Posted tagged ‘church-state separation’

Endorsing Candidates and the Baptist Church

September 29, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                     September 28, 2012

I ran for political office about twenty years ago.

Well…it was the local school board…but it was an election, there was tension (since a certain faction the community didn’t like the Superintendent and didn’t want to approve a bond millage), I was elected, and served for five years (One year appointed to fill an unexpired term, and then elected to a four year term).

What I never did, however, was bring my school board candidacy into the pulpit, or into my pastoral ministry. That was a dividing line that I was not willing to cross. I didn’t pass out campaign signs to my congregation to stick into their front yard grass. I was their pastor. I was one of the community’s elected officials.

Somewhere along the line Baptists got mixed up, and started endorsing candidates for political office. But, you see, the separation of church and state is a basic principle, a foundational benchmark, of Baptists. Roger Williams established the “Providence Plantation” in 1636 because of religious persecution in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In essence, the state and the church and linked together, and Williams settled a place where people could come and worship freely, according to their tradition and beliefs. He established the “First Baptist Church” in America, located in Providence.

When we come to election time…especially a presidential election…both conservatives and liberals of the church seem to blur the line on endorsing candidates. Many will focus on the religious convictions, or lack of, in the candidates, framing it in issues such as justice, or health care, or the use of the Bible, or prayer to help it look more spiritual.

Once in a while I’ll come to our church about this time of year and find a sign planted in the public strip of land between the city sidewalk and the street. It’s public property so we get signs there all the time for roofing companies, cleaning services, and aerating lawns. The problem is that people think we’re endorsing the candidate. I’ve thought about putting this on our marquee sign just a few feet from the political signs: “If there are political signs here, we didn’t put them there!” Or “Don’t vote for any candidate who put a sign along our property!”

As long as I pastor, the only candidate our church will endorse is Jesus. The church should always trumpet the causes of justice, fairness, compassion, mercy, peace, and reconciliation.

What we fail to realize is that there is a different Kingdom that the church is endorsing. It’s the Kingdom of God. Our investment is ultimately not in a certain political plan or presidential proposal, bur rather in the Kingdom that transcends time, and election districts.

When I hear of Baptists churches having voter registration tables I can envision Roger Williams rolling over in his grave.

Oh, and going back to when I ran for school board! I received one campaign donation…from the local plumber’s union. The man who fixed the urinals at church when they broke thought I’d make a good addition to the school board. That’s it! I guess you could say it was the Baptist version of Watergate…except it was precipitated by a flushing problem!