As a pastor, especially during a presidential election year, I often get asked questions about who I am voting for? Who do I think God's people should vote for—meaning who is God's candidate? How are Christians suppose to know how to vote? And other similar questions.
These questions are difficult to answer as a pastor. It's not that I don't have political views or feel strongly about certain presidential candidates, but because of the responsibility I have to God in taking care of and feeding His people—of instructing them in the things of God and not in the things of this world. It calls for discernment and wisdom—discernment to see clearly what God is doing, and also wisdom on how to guide, instruct, and focus His Church on the things that matter most during these times—how to help the Church focus on Jesus and be overcomer's of this world.
There are a lot of voices to filter through right now, and many of the voices speaking seem right and godly. However, some with well intentioned opinions and ideas, cloud the prime directive of what the church is supposed to be about, and they get caught up in senseless debates, foolish controversies, dissension, and quarrels—causing division and leading God's people away from what matters most to Him.
I even had one person on social media, indirectly call me out and say that I was a gutless chicken for not sharing my political views on social media—he obviously doesn't know me, if he did he'd know I am an introvert and dislike going on social media, because I care about what other people think of me—*not really*. And I digress... Instead of getting angry and arguing my reasons for refraining from sharing my political views, I chalk it up to a lack of understanding of how pastors are to conduct themselves with regards to politics and the church, and what the role and function of the pastor is within the church.
As a pastor/undershepherd in Jesus' church, my role is to be an advocate for the kingdom of God—an ambassador of Christ, whose message is the gospel—the good news that God has reconciled himself to man through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. My role is to guide, instruct, teach, and love God's people to hear His voice. I'm to teach sound doctrine and help His people love Jesus and love like him. My role is not to push conservatism, liberalism, political parties—republicans or democrats, Trump or Hillary, or any other political views. After all as his people, our kingdom is not of this world.
WHAT THE IRS SAYS PASTORS CAN'T AND CAN DO:
What pastors can't do.
“Churches and religious organizations, are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office….Violation of this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of excise tax.”
There is not much to it—it is straight forward and clear. Churches are not allowed to be involved in the politicals, beyond voter education—that is telling people to vote and where the voting locations are. If the religious organization does then it is in danger of losing tax-exempt status, which can result in other consequences.
Now this affetcs religious organizations, such as churches, but the regulations for the pastor are a little different.
What pastors can do.
Here is what it says with regards to pastors:
“The political campaign activity prohibition isn’t intended to restrict free expression on political matters by leaders of churches or religious organizations speaking for themselves, as individuals.”
So pastors can talk about politics outside the church and pulpit whenever they want to—the IRS does strongly recommend pastors make it clear they are not speaking for the church or as a representative of the church, but only as a private citizen of this country, and as an individual—exercising their right to free expression.
To sum it up, I can't tell our church as a representative of the church my political preferences or who to vote for. However, I can tell people as an individual—as a private citizen, my personal political preferences and endorse candidates.
Here is what the IRS says about religious organizations and its invovlement in politics (Read the complete document here):
But should pastors do this?
To answer this question, I go back to what the role of the pastor is supposed to be. Pastors are to shepherd God's flock and be an example to God's people in all things that are godly (1 Peter 5:1-11). Let's detail this out a bit—a pastor is to teach sound doctrine, instruct God's people to know first and foremost the gospel of Jesus Christ—his death, burial, and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). That we have been saved by grace through faith—it is a gift from God, and not by our own works (Ephesians 2:8-10). Pastors are to help followers of Jesus understand they are ambassadors of Christ with the work and ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-21 & Ephesians 2:10 & 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus).
Within this, pastors are to help lead in the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry in building up the body of Christ for the common good of the church. This is to encourage one another to continue on until the fulleness of the knowledge of the Son of God is found in the church until Jesus returns. And to ultimately glorify God our Father, and bear witness to his goodness and loving kindness to those who are far from Him. Pastors are to help God's people grow up in everyway in him who is the head, Jesus Christ. Whom the whole body is joined and held together. (1 Corinthians 12:7 & Ephesians 4:11-16). My friend and brother in the Lord, Ramin Razavi, calls this Identity, Mission, Purpose, and Calling of the believer.
What's more important to you—your political views or unity?
