A Caution to Christian Leaders on Public Discussions of a Presidential Candidate

by Dr. Adam Harwood

** This article was originally posted by Dr. Adam Harwood on his website www.adamharwood.com and is used by permission.

Dr. Adam Harwood is: Associate Professor of Theology (occupying the McFarland Chair of Theology), Director of the Baptist Center for Theology & Ministry, and Editor of the Journal for Baptist Theology & Ministry at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary 

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Dear Christian Leaders,

Please be careful when discussing presidential candidates publicly.

I am not suggesting that you should disengage from politics. Advocate for religious liberty for all people. Urge believers to be good citizens who participate in the political process and vote according to their conscience. Advocate for biblical values, regardless of which candidates or parties support those values. This includes speaking publicly against immoral policies and supporting morally justified policies.

Explicit commands for citizens of our country are difficult to glean from the Bible, because there were no democratic republics in the Old and New Testaments. However, some principles can be gleaned.

Christian leaders, please avoid name calling. I have seen a couple of unfortunate examples in recent days. Our speech should always be seasoned with grace (Col 4:6). Also, avoid ad hominem attacks (arguments against a person rather than a position), as well as publicly endorsing a candidate. It is proper to critique policies, not people. Also, please pray for these presidential candidates and encourage those in your churches to do the same (1 Tim 2:1-2).

Consider that you might diminish your ability to speak authoritatively from the Bible when you elevate or diminish any politician. By doing so, you will raise an offense between yourself and others; the only obstacle between a Christian leader and his audience should be the scandal of the gospel (1 Cor 1:18; 1 Pet 2:6-8).

If you publicly criticize Clinton or Sanders, then you will offend Democrats in your audience; if you publicly criticize Trump or Carson, then you will offend Republicans in your audience. If you elevate Cruz, then you will offend Democrats and those who support the other Republican candidates. Christian leaders, you have been commissioned to proclaim God’s Word and apply it in light of our culture, not to criticize or endorse political candidates.

If a pastor publicly endorses one candidate over another from his pulpit, then the tax-exempt status of that church could rightfully be challenged. If you desire to inform church members about the views of the candidates, then you might distribute a guide which addresses the views of all the candidates on a variety of matters. In this way, you are neither endorsing nor criticizing a particular candidate.

Some Christian leaders recently and publicly criticized the moral life of a certain presidential candidate. To be clear: I agree with the negative assessments I have read about that candidate’s character. But I disagree with the practice of Christian leaders publishing a negative assessment of only one candidate’s moral character publicly. Why? For all the reasons above, and for more reasons.

Why critique one candidate’s character, and not the character of all the candidates? Presenting a negative assessment of the morals of only one candidate seems to communicate this message: don’t vote for that person. But is that your role?

Although I do not think the candidate who is currently being criticized as immoral will be elected the next president, it is possible. He currently leads in the polls for his party’s nomination. Also, the history of presidential elections is filled with candidates who (14 months away from Election Day) looked like they would never win. Think of Carter in 1975, Reagan in 1979, Clinton in 1991, and Obama in 2007.

If this man who is now being criticized by some Christian leaders as immoral becomes the next president, then will these same men call us to stop criticizing him and to pray for him (1 Tim 2:1-2)? If so, then why not follow that counsel now while these candidates run for office? Is the goal to influence the outcome of the election? If so, is that your role?

Christian leaders, wisdom might require you to hold your tongue in order to avoid placing unnecessary barriers between you and those you are trying to reach with the gospel. If you want to be a political commentator, then consider resigning your position and applying for a job with CNN or Fox News. But if you want to be a minister of the gospel, then avoid placing any stumbling block between you and your audience—except the message of the crucified Christ.