Is the Pulpit Political?

Election years turn ordinary Americans into partisan hacks. Rational, calm discussion retreats. Politicians themselves make outlandish promises. They don’t just ask us to support their candidacy. They baptize their cause in sacred language. As Vice President Joe Biden, an outspoken advocate of same-sex marriage, told a group of gay activists last weekend, “You are freeing the soul of the American people.”

Such short-sighted passions also pervade our churches in election season and pressure pastors to turn their sermons into campaign speeches. So what is the proper relationship between the pulpit and politics? We turned in this video to three experienced pastors for a rousing discussion on a contested subject. Bill Kynes, senior pastor of Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church in Annandale, Virginia, has lived near Washington, D.C., for nearly 30 years. He laments how everything has become politicized and tells pastors they must speak prophetically but not necessarily politically about the issues facing our communities, states, nations, and world.

But Voddie Baucham, pastor of preaching at Grace Family Baptist Church in Spring, Texas, has no such fear of being seen as political, even as he seeks to avoid being taken captive by either political party. He stresses the pastor’s obligation to speak truth to power, regardless of the costs. Watch to learn how Mark Dever, senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., blows up utopianism on the Right and Left among eager young politicos who visit his church. Apply his test if you’re among the many Christians who see political victory as their consuming goal.

  • LNF

    When Christians became political, they sent a message that Christianity has failed and now Bible-based legislation is the only hope for America. The message was heard by young people, and many have rejected Christianity as a result.

    • George

      There is no domain in which we are free from the commands of God, whether political, sexual, or anything else. God demands of all humans, whether American or Chinese, republican or democrat, certain things.

      When certain politicians or segments of the population advocate a position that is clearly contrary to God’s moral law, a Christian has the duty to speak out. He has no excuse to stay silent on issues of abortion, homosexual marriage, coveting their neighbor’s wealth, encouraging greed and materialism, perverting justice on behalf of the rich/poor, etc.

      And if you are hated for it, then remember that the world will hate christians because they first hate Christ.

      (It should be obvious that the truth should be spoken in love, and not for the purpose of poking the eyes of the Godless; so those contrarians among you who want to point out my lack of dealing with this issue…don’t )

  • mel

    I enjoyed the video.
    I really do get tired of hearing how getting someone out of office is our only hope and that not putting all my efforts into that task is voting against religious freedom.
    Politics is a like going to mediation. It is a life of compromise. Too many times I have voted or chosen a side based on how bad the other was even though what I was choosing was less than I believed was right. I’m old and I’m just not willing to do it or believe in the political stuff anymore. I’m just not willing to put my faith in people any more.

  • Joseph Torres

    Great video. I could watch a seminar on this. I’d like to make 2 points:

    1) Dever’s comment about his job being to deflate utopianism is crucial. Both parties, in their own distinctive ways, raise their visions for America to a messianic status. Keller has been great in showing how gospel-centered Christianity eschews such political pelagianism.

    2) ‘Political’ is a slippery term. Dever, Baucham, and Kynes each have a slightly different nuance to their usage of the term. In one sense, Christianity is at it’s heart political, and ministers must preach politically. The sticking point is how we define the term. When Bill Kynes avoids being political he means this in a biblically acceptable sense of not using the pulpit as a platform for anything other than the proclaimed word of God in Scripture. Amen to that. The sense of political that I approve of above is that the lordship claims of Christ is all encompassing (think of the famous Kuyper quote, “…every square inch” and all that). As Michael Bird, N.T. Wright, and others have pointed out when the apostles preached Jesus as Lord they were in effect saying that Caesar wasn’t. Jesus didn’t reject both the religious/political compromises of the Herodians on one end and the revolutionary tactics of the zealots on the other because he wasn’t political, but precisely because his political vision of the kingdom of God was different from both groups.

    When the pastor gets to the unit on homosexuality in, say, Romans 1, he is preaching ‘politically’ in that he is declares God the only king who gets to define sexuality. When we get to units that speak on the kind of justice themes that Keller develops in Generous Justice he’s proclaiming that YHWH and YHWH alone is the one to shape our thoughts on these issues, the only one to whom we owe our ultimate allegiance, not a party line.

    • John Carpenter

      Good comments from you. Thank you for them.
      You’re right about Romans 1 and they said that they address issues as they come up in the text, implying that preaching is usually expository through scripture, rather than topic. That helps control any excessive inclination toward politics in preaching.

  • Rick Owen

    Thoughtful discussion. Thanks for sharing. I’m enjoying the comments in response too.

