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?
Though it is easy to be discouraged by the divisive rhetoric in the presidential campaign thus far (including demigogical rants from some clergy!), it is important, even vital, for clergy to help raise the moral and ethical issues that confront us. And it is important, even vital, for clergy leaders to support those political options that are analogous to or point in the direction of the justice and peace of the kingdom of God.
It is not the role of clergy to advocate partisanship from the pulpit. However, I will exercise my rights as a citizen of the United States to work for those candidates who address the “weightier issues” of faith–not the so-called “wedge issues” in our culture wars which have been used for political gain, but rather those who are willing to challenge self-interest and raise our sights higher than our own pocket books; those who are willing to raise the impertinent, inconvenient, and uncomfortable questions: Why not? Why not friendship and trust among communities and nations? Why not food for every family, a home for every human being? Why not equity, freedom, justice and hope for the peoples of the earth. Why not sacrifice for the greater good? Why not?
It is not my role as a Christian pastor to “Christianize” the United States, but it is my responsibility to remind those who would listen of the truths the bible tells: of an alternative vision to the fear and alienation that so characterize our times, and a vision of a covenant community marked by concern for neighbor.