(A Point Of View (POV) piece from the NC Family staff.)
When asked why she supports a certain candidate for president, a 76-year-old grandmother from North Carolina responds, “He says things we are all thinking but afraid to say out loud.”
“We appreciate decency. We applaud decency. We teach decency. We seek to develop decency. Decency matters, right? Then why isn’t decency doing better in the presidential race?” —Author Max Lucado
A recent poll shows a huge chasm between pastors and their church members in how they view this year’s presidential candidates. While it has been widely publicized that many Republicans who identify as Evangelicals have sided with Donald Trump in recent primaries, this poll, conducted by LifeWay Research, shows only 5% of Protestant pastors indicate they would vote for Trump, the lowest level of support among all remaining candidates. So, why the monumental disparity? And what can (or should) be done about it?
In my experience as a communications coach, this type of phenomenon—which baffles us and seems inexplicable—occurs when we make assumptions about other people’s behaviors based on our own ideology, education, and cultural background.
I’m not suggesting that church members should always vote for the candidate their pastor supports. However, when the gap is this wide, one has to wonder why. If we believe there are spiritual implications for how a Christian votes and that God is looking at the Christian’s heart and motivation in casting their ballot, then this becomes a domain over which pastors and churches should speak.
Considering IRS restrictions, it’s not surprising that 9 out of 10 pastors say they are opposed to endorsing specific candidates from the pulpit. However, there is no IRS mandate against pastors equipping their congregations with sound reasoning skills and even practical methods by which people can learn to be good citizens of this country, while not betraying their ultimate citizenship in the Kingdom of God. There is also no prohibition against teaching on marriage, abortion, sexuality and other Biblical issues that Christians can influence by voting for the appropriate candidate and then holding elected officials accountable once in office.
Are our churches providing the biblical principles and real-world resources Christians need to make voting decisions that line up—not conflict—with their Christian beliefs? Is it possible that pastors assume (wrongly) that the thought leaders and guiding principles they themselves use are the same ones their church members are using when judging candidates and issues?
If our churches are not teaching these concepts, then we leave Christians to vote their “gut” based on random information and on concepts “that seem right” to them and yet may run counter to their responsibilities as Christians(Proverbs 14:12). Without guidance and helpful information about politics and issues, many Christians may choose to simply not vote at all.
Interestingly, there is clear evidence that church members, particularly those from Conservative denominations, desire far more information and involvement from their churches! Research by the American Culture & Faith Institute shows 67% of Conservatives want more elections information from their churches and 61% want more involvement.
How to start
As a communications person, I can see some quick and easy ways to get good information into the hands of people who need it right away.
These steps alone may go a long way toward immunizing Christians against making decisions based on the fear-mongering and worldly principles sometimes espoused by political candidates. Proceeding into a tumultuous election season armed with specific biblical principles may help us all take advantage of the unique opportunities ahead to be salt and light in our part of the world.
Notable Quotes from Thought Leaders from this Election Season
“Political involvement is important for Christians. In fact, the more far-reaching the issue for good or ill (like marriage) the more earnestly engaged we will be.… We do act, we do vote, and we do get involved in social issues, but our expectations of what can be accomplished through politics are sobered.”
—Author Tony Reinke from the Desiring God blog
“In our system, citizen is an office; we too bear responsibility for the actions of the government.”
—Russell Moore, Author and President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention
“It is out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks,” Jesus said. Let speech befit the call. We, as Christians, would do well to summon any Christian leader to a higher standard. This includes pastors (especially this one), teachers, coaches and, by all means, presidential candidates.”
—Pastor and Author Max Lucado
“Is irrational fear driving our cultural and political engagement more than it should? By angry public statements in support of the candidates they prefer, are Christians demonstrating a gospel-shaped view of the world and of the future? […] Love for our neighbors must overcome the temptation to abandon a Christian ethic in pursuit of political victory.”
—Pastor and Author Dan Darling and Vice President of LifeWay Research Micah Fries
“At the end of the day, our hope is not in the Republicans or Democrats. Our hope, our confidence is in a citizenship that’s not of this world and in the Living God who reigns yet.”
—D. A. Carson, Author and Research Professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School