Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Politician and the Pulpit

My friend Q just forwarded to me the video of Sarah Palin speaking at a church-related graduation ceremony at her church. I watched the whole thing.

First I want to say something in Palin's defense, because I do occasionally like to appear fair-minded. Some have misconstrued Governor Palin's words when she asked the congregation to pray for the military and for the situation in Iraq. She said this:
Pray for our military men and women who are striving to do what is right also for this country, that our leaders, our national leaders are sending them out on a task that is from God. That's what we have to make sure that we're praying for, that there is a plan and that that plan is God's plan. Bless them with your prayers, your prayers of protection over our soldiers.
It's all over the Internet that Palin said that the Iraq war is a mission from God--but that's not what she said. She was urging the congregation to pray that they are being sent "on a task that is from God"--in other words, that the choice to wage war in Iraq is one that pleases God.

This commission sounds good on the surface, at least to the evangelical mind. We are supposed to pray and be concerned that our choices please God, and that they fall in line with God's plan. But if you look a little closer, it's actually quite confusing and illogical. I'm convinced that Palin is NOT saying that the war IS a task from God. Perhaps Palin is suggesting that she hopes God will get on board with our plan to wage war, and make it his plan.

No wait; that can't be right. It's not humble enough.

What about this interpretation: Maybe Palin is saying we've made this choice to go to war, and we continue to make it every day, and our prayer should be that this choice falls in line with what God wants.

But what if it doesn't? Isn't the flip side of that prayer that if the war is NOT in line with what God wants, that we should ask God to do his God-thing and influence our leaders to get us OUT of Iraq? What if God is up there grieving and pissed off because we continue to choose to wage a war that is not just?

But this logical correlate to Palin's prayer does not show up in her spiritual exhortation, nor in her speeches. She appears to be convinced that the war is indeed a task from God, in line with his purposes. And if that is the case, then isn't it disingenuous to pray that the war fall in line with God's holy plan? Because essentially she's saying, "And tough luck if it doesn't." And that is not very Jesusy.

But my biggest problem with the video is that her church has given her a political platform to promote her own political career and agenda--and that is NOT what the church is supposed to be doing. Palin said,
What I need to do is strike a deal with you guys, as you go out throughout Alaska. I can do my part in doing things like working really really hard to get a natural gas pipeline, about a $30 billion dollar project that going to create a lot of jobs for Alaskans, and we're going to have a lot of energy flowing through here. And pray about that also. I think God's will has to be done, in unifying people and companies to get that gasline built; so pray for that.

But I can do my job there in developing our natural resources, and doing things like getting the roads paved and making sure our trooper have their cop cars and their uniforms and their guns, and making sure our public schools are funded, but really all that stuff doesn't do any good if the people of Alaska's heart isn't right with God. And that's going to be your job. As I'm doing my job let's strike this deal: Your job is gonna be to be out there, reaching the people, hurting people throughout Alaska. And we can work together to make sure God's will be done here.
Don't even try to tell me that that is not a political stump speech. She is speaking their language, the language of God-minded evangelicals. She even spiritualizes things that are way outside the purview of our ability to know God's will--like the natural gas pipeline, for example.

The church is not the place for politics; it is not the place for a leader to endorse one political party, candidate, or position. I'm not saying that there should be a dichotomy between our faith and the rest of our lives. I do believe that every aspect of our lives should be informed and influenced by our faith; but what that looks like, outside of the realm of specific Biblical mandates, is up to the individual believer.

The church should not provide a stump for a politician to use to bolster her own cause and her own agenda. That particular church has a history of promoting partisan politics, and in this case, Governor Palin made the politically advantageous but ethically ambiguous choice to use the church to advance her politics.

The whole video made me uncomfortable, not because I don't agree with Palin's politics, but because of the inappropriate marriage of the politician and the pulpit. How much more admirable would it have been if she had left her politics outside, and used the opportunity to congratulate the graduates and remind them to love God first, and let the politics fall as they may.


Dave Haynes said...

I tend to agree with you on a philosophical level, however, politicians have been going to churches to make speeches throughout America's history. The Democrats are masters of it In Re: Jesse Jackson, James Meeks. As long as money is not collected at the Church, nothing is technically wrong with it

E. Peevie said...

DH--Nothing is technically wrong with it--from the civic perspective. But from the gospel perspective, I believe that it's wrong because it takes the focus off of Jesus and puts it on a person or a political issue.

The purpose of going to church is to worship God, and political partisanship has no place in a worship service, IMHO.

But DH--thanks for commenting! You are the bomb!