In a recent interview, Rev. Franklin Graham questioned the Christian credentials of President Barack Obama and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. He apologized Tuesday for questioning President Obama’s faith. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, members of the NAACP’s religious roundtable called on Graham and all Christian leaders to “refrain from using Christianity as a weapon of political division.” As we approach Super Tuesday, what do you make of this controversy? Who, if anyone, can define our faith for us? Politicians have always used faith as a weapon of political division, but should clergy be held to a higher standard? What is the role of clergy during presidential campaigns?
I have coached youth soccer for several years. And, especially in the youngest leagues, coaches have one clear role -— point to the goal. During games, novice players often get turned around and start kicking the soccer ball in the wrong direction. The coach has to get the attention of the players and say, “You’re going the wrong way! Over there is the goal! Over there is the goal!”
This, I believe, is the role of clergy during an election.
Our greatest responsibility is not to influence the media or instruct the masses. We are not present to point out the flaws and faults of candidates. Our greatest charge is to our congregants. Congregants (and others, of course) often get turned around and start kicking the ball in the wrong direction. Religious people have a curious history of believing that the goal is political power. For example, crowds tried to take Jesus by force and make him king (John 6:15). Disciples asked the ascending Jesus if he was going to give the nation of Israel its rightful place in the world (Acts 1:6). Sincere spiritual people frequently kick the ball toward the goal of political power. They think “If we can just get ‘our man’ or ‘our woman’ in office, all will be well. Clergy thus have to get the attention of the congregants and say, “You’re going the wrong way! Over there is the goal! Over there is the goal!”
What is the goal? It’s not to ignore politics. To withdraw from politics is to squander opportunities to be salt and light in the world (Matt. 5:13-16). I applaud the politicians and activists in my congregation who seek to engage in governmental and cultural issues from a Christian perspective.
But the goal, for followers of Jesus, has never been political power. Our hope has never been in a person who might ascend to the throne. Our hope has always been in the One who has already ascended to the throne. As we join God in his mission of righting every wrong and bringing wholeness to a broken world, we recognize that the ultimate solution is not King Romney, King Santorum, King Gingrich, or King Obama. The ultimate solution to all the wounds in the world is King Jesus.
That’s the goal.