We find ourselves in an interesting election cycle once again, and one of the perennial highlights is the march to the African-American churches and clergy. Elected officials and candidates, who never set foot in a worship service, all of a sudden clamor to find willing clergy that allow them to stand in front of a congregation. Jesus gets pushed aside, if for a moment, so that political aspirations can be entertained. And when the smoke clears, pastors endorse candidates.
Much has been made recently over endorsements. One of my colleagues, in this space, affirmed the need to be involved in the political process but stopped short in affirming specific, endorsed support from pastors. He felt that our job was to educate. Another colleague said, “It’s disingenuous for a group of Black Christian preachers to say that a Jew can’t effectively represent Black folks in Congress. A Jew has been effectively representing us in Heaven for 2,000 years. #HushSitDownAndStudy”.
I’ve had conversation with the first colleague, and while I agree with much of what he said, we must always be ready to move from theory to application. In other words, after we teach, we then must act. Because of our conversation, I’m having this dialog with you through this medium to connect the two.
The second colleague shaped his comment around false information, for no one said – neither candidate or those present – that Congressman (Steve) Cohen could not effectively serve because he’s Jewish. By the way – I was there; the second colleague wasn’t. Mr. (Ricky) Wilkins kept race and religion out of the conversation. He even said, “If you like Steve Cohen, you’ll love Ricky Wilkins.” I pray that we as clergy won’t create smoke or fire where it is unnecessary.
In the time I have left, let me get to where we are going. As you read this, I’m sure you have at least two questions. One is, “Does my political choice, as a Christian, have any bearing on my salvation?” The second question is, “Should my pastor be able to support particular candidates?” And here is an extra question: “How then, as a Christian, should I determine who to vote for?”
The truth is that Christians fall across the political spectrum, from Republicans to Democrats. If you read Scripture closely, you will see that there is no “political affiliation” requirement. That also carries over to candidates. Supporting a candidate is a choice, and every voter has a right to his or her choice. Following this line of thinking, every pastor has a right to support a candidate. This also means, however, that the parishioner can either follow or not follow their pastor’s lead on this issue. Many times, due to the relationship, a parishioner will heed the guidance of a pastor in most things. It then is up to us as pastors to prayerfully lead as we make all decisions, even secular ones.
This brings us to the last question. The answer to this one brings proper perspective on it and the others.
The Bible in Jeremiah 29:5-7 says, “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (NIV)
The text implies active participation in one’s community. As a Christian, we should be concerned about our community in every aspect. From education to crime, from economic development to job growth and quality of life, the Christian – and the church – must help to shape both conversation and action. In addition, a part of the Old Testament witness was looking out for the poor, and being fair and just in one’s dealings. When one looks at this, he or she should then look at the candidate whom they feel best embodies this ideal and vote for him or her.
If the candidate is an incumbent, you must ask how their action – or inaction – has affected their constituents, and how their decisions have affected the prosperity of those whom they serve. If the candidate is a challenger, they must be able to tell you how will they address those issues. And every candidate must know the job description of the seat they seek.
This consideration should also go for political affiliation. For me, after I examined both parties, the Democrats, for me, came closest to my Christian beliefs because, among several things, of their consideration of the “least of these.”’
I suggest that when we view the newspaper through the lens of the Bible, while looking at our context, we can make credible choices. We must also do our own research on the candidates. It isn’t that time consuming, but it is necessary, for in this way, we can separate fact from fiction.
One thing is certain – to not choose a candidate and not to vote is a choice. The difference is that you let someone else make the choice for you.
(The Rev. Dr. Noel G. L. Hutchinson Jr., is pastor of First Baptist Church Lauderdale, an author and a television show host.)