NC Family President John L. Rustin speaks with Thomas Graham, NC Family’s Pastor Outreach Director, about why it is so important for Christians, pastors and churches to engage in the political process.
INTRODUCTION: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. Our guest today is Pastor Thomas Graham, Pastor Outreach Director for our very own North Carolina Family Policy Council.
Today, as the 2016 General Election quickly approaches, we are going to be talking with Thomas about why it is so important for Christians, pastors and churches to engage in the political process.
There are a lot of misconceptions that suggest pastors and churches cannot get involved, but Thomas has spent the last year connecting specifically with pastors and Community Impact Team leaders in churches across North Carolina to equip them and to help them better understand the role and the responsibility we all have to be engaged.
People and groups of faith are indispensible to the proper working of our society and our political process, and I am excited that Thomas and I have the opportunity today to talk about this.
JOHN RUSTIN: Thomas, welcome to Family Policy Matters.It’s great to have you on the show.
THOMAS GRAHAM: Thank you John. It’s wonderful to be in the studio with you.
JOHN RUSTIN: Thomas, you serve as the Pastor Outreach Director for NC Family. First of all, tell our listeners about the Vision and Mission of NC Family and what your role is in helping us to fulfill that mission.
THOMAS GRAHAM: The vision of NC Family is one that we’ve adopted from our national partner, and that partner is the Family Policy Alliance, and it is to have “a nation where God is honored, where religious freedom flourishes, where families thrive and life is cherished.” And of course the mission of NC Family is to equip North Carolina families to bring that vision to fruition, to be voices of persuasion for family values in their communities. We’re all about engaging pro-family citizens in North Carolina and effectively motivating them to act both socially and even politically in support of candidates and policies that undergird life and family and religious freedom. And my role, which I consider to be a real privilege in this mission, is to work with pastors and congregations in North Carolina to help advance the causes that really do matter most to Christian and even socially conservative families. I believe my 30-plus years as a pastor and my 44 years as a husband and father, and now even a grandfather of four grandchildren, have prepared me well for this role, John.
JOHN RUSTIN: Thomas, it’s a real privilege and an honor to have you as a member of our team, and a valuable member at that, and we will be getting in, during our discussion, to many of the things that you mentioned. But, let’s start with this: what, if anything, does Scripture tell us about the obligation that men and women of faith have to be engaged in the culture and in the political and public policy arena?
THOMAS GRAHAM: John, I believe the bible has a lot to say about this. In fact, from my years of reading the scriptures, I firmly believe that influencing government for good on the basis of the wisdom found in God’s own words, that’s a theme that runs throughout the entire Bible. There’s quite a number of positive examples in the scriptures of men and women of faith who were engaged in their culture and brought significant influence to bear on governments and their government leaders. Think, if you will, of Joseph, Moses, Daniel, Nehemiah, Mordecai, Esther. We could go on from there. In the New Testament, we have a courageous examples of John the Baptist and Paul the apostle. In Matthew chapter 5 in verse 13, I think we find some very powerful words from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He gave two very powerful metaphors regarding our obligation to be engaged in the culture and public policy decisions. He spoke of salt and He spoke of light. Salt is, as you know, a preservative, that works only when it penetrates into food. What He was saying, I believe, to His followers is that they are to penetrate society and preserve it from the evil that is inherent in society, that is a society of ungodly men and women whose unredeemed natures are corrupted by sin. But there’s something else about salt that we all enjoy, that is salt also enhances flavor. What Jesus also desires of His followers, I take that to mean, is that we’re to enhance the flavor of life in this world. For example: where there is strife, we’re to be peacemakers; where there is sorrow, we’re to be the ministers of Christ, bringing hope and encouragement; and of course, wherever we find hatred, and we see a lot of that in the world these days, wherever there’s hatred we are to exemplify the love of God in Christ. And then similarly, light penetrates darkness doesn’t it?
JOHN RUSTIN: It does.
THOMAS GRAHAM: I take that to mean we don’t just live out our faith inside the walls of our churches and our homes. Jesus says that’s as senseless as lighting a lamp and then putting that lamp under a basket. All of this tells me that Christians should be active in culture. That we have a responsibility to be proactive in society and address issues whenever possible before harm takes place. That means supporting and promoting institutions that are good both for individuals and for society. And I can’t think of a single institution better than the family for promoting the interest of a society at large. And so, John, that’s the kind of broad view that we must take to live out a Christian response in our culture.
JOHN RUSTIN: That’s a great insight Thomas, and I really appreciate the fact that you referenced Matthew 5 and those verses. And I would actually go a bit further and encourage our listeners to take out their Bibles and read Matthew, chapter 5, in the context of what we’re talking about today. And I would also point them, in addition to verses 13 and 14 that you mentioned, where Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world.” Look at the two verses immediately preceding that where after He talks through the beatitudes. He says “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you, because of me. Rejoice and be glad because great is your reward in heaven. For, in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” And, what were the prophets doing? They were speaking truth; they were being salt and light in the culture speaking truth to who?
THOMAS GRAHAM: To society.
JOHN RUSTIN: To society, but more specifically to the political leaders of the day.
THOMAS GRAHAM: Correct.
JOHN RUSTIN: And so Jesus, before he enters into the the salt and light verses that are so frequently referenced, he says “Blessed are you, rejoice, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” And those prophets again were speaking truth into the culture, and specifically to the leaders of the day. And so I think that is an absolute admonition to us that this is what we are to be doing as part of our, and a very important part of our personal ministries. And that’s very much what we do here at the NC Family Policy Council.
