Gloucester Daily Times Debate on Abortion (53), September 18, 1986

Editorial by the Times: On Preachers and Politics

Preachers are free to speak out on political issues, but they do themselves and their calling a disservice when they run for political office.

Pat Robertson is the latest clergyman to carry his religious beliefs directly into the political arena. Robertson, the genial television evangelist, apparently intends to run for president.

He hasn’t officially announced as a candidate yet. But he told his followers in a closed-circuit TV address from Washington last night that if they come up with 3 million signatures and a big chunk of campaign money by next September, then he’ll announce as a candidate for the Republican nomination.

In other words, he’s a lead-pipe cinch to run.

Even God wants Robertson to run. At least that’s what Robertson says God told him. The obvious problem here is that God doesn’t vote; only people vote. And this is where we begin to get into some of the troubling aspects of a Robertson presidential bid.

Robertson, a devout Pentecostal, is undoubtedly sincere when he says that God wants him to run. But that’s his God. There are many religions in this nation and many deeply held visions of who or what God represents. Most Americans would feel uncomfortable with the idea of having Robertson’s evangelical vision promoted to the highest political office of the land.

The danger of harnessing that kind of political power to a specific mission was summed up well this weel by Secretary of Education William J. Bennett. Religion, said Bennett, should never be excluded from public debate on political issues. But it should never be used as a kind of divine trump card to foreclose further debate.

Indeed, how would one debate the policies of a president who gets messages directly from God?

That question will never be never be more than an academic concern, of course, because Robertson is not going to win the GOP nomination, much less the 1988 presidential election. The best he could hope for would be enough delegates to put him in the position of deal-maker at a deadlocked convention. And even that would be a long shot.

Robertson is an appealing guy. But once his views and beliefs are examined in the harsh light of the 1988 primary-election season, we think most GOP voters, even the devoutly religious, are going to cast their ballots for mainstream politicians.

Preachers like Pat Robertson and Jesse Jackson are free to join the 1988 political debate, exhorting their followers to support this policy or that. But they should put aside their own political ambitions. They have made their commitment to the ministry of God. They should do both their preaching and their politicking in the pulpit where they belong.

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Note (added 1.8.15): My response to this editorial has been misplaced. My April 1, 1998 response to a similar Times editorial of March 14, 1988, addresses some of the matters involved.

Here, we can see different perspectives on God between Pat Robertson and the editorial staff of the Times. They report Pat believed that God told him to run, then say God does not vote — as though informed choice is not a gift God gives us. This being said, any minister of the Gospel needs to make such issues clear, and Pat himself readily affirmed the U.S. Constitution. But when Pat publicly said God told him to run, it runs into a metaethical problem because this can be easily interpreted as a leverage intended to sway votes in his direction, and it is to this sense the Times reacts. Daniel, in receiving his answer to prayer, says as part of his praise of God: “He sets up kings and deposes them” (2:21), and Mary says in her praise of God: “He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble” (Luke 2:52). In other words, I too am suspicious of any sort of divine claim to run for office. Wiser, truer and more humble to, “As a Christian I am running for office, I am at peace with that in the sight of God, and as a steward of his grace in seeking to serve the political health of the nation.”

In the end, the Times here also is syncretistic, believing not in one true God, but in a multiplicity of different conceptions of God. And they are condescending in separating “the ministry of God” (whose “God” by the way?) from public life, including the freedom to run for office. For, indeed, all qualifying citizens can run for office, regardless of profession or occupation. The Times concludes that ministers should keep their “preaching and their politicking in the pulpit where they belong” (!). In other words, media ordered segregation. As though the Times has such proper political and dictatorial prerogative.

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