Fellow blogger David Bard, recently posted an essay on the debate over whether or not clergy should endorse candidates. (You can read his entire essay here.) There are a couple of reasons that I'm uncomfortable with this possibility. First and foremost I see the responsibility of the church to work with and give guidance to government to solve social problems. There needs to be a partnership to solve problems of poverty, racism, and other social justice issues and the church needs to be able to work with whomever is sitting in the big leather chair in Washington D.C., St. Paul, or where ever power sits. If clergy are picking favorites and endorsing people, that relationship gets to be very tenuous should the other person win. I would go as far as to say that if that happens, the working relationship can suffer to the point that the big losers are those whom have no voice, the people and issues that need attention the most.
The second problem I have is this seems to be more about the ego than about really wanting to help people. The recent flap over a pastor from International Falls going on record that he will openly preach about and endorse John McCain for President wreaks of self interest and self promotion. Chances are pretty good that anyone that attends this church already knew the pastor's position, was it really necessary to grand stand about it? I feel for the person in that congregation that might have a slightly less favorable opinion of Sen. McCain and is now silenced through intimidation.
So, what is the role of clergy in our political system? It is my belief that their responsibility lies in telling people the truth about what it means to be a Christian, to preach the life of Christ. Though largely ignored, I believe if social doctrine based on Christ-centered teachings such as the UMC Social Principles or the Catholic Social Teachings (this would also include other religious traditions) were routinely included in sermons and liturgy there would be no need to for clergy to be endorsing candidates. Having written a few for course work, I can attest to the fact that these sermons are difficult to write; it is difficult not to step on toes or make people sitting the pews feel uncomfortable. Yet giving preference to the poor, being tolerant of all, and promoting peace are what Christianity is all about, no matter how uncomfortable that might be for WASP congregations.
With that in mind, here are a few books worth considering:
Lazarus at the Table: Catholics and Social Justice and Vote Catholic? Beyond the Political Din both by Bernard Evans. (Bernie is my co-advisor of sorts at St. John's and is one of the most thoughtful people I know.)
The Truth about God: The Ten Commandments in Christian Life by Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon.