gives you some direction in how to do this by how you set up your policies, by-laws, and membership agreements.  Dr. Jeffrey Ventrella explains that the Constitution protects the church from the state, and he encourages the church to address both issues and individuals in the political process.

Dr. Jeffrey Ventrella

Legal and Political Issues in the Church


Politics from the Pulpit

Lesson Transcript

[00:00:01] Well, it's a real privilege to be with you today to address what are really a lot of social taboos in our culture, because I'm going to be talking about religion. I'm going to be talking about politics, perhaps even a little bit about sex. But I have to tell you, it's a bit odd how I came to address you through this particular biblical training portal here. I was speaking with Bill and he understood that I was an attorney and asked me if I believed in the United States Constitution. And I said yes. And then he asked me if I believed in the First Amendment, and I said yes. And then he asked me if I believed in free speech. And I told Bill, I said, of course I believe in free speech. And he said, Good, we want you to give one and put it on tape. So here's what you're going to get for the next couple of minutes. Whether one keeps the Christian calendar or not, everyone within the Christian tradition acknowledges two great historical events, Christmas and Easter. These are the events in the times in which we re proclaim and reflect upon the incarnation and the resurrection of the coming of God to man. History is littered with many men who would be God, but there's only one God who became man. He became man. He lived. He died. He rose again. And he ascended. And that fact changes everything, including what we do between the cross and the consummation. But it's not just a generic incarnation of a generic resurrection, because Jesus is not some abstract, generic person. The gospel narratives tell us something critical about this God who became man. For example, Matthew right out of the box tells us that this is the book of genealogy of Jesus Christ.

[00:01:51] And then it has this descriptor, the Son of David. There's a foreshadowing there. When we get into chapter two of Matthew. We see that things are occurring in the days of Herod the King. And then the questions come. He asks, Who is this person born king of the Jews? And again, Matthew tells us it's Herod the king who is making these things happen. And then the prophecy that's quoted is one that specifically tells us that there is going to be one from whom shall come a ruler. And then when John the Baptist gets on stage, he preaches and he has a peculiar message. He says, Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. And indeed, we see Jesus reiterating this same message in Matthew four when he began to preach, saying, Repent. The kingdom of heaven is at hand when Jesus then teaches us to pray. He includes a petition that says, Pray like this, Your kingdom come. And then he tells us that our priority not simply as a matter of sequence, but as priority, should be seeking the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. Or another translation would be justice. And of course, Matthew ends his gospel talking about this sort of power. Jesus says all authority in heaven and on earth has been giving to him, and this would include political authority. Luke is the same way. He begins with speaking of Herod, the King of Judah. The message that is set forth in Luke Chapter four is the good news of the Kingdom of God. Now, with that introduction, let's notice a few things. Matthew and Luke both framed the incarnation in political categories. The coming of a king and his kingdom. Granted, it's a kingdom of a radically different origin than earthly kingdoms.

[00:03:49] But it is a kingdom nevertheless. This kingdom is foreshadowed to be one that clashes with these other earthly kingdoms, and in fact, it eventually does clash with thieves and their rulers. This is in on working of Genesis three and verse 50. In this sense, Jesus coming is inherently political, and the purpose of that coming necessarily involves a clash with existing political and policy notions and the establishment. But aside from this sort of biblical narrative and drama, make no mistake, Jesus is king and he's not running for reelection, and those in Christ have been transferred into his kingdom. Paul makes this clear. And Colossians one when he says, God has delivered us from the domain of darkness and done what transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved son. What then, are the implications for the pulpit, the pulpit of the kingdom, the pulpit that is to honor the King? What does God require? The dressing politics and politicians both from the pulpit. Is that something provocative? Is it something profane? Or is it, in fact, prudent to do so? What does God require? My comments are going to be in three broad strokes. I want to talk about scriptures warrant concerning this topic. Speaking politically from the pulpit, I want to talk very briefly about a history lesson. And then thirdly, I want to address some of the common objections to what I'm going to be saying today. First of all, scripture warrants addressing political leaders. Moses addresses Pharaoh. Moses didn't push back, telling God, Hey, God, I'm a spiritual leader. I can't be involved in these messy political issues. And no, Moses here was advocating for oppressed Jews, Jews who are oppressed by a tyrannical political leader, a tyrannical political order. In the same way Nathan confronted King David.

