By all accounts, this is an odd political season. Since the rise of the Religious Right it has not been uncommon for preachers (Robertson, Falwell et al) to grab a little more spotlight during this time. But this is something entirely different.
Suddenly political candidates are being held accountable for what preachers in their churches have to say. Blame it on the Devil or YouTube, depending on your theology, but it is a modern political reality.
It started with video of Sen. Barack Obama’s pastor making comments that incensed many outside the UCC congregation on the Southside of Chicago. The Rev. Jeremiah Wright seemed to enjoy the new-found attention and made even more offensive comments that caused his Oval Office-seeking parishioner to distance himself from the preacher and church.
Two candidates have drawn less attention in religious matters. Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden is a Roman Catholic. Republican presidential candidate John McCain is an Episcopalian who attends North Phoenix Baptist Church where other family members are church members.
Sen. McCain’s pastor is not a good place to look for startling sound bites. Dan Yeary (a Baptist campus minister turned preacher) is not an extremist — except for that extreme tan that comes from being a pastor in Coral Gables, Fla., and Phoenix, Ariz.
Now attention is being focused on the past and present pastors of Gov. Sarah Palin. No longer are they tucked away in Alaska.
The preaching heard by the current vice presidential candidate over the years at an Assembly of God church and now a non-denominational Bible Church reflects very conservative, and in some cases Pentecostal, theology. Only those unfamiliar with such religious traditions and doctrines would be surprised by pulpit pronouncements that Jesus is the only way to heaven, that homosexuality is a chosen sinful lifestyle and that the return of Christ is just around the corner.
However, one of her pastor’s claim that thousands will come to Alaska en route to the climax of history was new to me. Interestingly, another former pastor interviewed recently is named Tim McGraw. (He is the one with faith, but not Faith.)
There is also video of Gov. Palin speaking to her former AG congregation. She asked them to pray that God would deliver a new pipeline.
I hold the Gov. responsible for her own words at the church. But should any person be responsible for what they heard from the pulpit?
If these new “rules” had been in place earlier, I would have approached church life differently.
First, I would have interrupted a few sermons over the years. I have been blessed by excellent pastors. But I don’t want to be held responsible for everything they — or especially guest preachers — have said from the pulpit.
Second, I would have been more careful in my own preaching. Perhaps a disclaimer could be offered at the beginning: “This sermon, though hopefully a proper rendering of the Word of God, is solely the opinion of the presenting preacher and no one on whose ears these words fall should be held accountable for any foolishness that might result.”
How much a candidate’s church involvement and theological leanings matter in a political race is up for debate. But if pew-sitters keep getting blamed for everything their preachers say, it will be even harder to get anyone with political leaning into a church — except during re-election.