Now That We Know Who's Running for President—What Next?
Months ago (it seems like years now, doesn’t it?) when Ben Carson announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination for President, the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists released the following statement: “While individual church members are free to support or oppose any candidate for office as they see fit, it is crucial that the Church as an institution remain neutral on all candidates for office. Care should be taken that the pulpit and all church property remain a neutral space when it comes to elections. Church employees must also exercise extreme care not to express views in their denominational capacity about any candidate for office, including Dr. Carson” (NAD/Michigan Conference email 5-4-15). The fact that Dr. Carson is a practicing Seventh-day Adventist no doubt necessitated this official ecclesiastical pronouncement.
But thirteen months later Ben Carson and the rest of the twenty or so candidates for the major political parties’ nominations for president are no longer on center stage. Rather as the result of primaries this week across the nation it seems clear (certainly to the press and political talking heads at least) that the presumptive nominees for President of the United States from the two major parties are Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. In keeping with the North American church’s position of political neutrality and its advice that pulpits and pastors maintain that neutrality in their public communications, this blog will obviously not be taking or advocating political sides.
That does not, however, mean that we as a people (pastors and parishioners alike) should remain silent in the face of blatant attacks on or denials of deeply held moral values or biblical truths. Political neutrality is not moral neutrality.
Russell Moore, head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and recognized chief policy spokesman for the denomination, raised eyebrows when a Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) interview with him was posted on the CBN website June 3. When asked what he would pray for were Donald Trump to become President, Moore replied: “‘My primary prayer for Donald Trump is that he would first of all repent of sin and come to faith in Jesus Christ. That’s my prayer for any lost person. . . . And the same thing would be true in terms of Hillary Clinton.’” (http://religionnews.com/2016/06/05/southern-baptist-leader-donald-trump-a-lost-soul-who-must-repent/)
While I disagree with the premise that all occupants of the Oval Office must be born again Christians (our nation has been well served by presidents not of my own evangelical persuasion), who could challenge a Christian’s prayers for all presidential candidates this election year to come to know Jesus Christ as their personal Savior and humbly but confidently follow Him in their exercise of the presidential office? While the office of President is not a Christian or even spiritual office, it is still a position of powerful moral influence for this nation and for the world.
But perhaps Russell Moore made his most thoughtful point when in the interview he acknowledged: “Regardless of what happens in November, my primary focus is not November 2016—my primary focus is 2017 and preparing the church to be a church which is going to have to be a sign of contradiction regardless of whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump is in the White House.” (Ibid.)
“A sign of contradiction”—isn’t that what Jesus was signaling when He replied to the Roman governor, “‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight. . . . But now my kingdom is from another place’” (John 18:36)? As radical followers of Christ, we take our marching orders—not from a political party nor from a charismatic leader—we obey the uncompromising directives of the Most High God. There are political positions held by both major party candidates that the disciple of Christ chooses not to embrace. We don’t need to picket or protest the candidate’s appearances. But now more than ever in history we need to pray for the nation we will all wake up to the morning after the election. “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people” (Proverbs 14:34).