[00:06:00] There was. And there should be a an institutional separation between church and state. But that does not mean that the church cannot, nor should not address the state and its leaders. Elijah confronts King Ahab. The Prophet Micaiah also confronted King Ahab, and in doing so, Micaiah refuses to be the yes man to this political leader. Merely scratching Ahab's itchy ears. And then we get to the book of Psalms, God's own song book, for example, Psalm two tells us, and calls non Israel leaders, political leaders to kiss the sun. Psalm 58 addresses and confronts political leaders who speak unjustly. Consider Psalm 83 here. That Psalm calls out political leaders who have wronged God's people. And then petitions God to destroy them. Now, note oftentimes God destroys his enemies by converting them. And if we're not proclaiming some of these truths and directing them to the political leaders and their policies, we may be in fact withholding redemption from these precious souls. Or consider the 94 Psalm where it says that wicked leaders frame injustice by statute. The laws that we have are not ethically neutral. The laws embrace some ethical system, and that's important for us to recognize. Question Can we sing Psalms and worship? Can we sing all the Psalms and worship? Can we read the Psalms in worship? Can we read all the Psalms and worship? Well, then I think the answer is yes to all those questions. Well, how odd would it be that we could sing and we can read these things poetically as a congregation, but they are somehow deemed off limits by a man of God, speaking them from the pulpit and applying them from the pulpit. What about the prophets? They often address political leaders, political leaders who violate a myriad of God's dictates for the police, for the political order.

[00:08:14] But these prophets were not limited to addressing only Israel or only Israel's leaders. For example, Daniel confronted never Ezer. And when he did so, God's grace came producing a confession resounding in political terms, He says, the most high is sovereign over the kingdoms of man. And what about the New Testament witness? Well, again, I alluded to John the baptized. But what did he do? Among other things, he confronts Herod, the political leader concerning his violation of God's design for marriage. Jesus calls out calls out Herod Antipas labeling him a fox. Oh, how insensitive. How On Christ, like Jesus, you called the political leader a name? No, he's being prudent at that point. On trial, Jesus reminds Pontius Pilot that pilot would have no authority unless it had been granted to him from above. Echoing the confession of Nebuchadnezzar centuries before. Scripture also records examples of praising or urging political leaders to make the right moral choices. Nehemiah urges King Art Xerxes to allow the Jews to return, and he is praised for doing the right thing. Esther intervened with King Xerxes to prevent the slaughter of innocents. Should not religious leaders in particular pastors be permitted to praise political leaders to do the right things? For example, President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act, the Federal Defense of Marriage Act. That was a good thing. He should be able to be praised even from the pulpit for that. President Clinton also signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. He should be praised for trumpeting religious liberty. And those who follow Jesus are in fact called to engage with the political sphere. For example, Peter, a general epistle, calls all believers to, quote, honor the emperor. Now, how can we learn to increasingly obey this command if we do not know whether or not the Emperor and his policies align with Scripture? We are called commanded, in fact, to pray, to intercede, to give thanks for kings and all those in authority.

[00:10:37] How can we go beyond the generic prayers of dear God bless these people unless we know about them, know about their situations, and know about their lives? For example, when President Clinton committed adultery, should we not have addressed that and pray that God would preserve his marriage, that there would be repentance, reconciliation and forgiveness? Why can't pastors express gratitude for good and faithful leadership, even if that leadership's political? It would be odd if the congregation could privately, but not publicly, pray about such things. And even odder if the pastor can pray about such things as the Scripture makes clear, but not preach about those kinds of things. In addition, we are directed to address public policies that and persons because doing so benefits the common good. Believers are commanded to seek justice. Micah six eight Jesus reinvigorates that by saying we are to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness or justice. Same term believers are commanded to seek the welfare of the city wherever they are. Jeremiah, 29 Seeking justice, exalting righteousness, confronting evil by being salt and light should be the hallmarks and evidences of fidelity to the Christian faith. Between this time in the middle, between the cross and the consummation. Now, where did we ever get the notion that the Christian faith was only about assenting to a list of propositions? The Christian faith is a living faith. It's a faith about living a Christian life, including life in the public square. Christians are saved from something for something. They are saved for good works so that our lights, as Jesus said, would shine before others. That they may see your good works and give glory to your father who is in heaven. Question Is the Christian faith and its perspective irrelevant to matters of the public square? That would be a strange matter indeed.

