by Pastor Andrew
I was once told by a mentor, that while in ministry, one needed to remain somewhat neutral from the pulpit regarding politically driven topics and agendas. The reasoning was that congregations are comprised of differing political views and that speaking from the pulpit could either sway someone’s opinion to your opinion (the one speaking from the pulpit has the power of influence and must use extreme care not to abuse or misuse it) or could ostracize members of the congregation and drive them away. I considered this advice and found it to be a valuable insight. Since I received this wisdom, I have always tried to maintain a position of neutrality when it comes to politics and hot topics (exceptions made to addressing spiritual aspects, or offenses against the Lord). I would venture to say that there are only a small handful of people that know exactly how I feel, or exactly what I would like to say regarding politics and certain highly publicized happenings in our country.
As I alluded to earlier, with the pulpit comes power. I want to expand upon this for a moment. When you answer the call to ministry you are given a pulpit, a platform to speak. With those words comes the power to influence, regardless of whether you are standing behind a lectern or just sitting with some teens while teaching. What you say will have an impact on whoever you are speaking to. Sometimes that impact is positive, while other times it is negative. Impact is usually directly related to responsive action in the listener which is why we have to use the power that comes with the pulpit with great care, more specifically, the way God intended. I’ll share a minor example. We were once doing a candy drive in order to obtain enough candy for a holiday event. As I gave the announcements to the congregation and arrived at the candy collection announcement, I jokingly added in that Pastor (me) liked a particular candy that may have been perceived as a slight indication that I desired for someone to bring me some candy. While it was intended to be said in humor, the following weekend I received several bags of candy that I had asked for. While this particular example is pretty innocent and innocuous and in the grand scheme of things no one was hurt or taken advantage of, imagine this on a grander scale.
The reality is those who we minister to, those who have taken their barriers down, lowered their security and let you speak into their lives spiritually allow what you speak to influence their thoughts, feelings, and actions and using that open door to platform our personal beliefs, opinions, and desires is wrong. Too often we are guilty of trying to be the sower, the one who waters, the fertilizer, the glory of growth, and the harvester in a conscious or unconscious attempt to mold people into exactly who we want them to be instead of who God wants them to be. In actuality, I believe the most we are supposed to do is plant seeds and perhaps help a bit with the watering through teaching (this is also dependent upon your perspective of what planting seeds and watering look like in ministry). I lean closer to the idea that the most we are actually doing is planting a bunch of seeds and the Holy Spirit does the watering/fertilizing through being an agent of conviction which allows God to do the growing. Argument could be made that pastors and teachers are actually watering through teaching. Semantics aside, the point is we need to do our job as ministers and let God do his, as I am sure we can all agree that God is probably much better at His job than we are. Where does this lengthy paragraph fit in with the aforementioned political agendas and hot topics?
Using our position as ministers to influence students/disciples, or anyone for that matter, to change how they think or feel about political/hot topics to the way you think or feel is a road that I believe will lead to division, hurt, and hate. One may think, “well, that’s not my intention”, intended or not the power comes with the position and you cannot turn it off like one turns off a light using a switch. As a pastor, I cannot take my pastor hat off and say to everyone “the following statement does not reflect me as a minister of God’s word.” Whatever you say will be forever attached to you in relation to your position. In repetition, you will not hear some guy said this; however, you will hear Pastor Andrew said this… and now that person believes what pastor Andrew believes. Filling in the unmentioned topics referred to as this in the examples with government, social injustice, racism, political parties, war, gun control, etc. etc. should really start to put this in perspective. If our platform on these topics, and numerous others, starts with I believe, it may be time to shut up and stop and think about what is going to come out of our mouths next.
This is where pulpit neutrality comes in. Neutrality does not equate to never saying anything about it, but it does imply not siding one way or another. Yes, there are some topics that we cannot remain neutral on as Christians. Topics such as murder, abortion, homosexuality, etc. etc., can be and should be responded to; however, the response to topics such as those are given to us and were inspired by God. They can be found in the scripture and we can and should teach about these things clearly. Neutrality does not prohibit us from talking, or teaching, what a Christian, or biblical, response should look like. As a minister, I have learned a very unpopular lesson that is not expressed or taught as it should be. While salvation is a gift that is freely given, Christian living (righteous living) requires a sacrifice. That sacrifice is our flesh. Spouting our personal feelings and beliefs on certain matters does nothing to propel the Gospel but has everything to do with satisfying our flesh. It encourages our desire to be right which also indicates that the opponent belief is wrong. Being right is gratifying, while being wrong is often humbling. Someone may interject somewhere around this point that they remain neutral from their pulpit but use a social media platform, or traditional media to share their beliefs and opinions. To this thought I respond with this: If you think your pulpit stays in the church on Sunday’s and Wednesdays, you are grossly mistaken. Your pulpit extends and intermixes with your entire life. Everything you say or do is going to be inseparably linked to your pulpit and ministry and everything you say is going to be associated with your pulpit, and God. In light of this last statement, is what you are saying an accurate representation of God or is it a flesh response to emotions that were triggered and an attempt to shut the opposing side down?
James 1:19-21 “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”
I believe that we have verse 19 backwards today. We are often slow to hear, quick to speak, and quick to anger. We sacrifice our humility for our sake of being right or imposing our worldly beliefs on others. Yes, worldly. While there are spiritual aspects of politics, social media, gun control, they are worldly affairs and promoting them does not propel the Gospel. The world is ugly, because Satan is ugly, because evil is ugly. You, your ideas, beliefs, opinions, and platform are not going to conquer the evil that is driving the world; however, Jesus already has, and we should be spouting that instead of the filth that often comes from our tongues as a result of satisfying the flesh. If you want to listen to what people have to say about things, then listen, but listen to understand where they are coming from and where they are at instead of hearing only to retort. While you are listening, look at them as James addressed us, as beloved (agapétos, from Agapé). It may be easier to hear them if you are looking at them as God looked at you. When I read this passage in James, I associate the slow to speak with consideration of what was said. Take time to think about it, to see where they are coming from and most importantly, take time to pray before you open your mouth. Anger is related to wrath, or vengeance. Both belong to the Lord (Romans 12:19). No matter how nice you say it, if your intent is to put someone else, or their idea, down, it is a flesh response, and is related to wrath or vengeance. In any event. If it is of the world, it is not of God. James tells the reader to put away all filth and wickedness and humbly receive the implanted (emphutos: bring into living union) word. Be in unison with the word that lives within us. If we are responding from the flesh, we are not using the word. Responding from the word will stifle our flesh. In essence, James is saying, Hey Christian… pay attention, shut your mouth cause using it the wrong way can affect your salvation…
This blog made many references to ministers and pastors; however, all believers are called to make disciples and serve. Therefore, all believers are ministers in some aspect or another. All believers are held to the same standards of guidance that James lays out for us. To sum everything up, humility is an act of lowering one’s self. It is sacrificing things for the sake of others, for the sake of the Gospel. Sacrificing the flesh should be a no brainer. Understanding what is and isn’t the flesh may be challenging at times, because the flesh seeks to gratify us to prevent us from a greater gratification found in our salvation. Sometimes we must sacrifice spouting our own beliefs and opinions lest we cause another to stumble or hinder the Gospel. The Gospel, should be our only platform. Biblical truth, not worldly opinion. Plant seeds of truth and let the Holy Spirit do the convicting and let God issue the Judgment, as his vengeance is far greater than anything we could ever dish out. Understand that vengeance and gratification of the flesh should not be sought after, but rather, fulfillment from the Lord and salvation for all who would accept it.