    Homeschool pioneer Gregg Harris stirred my thoughts about this many years ago as he discussed the seasons of life and the various jurisdictions of God-given responsibility: the individual during the years of preparation, the family during the years of production, the church elders during the years of proclamation, and the city elders or statesmen during the years of protection.

    Scripture does call us to take up the cause of the widow, orphan, poor, oppressed and those suffering injustice. Doing so imitates the very character and concerns of our heavenly Father.

    Loving God wholeheartedly and our neighbor as our self crosses over into all realms. Politics, as my civics teacher explained to us in the eighth grade, pertains to people: protecting their rights and providing for the common needs of society.

    The gospel certainly can be and should be brought to bear upon every part of our lives with legitimate authority. The call to discipleship, or the process of making disciples, entails summoning and teaching people to submit to Christ’s lordship over everything. Doing this does not make us ‘political’ or a ‘politician,’ per se, in the conventional PC sense, but it is part of our responsibility as faithful witnesses of the truth and ambassadors of Christ.

    The Ekklesia of Christ and His Kingdom are political concepts to be pursued and cultivated under the sovereign rule of our Lord and King. I do not mean this in the same way as Christian Reconstructionists or Theonomists advocate it. Rather, I am thinking of the individual who is transformed by the gospel, leads his family and church in God’s ways, and gets involved as a Christian worker, citizen and perhaps leader in his community with the passion and conscience of an ambassador of Christ.

    • John Carpenter

      The seasons of life comment makes little (if any) sense.
      As usual, your comments are verbose, unnecessary, and contain some link to something (likely self-serving) you are pushing. Ask yourself why you so often feel compelled to refer people to material not really related to what they came here for.
      I hoped you learned from these men, will continue to learn and submit to scripture even when it counters your tradition (like in 1 Corinthians 9). I hope you don’t respond.

      • Rick Owen

        John Carpenter,

        You’ll probably have to check out Gregg Harris’ “Seasons of Life Seminar” to better understand what I summarized. I can see where my scant description could seem unclear.

        The link I shared from Gregg’s presentation related to the church and politics. The last season of life, as he describes it, includes mature Christian men who have faithfully raised their families, run their businesses, and served their churches (in the previous seasons of life) entering into the fray of politics as a mature community elder or statesman.

        I wish you’d quit harping on our different views about 1 Cor. 9. There’s no need for that to be a bone of contention. Christians should be able to disagree honestly and respectfully.

        My personal tradition and practice over the years, related to 1 Cor. 9, has been one of supporting pastors and missionaries financially, as well as with time, service and encouragement. In fact, a foreign missionary from the Philippines is on his way to our house, as I write, to stay with us for a while so we can help him raise support. =^>

        • John Carpenter

          I suspected you couldn’t keep yourself from responding. There’s something peculiar about a man who wouldn’t go learn but feels compelled to constantly “teach”.

          I’m harping on your refusal to submit to the plain meaning of scripture and doing it so that others seeing will know your “MO”.

          • Rick Owen

            John Carpenter,

            I’m just a GC blogger living in a country where I enjoy freedom of speech and try to use such a privilege as a believer who is exhorted and encouraged by Scripture to not only study God’s word carefully, but be productively involved in encouraging and stirring up fellow believers to love and good deeds, speaking only what is good for edification, both within the church and in the course of daily life and mutual fellowship.

            Who appointed or authorized you to squelch that? I hope you’re not as obnoxiously critical and discouraging toward your family or church members. Last time I checked, that was not a spiritual gift.

  • Jack Adkins

    All great comments here. My concern for the church is that individual Christians (not thinking of pastors in the pulpit here) are afraid to enter the realm of thinking and opining about the politics of the day for fear of being labeled one way or the other. I think this happens through intimidation more often than not and results in ignorance of issues and of dangers to our fragile republic which requires vigilance to preserve.

  • Ken

    I’ve not viewed the video, so I don’t know whose side I take on this matter. I would probably be somewhere in the middle. Somebody needs to point out the Democrats’ destructive agenda, and if pastors don’t, who will? True, it’ll take more than political action to save America, but that’s beside the point. Christians have a duty to vote.

    That being said, pastors have to be careful not to turn their pulpits into political soapboxes. If we preach on nothing but political issues, then we’ve abandoned our calling. I would say choose your battles carefully, fire your shots when they’ll count, but don’t be held captive to any political party.

    • Jack Adkins

      Take a look at the video when you get a chance. I agree with Voddie’s emphasis. I know he supported Ron Paul, and while I disagreed with his choice, I respect his being willing to bring his faith into the political sphere with reasoned argument.

  • Steve, Winnipeg, Canada

    Baucham and Dever are really giving each other the stare down in that video still.