[00:12:47] If you asked William Wilberforce as he confronted slave trade, as he confronted the institution of slavery. What about Martin Luther King Jr? It would be strange to say that you can't be animated by a law above the law about something that is used to confront unjust laws. And people say, Well, those are political issues. Please note labeling a moral issue. Political does not cease making it a moral issue at root. Well, what about this notion, then, of political silence, particularly in American pulpits? That is a recent partizan invention. We've written about this in a short booklet, which you can find. It's available. It's called Politics and the Pulpit. And what's God's response or what does God require? But basically, this originated out of a political partizan fight. When Senator Lyndon Johnson ran for reelection. A bunch of nonprofit organizations, two in particular, were anti-communist organizations, and they thought Senator Johnson was not sufficiently anti-communist, and they raised money and tried to defeat him. He then got the on a voice vote, the IRS, to change the code. And when they did that, just roped in all these pastors as well and nonprofit organization. It's, in our view, an unconstitutional law and certainly an unjust law. And really it's a new invention. This was not the Christian faith. The history certainly doesn't support that being long term. Well, then finally, we move to the question of what about objections to what you're saying here to this thesis? And before I get to specific objections, I want to note a fundamental issue lurking underneath this discussion, underneath this debate. Is it the state or is it the church who ought to decide the pulpits content? Is the pulpit in fact free? More precisely, is the pulpits God's or is it Caesar's? Because of its gods, we are to render unto God the things that are God.

[00:14:49] And I would also say, before we get to specific objections is a somewhat of a disclaimer. We are not arguing for, nor do I support mindless political partizanship. Being dispensed from the pulpit or peddled from the pulpit. That's not what we're talking about. But we are talking about saying, is there an area in which we can apply the scriptures when they apply to the public square, particularly as to political issues and their leaders? So let's go on to there's basically three categories of objections here. One of them is this I call it the no certainty, no confidence. Objection. Here's the assertion. A pastor's words are designed to divide the church from the world. That is the idea anyway. And so the objection goes on. A pastor could be uncertain as to a political matter and therefore should rarely, if ever, address policies or candidates. It's again, no certainty. I don't have confidence argument. How do we assess that sort of an objection? First of all, every time a pastor says anything, whether political or not, he could be mistaken. More problematic, how confident or how certain must one be before we could say anything? How could we measure that? Who would be the person to measure that? Now, as I mentioned before, wisdom is always at issue here, or at least it should be. But wisdom should never be an excuse to gag a pastor from applying all of God's word to all matters to all of life. The objection, moreover, implies that addressing political matters somehow deviates from proclaiming the gospel. That's a very pious sounding objection, but it's really an erroneous platitude. This, in fact, is not Paul's understanding of the gospel. What Paul talks about is that ethics in the public square apply to particular actors applied to people aligns with the faithful application of the gospel.

[00:16:54] Here's just one indicia of that. First Timothy one, verse eight and following. Now we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully. Understanding this that the law is not laid down for the just, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers for murderers. The sexually immoral men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjury, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine in accordance with the glorious gospel. Here we see there's no conflict between law and gospel. Scripture, moreover, is designed to equip people for righteousness and every good work. Does the public square need righteousness? Yes. Is politics a good work? Yes, Paul would say in another place. Romans 13. So these matters, good works and righteousness form the very core of being salt and light and should be a sort of directional beam of our conduct. And that conduct that is those good works are ethical in nature. They draw lines. This means that they also have political implications. Ethics in the law written on the heart and then applied to all of life. That is drawing and applying distinctions between the moral and the immoral forms, the very essence of the New covenant effectuated by the means of Christ's life, death, resurrection and ascension. That's Jeremiah 30 one's burden. Failing to address such matters withholds God's full word from the flock. Now, if a pastor refuses to do this from the pulpit, he is not faithfully executing all his calling. A moral or ethical matter labeled political again does not cease being a moral matter that would benefit from the light of God's word. Now, sometimes the objector asserts this point in a little different way.