Thomas, as a pastor for 30 years yourself, what do you believe is the biggest misconception or misunderstanding that pastors and churches have about political engagement, and how do you address those concerns as you’re talking with pastors and church leaders about these misconceptions?
THOMAS GRAHAM: That’s a great question John, and as I’ve travelled this wonderful state of ours, this great state of North Carolina, I’ve had the opportunity to have a lot of discussions with pastors and associate pastors, and members of their staff. And I would say one of the biggest misconceptions, or perhaps misunderstandings, is that pastors and their congregations are only to be concerned with evangelism and discipleship, not get involved in politics. That somehow politics is dirty and we should stay clear of that. There’s a sense that I’ve gathered that in some cases pastors and members of their churches seem to think the gospel just does not allow for politics, that it’s not our mission, that our mission is all about salvation. And I’m all for winning the lost and evangelizing, but the number one problem in America is indeed a spiritual problem, there’s no question about that, but that by itself does not exempt us from our political responsibilities. The primary goal of the church, I recognize, is not to become a political movement, but a spiritual influence, and we both know that politics won’t save America anymore than a dumbbell with save someone from drowning. Nevertheless, John, we just simply cannot ignore our God-given civic responsibility and the enormous impact that politics has on our society.
JOHN RUSTIN: Thomas, there are a lot of different ways for people of faith and their pastors and church communities to be actively engaged in the political process. And there are certainly good ways to do that without entering into overt political action, like endorsing candidates and/or political parties. What are some of the ways individuals, pastors, and churches can engage in order to make a difference in an appropriate and a legal fashion?
THOMAS GRAHAM: Good question. Well obviously, one of the very first ways people can get involved and begin really making a difference in the culture is simply by voting. And I’m very pleased to tell our listeners that once again for this upcoming election in 2016 the North Carolina Family Policy Council has prepared Voter Guides. As you know John, we’ve heard from citizens across the state about how frustrated many of them are over the lack of information about candidates who are running for elected office. And, of course if you listen to the television ads and the radio ads you only hear what they want you to hear. And so for us to be able to provide the kind of information on what candidates really think about the issues that matter to us all, it’s just a joy to announce that we’re making available once again this year the 2016 General Election Voter Guide for the citizens of this great state of North Carolina.
JOHN RUSTIN: And in that Voter Guide Thomas, we’ve surveyed all the candidates that are running in North Carolina for the US Senate, the US House, Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Council of State, the State Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals, and the entire state legislature. So we’ve surveyed over 340 candidates asking them, very specifically, their positions on a wide range of issues dealing with religious liberties, sanctity of life, parental rights, choice in education, tax policy, and a variety of other things, to ensure that citizens have the information that they need when they go to vote to be well informed. And it’s an incredibly valuable resource and something that we’re very very pleased to provide as a public service to the state of North Carolina, and we’re grateful to our supporters who enable us to provide that resource. But, it still remains true that there are a lot of voters who are frustrated by a lack of available information, especially if they don’t access resources like our Voter Guide, the lack of available information about the candidates, and quite frankly in some cases about simply the lack of candidates they have to choose from. This frustration often leads to voter apathy, and far too often leads some, including Christians we know, to simply choose not to vote. Thomas, in your opinion, is sitting out an election an appropriate response to these kinds of frustrations?
THOMAS GRAHAM: Not in my view, John. I think that would be a neglect of one’s responsibility to just turn aside and behave in a way that is less than is what is expected of us as Americans. One of the things we have to keep in mind always, we have been given one of the most gracious and good gifts that any nation could ever have been given, and that is the freedom and the liberty to vote for those who would lead us. And if we neglect that responsibility, then I believe we will receive a type of government that is much less than we deserve, much less than we prefer.
JOHN RUSTIN: That’s a great way to put it, and so we just want to encourage our listeners to make sure that they do get a copy of the North Carolina Family Policy Voter Guide, and we’re going to let you know how to do that in just a minute, but you can also order them for distribution at your church, in your community, in your neighborhood, and so please be sure to avail yourselves of that opportunity and that information.
Thomas, where can our where can our listeners go to get a copy of the North Carolina Family Policy Council’s 2016 General Election Voter Guide and order them also for distribution at their church, for their community, civic groups, and other outlets?
THOMAS GRAHAM: I’m glad to be asked that question John. We have a fantastic website and anyone that has visited our website would I am sure vouch for that. It is information-full, it is feature-rich, it offers a wonderful selection of a variety of topics of information. But, right at the very beginning, when you land on our website at ncfamily.org a little box comes up and if you click on that box it will take you to an electronic form and you can fill out all of the information requested there and be assured that your information is in our system and you will receive a Voter Guide.
JOHN RUSTIN: Let me give that website again, it’s ncfamily.org again ncfamily.org and folks can go to that website. They can get their very own personalized voter guide by typing in their information and it will identify the candidates that are running in your specific congressional and state legislative districts, along with all the information we have about candidates that are running for state-wide offices in North Carolina, and you can also place an order there to receive Voter Guides in bulk for distribution at your church or community. So again that website is ncfamily.org.
With that Thomas, we are out of time, but I want to thank you so much for being with us on Family Policy Matters, and for your incredibly important ministry to pastors and church communities across North Carolina.
THOMAS GRAHAM: Brother it’s a joy and I count it a great privilege to have this role at this day and time in my life, and I look forward to continuing to serve the pastors and the churches all across this state for many more years to come.
JOHN RUSTIN: Thomas God bless you, and thanks very much.
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