As the U.S. presidential race heats up and the two less-than-ideal major party candidates have been solidified, politics has become a lightning rod issue among Southern Baptists. At the core of the discussion has been whether Christians should apply a “lesser of two evils” approach in the voting booth.
During the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in June, pastors and denominational leaders addressed the topic in a number of sessions.
Proclaiming Scripture instead of promoting controversy is their approach when addressing political issues, pastors said during a June 15 panel discussion.
In a session titled “Pastors and the Church in American Politics Today” and moderated by Ronnie Floyd, now former SBC president, five Southern Baptist pastors addressed how they handle political issues in their churches, especially during a tumultuous election season that has found many Southern Baptists and other evangelical Christians dismayed at their presidential options.
“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 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.”
McKinley 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.
Others have supported Trump in the primaries or plan to vote for him in the general election only because of the Democratic alternative, while a much smaller group appears to be prepared to vote for Clinton.
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, 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.”
All five pastors encouraged Christians to run for local offices. Williams prays God “would raise up men and women to go into public office of moral courage,” he 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.
9Marks & ERLC
The “moral formation” and unity of the church are two vital considerations for a pastor in guiding God’s people during a disturbing presidential election season, attendees were told during a June 13 event sponsored by 9Marks, a church health ministry based in Washington, D.C., and the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
9Marks President Mark Dever and ERLC President Russell Moore answered questions about pastors and politics.
Moore said his primary concern when a church member asks a pastor how to vote “is going to be for the moral formation of my people.”
In this election, Moore said he thinks “there would be a very clear difference between someone who is simply walking into the voting booth and saying, ‘Let me try to decide between these two train wrecks,’ which I know a lot of people are doing, and what is happening in the moral degradation of many people supporting both of these two candidates and in so doing not only excusing clear injustice and immorality but, as Romans 1 would put it, heartily approving of that.
“The issue for me is not what happens to those two horrific candidates debating back and forth,” he said. “The issue for me is what happens to us.”
As a pastor, Dever said he would be concerned if he has “someone loudly in our church saying, ‘Morally, you cannot do this or that.’”
That “feels like Satan’s device to divide the church,” said Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. “The way that I’ve heard evangelicals articulate support for a wide variety of political options to attain good ends, I may disagree with all of them that I hear. I may even think some of them involve sin,” but he wouldn’t prevent that person from taking communion.
Rather, he would try to understand what moral issues a church member can see are at stake in his or her vote, Dever told the audience.
Baptist 21 Luncheon
The issue was also addressed during the eighth annual Baptist 21 luncheon June 14, where Moore and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. responded to questions regarding the 2016 presidential election.
Both said they would vote third-party or write in a candidate in November. Mohler noted that while he cannot vote for a pro-choice candidate, he also cannot vote for a candidate simply on pro-life claims because “character is an indispensable issue.”
Mohler recalled first meeting former President Bill Clinton hours after appearing on national TV calling on him to resign during the scandal involving Monica Lewinsky. Mohler said he could not be consistent if he voted for Republican nominee Donald Trump, whose character “eclipses” Clinton with his unrepentant adultery and support of the pornography industry.
“I find myself in a situation I never envisioned in my life as a Christian or as an American,” Mohler said. “But I’m going to have to be Christian in order to be a faithful American.”
Moore explained his reason for writing in a candidate because “character matters” and “the life issue cannot flourish in a culture of misogyny and sexual degradation … when you have people calling for the torture and murder of innocent non-combatants.”
“You lose an election, you can live to fight another today and move one,” Moore said. “But if you lose an election while giving up your very soul, then you’ve really lost it all.”
—compiled from Baptist Press reports by Diana Chandler, Harper McKay, S. Craig Sanders and Tom Strode