Monday, October 09, 2006

A "Baptized" Voters' Guide

I was a Southern Baptist pastor for 35 years and a Director of Missions for 20 months. I am no longer a Southern Baptist, having become an American Baptist (ABC/USA). When I began my career as a pastor, Southern Baptists did not mix religion and partisan politics. Partisan politics didn't enter Southern Baptist life until 1979, when a Texas circuit judge, Judge Paul Pressler, introduced it into Southern Baptist denominational life. Pressler used a form of partisan politics to lead the fundamentalists to affect a takeover of the denomination.

By the 1990s, many Southern Baptists forsook their political-free moorings and joined forces with right wing Christians in giving full support to the Republican party. In Oklahoma, Christian groups began to publish voters' guides that were skewed to their political views. These voters guides were purported to be impartial and nonpartisan. But they were not. Not then. Not now.

It became a regular occurrence, during election seasons, for these voters' guides to be posted on windshields of automobiles in church parking lots on Sunday mornings. Many churches passed these guides out to their congregations on the Sunday prior to elections. I abhorred the Sunday prior to elections when I was a pastor of a local church. I hated to see election day because I knew that these biased voters' guides would would show up somewhere, somehow. I finally had to resort to posting guards in parking lots to prevent the voters guides from being distributed and posted on automobile windshields.

I abhor the idea of churches and denominations getting involved in producing and distributing voters' guides. Secular politics is NOT, and never has been, the purpose and goal of the church. The purpose of the church is to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. The purpose of the church is to evangelize the lost and disciple the believers. I am not opposed to Christians becoming involved in secular politics. I believe it's appropriate for Christians to be involved in politics, but I believe it is inappropriate for Christians to use the church as a platform for promoting secular politics and distributing voters' guides.

Voters' guides always claim to be impartial and nonpartisan. That claim, however, is false. Voters' guides are always biased to one view or another. I have never pastored a church that was comprised only of Democrats or of Republicans. I have never pastored a church wherein the members were all of one political persuasion. As pastor, I always sought to be totally unbiased when it comes to secular politics. I do not, and never did, discuss secular politics from the pulpit. I have, on numerous occasions, taken public stands from the pulpit on moral issues. But I eschewed discussing Republican or Democratic political views from the pulpit. That was a self-imposed off limits that I established for myself early in my ministry. God called me to preach the gospel and pastor people. He did not call me to become involved in partisan politics. I believe in the strictest interpretation of separation of church and state.

This week, the Oklahoma Baptist Messenger published, using Cooperative Program dollars, an Oklahoma Voter' Guide. According to a letter cosigned by Ray Sanders (Editor of the Oklahoma Baptist Messenger) and Mike Jestes (Executive Director of the Oklahoma Family Policy Council), the Messenger seeks to provide a biblical worldview concerning news and information.

The Messenger, which is supposed to be a publication for publishing news about churches and denominational affairs, is now being used to promote a decidedly Republican agenda. The questions posed in the voters' guide are favorable to Republican candidates and are unfavorable to Democratic candidates. The guide promotes Republican candidates and makes Democratic candidates appear to be nonchristian. I am a Republican, but I don't believe a denominational paper should ever become involved in producing voters' guides that promote one view exclusively. Nor do I believe that a denominational paper should be used to influence elections.

Oklahoma Baptists should be ashamed of the Baptist Messenger. Oklahoma Baptists should be ashamed of BGCO Executive Director, Anthony Jordan, for allowing this voters' guide to be published. Oklahoma Baptists should be ashamed of Messenger editor, Ray Sanders, for publishing this guide. Oklahoma Baptists should demand that the Messenger refrain from publishing voters' guides. Oklahoma Baptists should demand that the Messenger stick to publishing news about Oklahoma Baptist churches, church events, denominational events, and promoting the gospel of Christ. Forget the idea of "Baptizing" a voters' guide. Instead, concentrate on promoting the baptizing of new believers.