  • Ted R. Weiland

    Anyone today intent on preaching the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27) and not afraid of the powers that be can no more separate politics from his preaching than could the prophets of old. Politics is all about the imposition of someone’s morality (or more often than not, someone’s immorality). It’s because our pulpits have removed themselves from involvement with politics that it’s what it is today – poly, meaning many, and tics,meaning bloodsuckers. Time for our pulpits to return to the cut of pastors who filled the pre-revolutionary pulpits.

    • Ted R. Weiland

      Find out how much you really know about the Constitution as compared to Yahweh’s moral law (His commandments, statutes, and judgments). Take our Constitution Survey at and receive a free copy of the “Primer” (an 85 page book, normally $7 plus shipping) of “Bible Law vs. the United States Constitution: The Christian Perspective.”

    • Jeff Weakley

      Amen Ted.

    • Norm Farnum

      Right on target! It’s either God’s Law or man’s. Let’s stay with the Laws of our Creator.

      Read you book. Excellent! Hope others will contact you for a copy. Thought provoking & recommended.

    • John Carpenter

      If pastors are guided by the principle of preaching the “whole counsel of God” through expository preaching of all of scripture — yes, you’re right that they will occasionally touch on political issues but as a rule they’ll often be too busy with the contents of scripture that they just won’t have time to turn the pulpit into a forum for political causes and candidates.

  • Joe Torres

    I really hope that during this election season more videos like this are filmed and posted. Pastors and congregations alike need clarity.

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  • Christopher Battles

    Thank you for this video. Thought provoking and real.

    K, bye

  • pete

    Extraneous comment – Voddie’s comment that “your local sheriff is more important to you than who’s President” seems more relatable to inner-city folk than white suburbia.
    this was well done and all 3 are in general agreement.
    Using a Biblical worldview makes this election difficult.

  • Steve Martin

    Political issues are law issues (‘what we do’).

    The gospel needs to be totally detached from politics. The pulpit is no place for politics. Do it after the worship service. Or better yet, somewhere off the church campus.

    Our congregation is about 50-50, liberals and conservatives…so the gospel can be heard by people in our pews without getting mad at the pastor for taking political sides.

    • Marcus Jackson

      Framing everything as “law-gospel” is unrealistic, reductionistic and foreign to the NT. Kinda tired of guys like you who ruin the beautiful diversity of the word by making everything law or gospel.

    • John Carpenter

      The gospel can’t be “totally detached” from any area of life, certainly not politics which also can’t be totally detached from any area of life.
      Please watch the video again. I felt that all three leaders give great wisdom.

  • Buck

    If your pulpit in your church is not political , you are not in an American Christian church , because our politics originated in our churches , if deference to what they left behind to practice their religions free of government interference . That is also why those that say we weren’t founded as a Christian nation are either ignorant of our history or flat out liars . Like the ACLU !

    • Norm Farnum

      You’re quite right, Buck! And all of the major higher institutions of education were founded by men of Christian faith in order to better establish a society that would be (in my opinion) more kin to workings *here/now* of the Kingdom of God.

  • http://None Chris

    That’s precisely part of the duty of The Body of Christ, i.e., Assemble to discuss and act upon the matters of state. Howbeit, not by encouraging it’s members to be “voting” for evil A or evil B, or to be “voting” at all in such evil systems as we have today. There is a better way.

    Patrick Henry’s famous speech (“Give me liberty or give me death.”) was from a pulpit.

    However, most “churches” today are incorporated (that means they went to another god to be “created” via “articles of incorporation”) and are forbidden to what the Body of Christ (ecclesia) was intended to do, i.e., Assemble, discuss and decide upon the matters of state; and promote The Kingdom of Christ (Note: That’s one of the reasons why women are not permitted to speak while “Church” is in session. 1 Corinthians 14: 34 & 35 — Now, I know that doesn’t sit well with many, but don’t get mad at me, get mad at the Apostle Paul and the One who inspired him to write it).

    If the “churches” of today attempt to act like the Body of Christ, they’ll be chastised by their god and loose their tax exempt status under 501 c 3.

    Are you beginning to realize that perhaps the vast majority of “churches” today are not what they profess to be ??? That is a “Church” or The Body of Christ ?

    I’ve been to commenter Ted Weiland’s website above and have found it to be very informative in these matters. One of the books available there is “Christian Duty Under Corrupt Government”. Recommended.

    • Norm Farnum

      Very accurate perspective, Chris. You’re right on target with your commentary.

      I’ve also been to Weiland’s website, have ordered & read many of his publications, and find them all very challenging in light of most modern-day evangelical church teaching. Another excellent study is His current work regarding “Bible Law vs. the U.S. Constitution” – it can even be read online.

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