[00:18:56] He or she will say, Should pastors support or oppose political candidates or leaders from the pulpit? But this sort of formulation prejudices the question. The real issue is whether a pastor's liberty to address moral matters should be combined by the state and its policies. Moral matters necessarily include both issues and people. Both private matters and public matters. Issues don't repent. People do. You've got to be able to address people from the pulpit. The second objection is similar. It's this. Well, maybe we can talk about issues, but candidates never we can't talk about political candidates from the pulpit. Basically, this objection creates a false, in my view, palsy dichotomy. It contends that addressing issues materially differs from addressing particular candidates. It deems that addressing candidates is problematic and even pernicious. This is erroneous for a number of reasons. So how do we assess this objection? How do institutions, including political institutions, operate and address matters? They do so via agents. Those agents or persons issues are, in other words, effectuated by persons. We cannot coherently divorce the agent from the issue because the agent is the actor who effectuate or shapes the issue. Often link to this objection is the assertion that when candidates are considered, the issues are complex and this somehow precludes addressing persons. Candidates may have a myriad of issues are addressing. We can't just focus or sit on a candidate because they have a lot of different issues and those issues are complex. This idea also is mistaken in the first place. This contention fallacious, assumes a moral equivalency among issues. This is plainly false. A candidate who wants to close, for example, pregnancy resource centers is different from one who simply wants to raise tax increment financing percentages. The issues, in fact, could be complex, but they are not morally equivalent.

[00:21:12] And some issues such as those predicated or on or derived from the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments define the weightier matters of the law. After all, Jesus tells us that the greatest in the Kingdom of God, the greatest. Follow and teach others to follow the very law of God. Therefore, if the issues emanate from or derive from the Decalogue, we can be pretty sure they're pretty important to God. The public application of the commandments beyond the congregation. In addition, every matter may be complex in some sense, and yet a leader's very job, a pastor is very job is to discern. In a Hebrews five sense to discern, not avoid the complexities in God's fallen but redeemed world, and then to address them using the whole counsel of God. That was Paul's counsel to the elders. And Acts 20 Objectors also claim, though, that while on an occasion an issue can be addressed, somehow, the pastor ought not to explicitly endorse or oppose a particular candidate. Now, how does this distinction make a moral difference to purported justification that in the literature is that, well, there can be a direct application from a scriptural principle to an issue. Because it aligns with a particular standard. Somehow they say that that's different from addressing a candidate. Remember, a direct application of a scriptural principle may very well directly mean not supporting the persons who hold those particular unchristian principles. Paul and John, do this as we'll see. And the underlying principle, Paul and John use is no where limited to theological issues or dealing with those kinds of things. It's a very broad principle. In addition, sheep may draw inferences from sermons. At least we hope that's what they would do. That's called applying the Word of God to say that preaching scripture does not apply to persons effectuating issues, but only to the issues themselves.

[00:23:20] Therefore, is to truncate scriptures, witness and scriptures intent. The pastor is not somehow safe or faithful. If he only draws a scriptural line to a key issue, but omits naming names, so to speak. They put it in a less abstract perspective. Suppose a congregate since and since in a way he or she is addressing or living out a public issue. How can he learn? Or she learned to repent? Absent spiritual guidance from the pulpit. Is our pulpit and our public political life to remain un sanctified by Scripture? Is our political life including our voting a zone of supposed neutrality? Scripture would say no. What if these matters are addressed in a Sunday school class? Can a pastor at that point name names but not during his sermon? That makes no sense. On what principal basis? Let's consider another example. What if a political candidate or an office holder is a member of a pastor's congregation and that candidate sins publicly and sins gravely? Presumably the pastor and the elders would, at some point in the discipline process, deem identifying the unrepentant candidate as a proper step of church discipline. Now, somehow the application of scripture to a public person magically becomes improper if the person is not a member of the preacher's congregation or if he or she is a member of a different congregation or nor congregation at all. This distinction is arbitrary and thus unreliable and shouldn't be a guide to what is spoken from the pulpit. Positively put Scripture often calls out actors by name, warning the faithful to avoid them and thus not support them. For example, Alexander Hyman is. They are. These are people that are called out and told. We are told to avoid them. Naming names enjoys biblical warrant as to individuals as shown previously.