What Jesus wants most for his church is unity—unity with each other, with him and unity with the Father. How do we know this—Jesus prayed for unity (John 17:20-26). To Jesus, unity among his followers is the key to the world believing the Father sent him—unity is connected to the message of the gospel. And the world, especially this country, needs to know what unity looks likes—the Church has an opportunity right now to show the world unity.
If unity is important to Jesus then it should be important to his followers, especially those who lead and teach the Church. Pastors are called to teach sound doctrine, proclaim the gospel, equip the saints, and to protect the unity of the Church.
Here is a warning to Pastors and the Church.
Don't get caught up in the things that aren't related to the gospel or have anything to do with salvation—God's prime directive. Several writers of the New Testament warned of this and knew that in the last days many of Jesus followers would get distracted on the things of God and fall into disunity over things that shouldn't matter. The Apostle Paul's warned pastors and the church about being caught up in senseless arguments (Titus 3:1-11). Jude 1:19, warns us about the last days where there will be scoffers and those who cause division. And in Romans 16:17 Paul tells us to avoid those who cause division.
"In essentials, unity; in opinions, liberty; in all things love."
Pastors are to keep the church focused on Jesus, keep unity, and fight against anything or anyone that causes division within or without the church. But it's not just the pastor's job to do these things—it is everyone who calls themselves a follower of Jesus. The gospel, unity, peace, justice, godliness, salvation, and etc... and the fight against division among the believers should be at the forefront of every believer. Grace and forgiveness should be in our hearts and our language, not shame, guilt, and condemnation. Especially, if someone doesn't share your same political beliefs (I worte a piece on Shame and Guilt within the Church here: Are You Ashamed Of Being, Well, You?)
All believers need to be respectful of everyone's opinions and political ideas—trust me, I know even within the church I pastor there are differing opinions and political ideas. Unity and the mission of God are first and foremost—not who you think should be the next POTUS.
"...bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive" —Colossians 3:13
So in short, I don't recommend pastors sharing their personal political views with people, especially those they shepherd. If they do, they need to make sure they have full confidence in the person they're telling, will respect their privacy and have the same goal as the pastor, to keep unity in the church above all else.
Does it really matter who is elected President?
Don't get me wrong, it's good to be engaged and involved in politics—especially in this country where we have the freedom to do so and participate in government, but if you're a Jesus follower, your hope and salvation isn't in any earthly man or woman or political system; it's in Jesus Christ. No earthly man or woman can satisfy your deepest needs, hurts, or desires like Jesus—the only one who brings true peace is the Prince of Peace. I wrote a piece on how we should live no matter who becomes the next POTUS: What If Trump or Hillary Become Our Next President... What Next?
Ask yourself one simple question:
“True or False: The Christian hope will be realized through political means.”
Your answer will reveal who you think is in charge of human history.
It doesn't matter who is elected in the end. As followers of Jesus, we are to understand that God is the one in charge of human history. We are to have full awaerness that He is the one who sets in place and removes leaders. As Jesus followers, no matter who is president, we are to respond by submitting to our governing authorities, knowing full well that this is the will of God. We are to conduct ourselves in a manner that shows we are servants of God—silencing ingnorant foolish people. We are to honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor our governing authorities—we are to follow the example of Jesus to those who are far from him in hope that they might come to know him (Romans 13:1-7 & Peter 2:1-25). Remember our promise from God—that something better lays ahead for those who trust him and overcome the world. This world is only temporary, but the things of God are eternal (1 John 2:15-17).
You want to know how to deal with all the political and social upheaval? Pray without ceasing. Love others. Be grateful. Focus on Jesus. Here is a blog post I wrote on how I am navigating all this political and social upheaval: Today's Political and Social Upheaval: Here's how I'm Navigating It.
I know there are some who will take issue with what I am writting here. They will argue for full participation of the believer in politics as our civic duty and our God-given right. Others will petition for the complete withdraw and unsupport of the government, any government for that matter, because only Jesus is King and Lord over his people—and they will say we shouldn't care about the tax exemption status issue. And still others will champion and labor for stances and beliefs I haven't heard of yet...
This is what I know to be ultimately true. In the end, there is only one person who we must model the Christian life after—Jesus Christ. He is Founder, Redeemer, Lord, and Chief Shepherd. Do your best to hear his voice, and love Jesus and love like him. Jesus is our hope and Savior.
Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus!