I’d like to address all of the pastors and other leaders of local churches. If you are not a pastor, please read this, then share it with your pastor.
Everyone seems to agree that this is an election like no other in modern times. It’s more uncertain than ever how it will turn out, whether both sides will accept the results — even whether we will have a peaceful transition of power.
Pastors tell me that they have never seen an election season sow such anxiety and fear, anger and conflict, and real depression within their congregations and among individuals who come to see them for help as spiritual leaders or counselors.
So I am writing this to you, the pastors and spiritual leaders of congregations of Christians all across America. I am asking about your pastoral and prophetic responsibilities as we approach this historic election with potential consequences that we have never seen before in our lifetimes.
I want to ask you some questions. Hard questions. Questions I think are incumbent on pastors to answer. First, I want to ask what you think the gospel issues are in this election. Should Christians vote on those issues as best they can? What are your obligations to make public what you think about these questions?
The big question I am asking is this: Do you believe that racism is an issue that cuts to the heart of the gospel? Are we, as Christians, called to be “ambassadors” for Christ’s reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:20) and does that include racial reconciliation, equity, and healing?
If your answer to those questions is yes, do you believe that racial bigotry has been spoken, used, fueled, and manipulated in this election? If so, are you willing to speak to that on this last Sunday before this election?
If you are a white pastor, have you listened to what our black and brown brothers and sisters in Christ are saying — that they are even more afraid for the safety of their children depending on the outcome of this election? What do the stories and the experiences of Christians of color in America mean to white American Christians; what do they mean to pastors? Are we really all part of the body of Christ in America? When 1 Corinthians 12:26 says, “when one part of the body suffers, we all suffer,” is that true of the white members of the body of Christ in America when the black and brown body of Christ is suffering?
Is it painful to you, given the gospel issues above, that the body of Christ in America is so racially divided when it comes to how they will vote on Nov. 8?
Most of the polls suggest right now that a majority of white voters in America, including a majority of white Christian voters, will cast their ballots for Donald Trump. In dramatic contrast, based on continuous polling, an overwhelming majority of African-American, Hispanic, and Asian-American Christians will vote against him. There is an enormous racial divide in America when it comes to voting on Nov. 8 — one that extends to our churches.
Please, let’s not try to evade this issue by calling it partisan. The Republican Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, who is also a devout Catholic, has labeled some of Donald Trump’s statements as textbook racism. Other Republican elected officials have received significant votes from people of color, and have called for a broader more open party that looks like America.
Conservative columnist and former Bush advisor Michael Gerson went beyond Ryan’s words:
This is, in House Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s words, “the textbook definition of a racist comment.” But it is not materially more bigoted than the central premise of Trump’s campaign: that foreigners and outsiders are exploiting, infiltrating and adulterating the real America. How is attacking the impartiality of a judge worse than characterizing undocumented Mexicans as invading predators intent on raping American women? Or pledging to keep all Muslim migrants out of the country? .... Is Trump himself a racist? Who the bloody hell cares? There is no difference in public influence between a politician who is a racist and one who appeals to racist sentiments with racist arguments. The harm to the country — measured in division and fear — is the same, whatever the inner workings of Trump’s heart.
Isn’t it time for pastors across the political spectrum to say that racism is a gospel issue and oppose that racial bigotry in the public square?
Further, isn’t misogyny also a gospel issue for us? In the wake of Trump’s Access Hollywood video, women across the political and theological spectrum have spoken out about their experiences of sexual aggression from men, some for the first time. These women are in your congregations. These women may be you. What is your responsibility as pastor when a potential leader of this nation brags about sexually assaulting women, retraumatizing the very women sitting in your pews? These are often taboo subjects in churches — that needs to change.
And isn’t it time to stop glossing over these gospel issues to make the only thing that matters the incredibly complex issue of abortion? As I wrote in my column last week, most of us Christians affirm life from womb to tomb, but many of us reject a particular and highly polarized Supreme Court political strategy as the only or best way to uphold the dignity of life and to significantly reduce abortions. In fact, other pathways have already been shown to be more effective in actually reducing the number of abortions. Abandoning every other moral matter is leading Christians into utter hypocrisy.
Russell Moore, the President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, put it well recently when he said:
The life issue cannot flourish in a culture of misogyny and sexual degradation. The life issue cannot flourish when you have people calling for the torture and murder of innocent non-combatants. The life issue cannot flourish when you have people who have given up on the idea that character matters. If you lose an election you can live to fight another day and move on, but if you lose an election while giving up your very soul then you have really lost it all … When you have someone who is standing up race baiting, racist speech, using immigrants and others in our communities in the most horrific ways and we say ‘that doesn’t matter’ and we are part of the global body of Christ simply for the sake of American politics, and we expect that we are going to be able to reach the nations for Christ? I don’t think so, and so I think we need to let our yes be yes and our no be no and our never be never.
The racial divide among Christians, which will be painfully revealed next Tuesday, deeply concerns me. Most black pastors in America have already spoken repeatedly to the issues of racial bigotry in this election, but most white pastors have yet to speak out, even a week before the election. There are a variety of reasons: fearing to divide or split mostly white congregations, invocation of a longstanding principle of not endorsing political candidates from the pulpit (a history that many of us share), or a real hesitancy to bring “politics” into their churches. But pastors can and should say what we must be “against” and what are “for” for gospel reasons, not political ones.
Many pastors have legitimate issues and concerns. But let me suggest three things.
1. It is very appropriate and urgently necessary, in such a time as this, to teach our people what the most basic Christian principles and values are in an election like this. Sojourners and other organizations have published voting guidelines on critical matters that never mention a candidate. Barbara Williams Skinner’s “4 Guidelines for Voting While Christian” addresses these crucial issues from the perspective of a black woman who works with black clergy across the country. Let our pulpits be full of Christian principles and guidelines for voting on the last Sunday before the election.
2. If pastors really love their people, they need to preach the gospel to them. The truth about racial and gender bigotry in this election campaign must be spoken. The danger felt by our black brothers and sisters in Christ is a truth that must be lifted up and shared — because these are “gospel issues.”
3. Apart from pulpits, pastors can speak publicly for themselves, about why they are going to vote, and what they are going to vote against and for in this upcoming election. Of course, candidates are always deeply flawed and their platforms highly imperfect, but with so much at stake, we all have to make difficult choices. Pastors can speak publicly, act personally, and say what they will do to all the people they influence and need to hear their voice.
My strong belief is there is much more at stake in this election than just politics. There are fundamental moral choices involving intellectual and moral fitness, temperamental dangers, moral or amoral character, abilities to resolve deadly conflicts, respect for and treatment of women, and whether there will be a safe and thriving place for all of God’s diverse children in America’s future. With all that is at stake in this election, we just can’t have silence from our pastors. It is both our prophetic and pastoral duty to speak. That’s what I will be praying for this Sunday.