I’ve been inundated with questions from members and friends on, “Why didn’t you endorse a candidate last year?” and “Who did you vote for?” To the frustration of many, I didn’t endorse a candidate or a party, nor have I announced who I voted for in the presidential, senatorial, and other races. Other than my family, I haven’t told anyone who I voted for.
It’s not because I didn’t vote. I vote in every general election, nearly all primarily elections, and have rarely missed even a local election since 1976.
And it’s not because I’m ashamed of my vote. I do my homework, study the candidates and their platforms, and proudly vote for the one I believe is the best choice. Sometimes I’m a little discouraged by the choices, but I do my best.
It’s not because I’m a coward—as one person (tongue-in-cheek I hope) accused me of being. I often speak publicly on controversial issues. The very gospel of Jesus has become controversial, and I am very clear on what I believe.
The truth is that there are multiple reasons why I don’t endorse candidates or parties. Here are a few of them:
It violates the tax law for a church or any non-profit organization to endorse a candidate. If our church were to endorse a candidate, we could lose our tax-exempt status and could face additional penalties. This applies to both the church and to me if I’m speaking on behalf of or to the church. I’m allowed to endorse as an individual, but it can’t ever be done in a sermon, in a church publication or letter, in a class, on a webpage, in a blog or social media post, on church letterhead, or at any time when I am speaking for the church or when I am speaking as pastor of the church. And since nearly all of my public speaking and writing is for the church, I don’t endorse at all.
I can and we can speak to legislation. For example, I spoke against the recreational marijuana bill in Arizona. I can and we can speak on a moral issue. For example, I often speak against abortion. But I can’t legally endorse a candidate or a political party.
I know other pastors do endorse candidates and parties. Some are very careful to do so as an individual rather than as the pastor of a church. Some do so out of ignorance—they don’t know they are risking their church’s tax-exempt status. And some do so in defiance of the law because they disagree with it and want to challenge it in court.
My stance is simple. I follow the law and lead our church to do so unless I believe that the law contradicts the Bible. I don’t see anywhere in the Bible where pastors are called to endorse a candidate.
The second reason I don’t endorse a candidate is because it hinders our ability to reach people. Republicans need Jesus. Democrats need Jesus. If we are a red church or a blue church, then we are limiting our ability to reach half of the population. I don’t want people to be turned off because of my politics. If they are turned off at all, I want it to be because of our stand for Jesus. I am much more concerned about hearts than votes.
The third reason I don’t endorse a candidate is because I’m trying to follow the example of Jesus. There were multiple religious/political parties in Jesus’ day just as there are in our day. The Pharisees were the traditionalists of Jesus’ day. The Sadducees took a more liberal viewpoint of things. The Herodians had a more pragmatic approach and cooperated with the Romans. The Essenes were separatists who observed a very strict moral code and kept to themselves. And the Zealots worked to expel the Romans through military action and armed acts of insurrection. All five groups claimed that “God was on their side,” yet Jesus did not identify with any of them. As a matter of fact, He was much more likely to “call them out” than to endorse them. He focused on the kingdom of God rather then the kingdoms of this world.
The fourth reason I don’t endorse a candidate is because I believe that the real answers to the issues of today are spiritual and not political. The change we need in America won’t come from Washington. Passing good laws is a worthy goal, but laws—even good laws—don’t change human hearts. Only God can change a human heart, and He does that through the work of His Spirit and the proclamation of the gospel. In the church, I want us to keep our focus on preaching and praying aimed at changing the hearts of individuals. We are much more likely to change our country one-by-one than through the ballot box.
Finally, let me say that my stance is not temporary and had nothing to do with the politics of 2020. I have never endorsed a candidate or a party since I began to work in a church. As a youth pastor in 1980, I heard our interim pastor endorse Jimmy Carter since he was “a fine Christian gentleman and a Baptist.” I saw the division and discord it brought to the church and I saw it take the church’s focus away from the gospel of Jesus and turn it toward politics. Since that time, I have lived through the leadership of Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and Joe Biden. I did not endorse any of them—or their opponents.
I am not at all opposed to politics. I think deeply about politics and I have strong opinions about leadership and about candidates. I encourage church members to vote, to get involved in politics, and even to run for office.
But in the church and even as an individual, I want to be known for my stance for Jesus and not for a candidate or a party.