[00:25:32] This applies to political actors as well. Many objectors either ignore the scriptural evidence or dismiss it with some type of special pleading. Well, then what about this notion of endorsing political parties? Some people have said that, boy, people could maybe even endorse political parties. I think, again, wisdom has to be the key issue here. But in and of itself, it's not improper to name political parties. For example, Jesus names party names as well. Look at the letters to the churches in Revelation two and three. Jesus identifies parties with whom the church members are affiliated and then commend them, commands them to repent and disassociate from those particular parties. And of course, we see that the Pharisees, the Herodian, the sad Jaycees, the Sanhedrin and Roman officials are all collectively addressed, that is to say, addressed as groups or as parties as well. There's nothing in the Scripture that says you can't address particular collectives or groups of people deeming candidates off limits. Also, missiles, an entire category of what the Bible addresses and thereby artificially truncates crucial biblical considerations. Here's what I'm getting at. Scripture is concerned not only with issues, but also with the person, the leader himself, irrespective of the issues. And so we need to ask the question, what about a candidate's competence? Is this biblically off limits? Certainly, if a pastor knows that a gaping defect exists in a candidate's competence for a particular position, he ought to seek the welfare of the city. Jeremiah 29. By alerting the congregation to that defect, we should not elect deaf and blind folks to serve as health inspectors. Similarly, this sort of objection overlooks a candidate's character, a pastor who remains silent, thereby withholds good from the city if he knows that a particular candidate lacks the character to hold a position of responsibility, trust and leadership.

[00:27:41] For example, Deuteronomy 16 calls out those who take bribes and say they shouldn't be leaders. We see this also, for example, illustrated by King, who Zion's prime. He should not be a king, and it led to ruin. Thus, aside from specific policy matters, an aside from candidates who support or oppose particular policy matters, the candidate as a person may lack the competence and or the character suitable for holding office and exercising leadership. Limiting preaching to issues and not addressing persons as persons, therefore, is necessarily incomplete. And finally, we have another objection. It causes division. The objectors contend that division may result from a pastor naming names. How do we assess this objection? Well, at the outset, analytically, this objection is fallacious in that it commits the false cause fallacy, post hoc, ergo prompter hoc, as well as committing a hasty generalization error, that is to say, reaching a conclusion on insufficient evidence. Moreover, this point actually cuts both ways. What about division quote caused quote by a pastor who refuses to address a prominent cultural issue, an issue that in fact could challenge, could constrict or even censor the church's ability to do what it's called to do. That, too, could cause division. A pastor silence can just as easily precipitate division as well as threaten the congregation's ability to do what it's called to do. And according to the Apostle Paul, Division is not necessarily bad. Division can be a means by which the faithful are made evident. First Corinthians 11. Accordingly, invoking the Unity card without offering more provides no guidance to the questions at hand. Now, why is that? Because every assertion made from the pulpit potentially precipitates disunity, does it not? At some level, if three people depart from a 6000 member congregation, would that be deemed inappropriate division? What if two departed? What if one departed? You can see the reductio in that kind of analysis.

[00:29:58] This entire analytic thread therefore unwinds because it manifestly lacks a sound principle basis. Thus, this point comprises a classic. A red herring fallacy as well as distracts from the original topic. Solomon said it well when he said Those who forsake the law praise the wicked, but those who keep the law strive against them by refusing to name names and instead by counseling silence. These objectors are by default, not design. But they are by default, orienting pastors and their flocks to ultimately praise the wicked. And this should not be exposing evil, including those who do evil is part of what Christians are called to do. Ephesians five While many objectors may be well-intended and are oftentimes prompted by wise pastoral concern, silencing the pulpit, especially when bowing to Caesar's desires or Caesar's edicts fails to comport with robust biblical fidelity. In conclusion, Jesus is King of Kings. Jesus is Lord of Lords. That's about as political as one could be. His faithful followers must take every thought captive, including political thoughts to this king. Preaching is not exempt from this command. In fact, preaching should be emblematic of it. Thank you for your kind attention.