Pastors on politics: biblical, not controversial
Five Southern Baptist pastors explained to Ronnie Floyd, now former SBC president, during the afternoon session how they handle political issues in their churches. The panel discussion -- titled "Pastors and the Church in American Politics Today" and moderated by Floyd -- came during a tumultuous election season that has found many Southern Baptists and other evangelical Christians dismayed at their presidential options from the major parties.
"I do not try to be controversial; I want to be biblical," said A.B. Vines, senior pastor of New Seasons Church in Spring Valley, Calif., and a past president of the National African American Fellowship (NAAF) of the SBC.
"I want to give them the Word of God," Vines said, adding he teaches the people of New Seasons Church "to trust God in these moments."
David McKinley, pastor/teacher of Warren Baptist Church in Augusta, Ga., echoed Vines, saying, "I don't want to add to the controversy. I want to help people to think biblically."
He seeks to teach "that every one of us -- Republican, Democrat, whoever we are -- are to come under the authority of Scripture. And I think if we preach that and teach that, we will be an equal opportunity offender in what we do."
Hance Dilbeck, senior pastor of Quail Springs Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, said he hears "a lot of disappointment" from church members with their choices for president.
"It's almost like an expression of grief," he said. "I can see all the five stages, you know, anger and denial and bargaining and depression and acceptance.
"[W]hat they're grieving is at least the loss of perceived cultural dominance, where Bible-believing people were a majority that could exercise political power and always win the day," Dilbeck told Floyd.
While Americans have "tremendous political tools," Christians "have so focused on those tools that some of our spiritual muscles have atrophied, and we've gotten weak when it comes to prayer and to purity and to proclamation of the Gospel," he said. "[Pastors] have this great opportunity to call our people back to the kind of biblical, spiritual influence that is always going to be our primary influence."
The presumptive presidential nominees -- Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump -- have prompted some Southern Baptists and evangelicals to declare they can vote for neither major candidate. They find Clinton unacceptable because of her support of abortion rights and government funding of abortion, as well as other liberal policies. They reject Trump based on his inconsistent positions on such issues as abortion, religious liberty and immigration; autocratic inclinations; insult-laden rhetoric; and a lifestyle marked by adultery.
Refusing to vote is not an option, said Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas.
"You can't sit this one out. You can't say, 'I'm not going to participate.' The stakes are too high," said Graham, a former SBC president.
"Isn't it great to know, number one, that God is not in heaven wondering, 'What am I going to do with Donald or Hillary?,'" he said, adding, however, Christians are responsible to act in the election. "[W]e simply must not abdicate our responsibility to pray, to participate, to vote and, as pastors and leaders in our churches, to encourage others to do the same."
He is focusing on three primary considerations in determining how to vote in this presidential election, Graham said: (1) A candidate who will seek God's wisdom in making Supreme Court nominations; (2) someone who will support the sanctity of human life; and (3) a person who will defend religious liberty.
K. Marshall Williams, senior pastor of Nazarene Baptist Church in Philadelphia, Pa., and another former NAAF president, said the church needs to be "passionately praying" for those in authority.
Also, he said, Christians should "maintain a collective, incarnational, redemptive presence in the church and in the culture." The church should not only address such issues as the sanctity of life and religious freedom, but "attack systemic racism and injustice in our land," Williams said, and "be concerned about the pipeline from school to prison, that one out of every three African-American men are tied to the criminal justice system."
In addition to being biblical in his approach, McKinley said he seeks to be: (1) "instructional and not just emotional;" (2) "pastoral and not just simply be political;" (3) "convictional, not just informational;" and (4) "hopeful and not cynical."
All five pastors encouraged Christians to run for local offices. He prays God "would raise up men and women to go into public office of moral courage," Williams said.
Floyd opened the session by encouraging pastors and other Christian leaders not to be judgmental of one another during this election season. "Disagreement does not have to result in a strained relationship with a brother or sister in Christ, especially over politics," he said.