Rules for Church Leaders on Politics

. . . or perhaps not.

Joe Carter at evangelical outpost links to and critiques some rules for church leaders regarding political activities and involvement.

I’m pretty much in agreement with Carter’s critique. I am a supporter of church and state, but even my view on church and state is informed by my faith. I cannot separate who I am when I go vote and who I am as a person of faith. It just doesn’t work.

I believe in separation of church and state, sometimes even greater than that enforced by the state, but I mean the separation of the church as an institution from the structures of state power, using the sword of the state to encourage or enforce the dictates of religion. I don’t believe in the separation of the church and the statesman. I couldn’t do it. I don’t expect the people I vote for to do it.

The suggested rules go beyond the requirements of law, and I fail to see what ethical views drive them, except perhaps a desire to keep the religious right less involved in politics–a goal I don’t know that the author of the rules, Dr. David Gushee, even accepts. So I’m a bit at a loss.

As a leader of a parachurch organization myself, albeit a volunteer leader of an organization that has no paid staff (including me), I watch this sort of thing with interest. I would not endorse a candidate as officially as the head of that organization. To do so would be illegal as well as inappropriate ethically. As an individual, I can still do so. That would be a violation of rule #12.

Rule #17, regarding separation of church and state sounds good to me for me, but I am well aware of many people who would disagree. Why should I be free to model my view, while they can’t model theirs?

I’m troubled by the fact that religious people cannot express any view desired, but I would also be troubled should churches be allowed to use tax exemption as a way to get involved in politics without the costs others must pay. Thus legally I have to agree that churches, as such, shouldn’t perform most of these activities. But their leaders, as individuals, and through other means, should not be ethically barred from such involvement.

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  1. Henry, I think I understand and respect Gushee’s rules. I had to think through this when I stood as a candidate myself (interestingly, this is not in itself a breach of his rules!), although I don’t count as a leader unless perhaps nominally still a “missionary”. I see these rules as designed mainly to protect the church or para-church ministry from being identified with any one particular political cause, which could cause serious damage to its witness especially to those who oppose that cause. I see the witness of the British and American churches to more socialist or politically liberal people as already seriously compromised by the perceived position of the church as the ally of political conservatism. This situation can only get worse if churches start to endorse candidates and policies. And the rules against private activity on behalf of one candidate must be based on the possibility of scandal if these activities became public.

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