Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Pastor and Public Policy

Today I sat in a meeting in a local hotel at a "Pastor's Roundtable" that had been scheduled to discuss efforts to get a proposed Constitutional Amendment protecting the traditional definition of marriage on the ballot in West Virginia. Jeremy Dys, and the Family Policy Council of West Virginia have been working for some time to make this happen. The idea is a simple one - that marriage should be defined as a union between one man and one woman. Obviously I support that concept. Polls indicate that 90% of West Virginians hold this belief as well, and would vote for such an amendment to the state constitution, if given the opportunity. A legislative head count also indicates that the issue would pass by a large margin in both houses of the legislature, should the measure get to the floor.

There is no provision for petition or referendum available to West Virginia voters, but the only way the question of a constitutional amendment can come before the voters, is for the legislature to vote to put it on the ballot. But the voters is West Virginia were not given the opportunity to voice their opinions through the voting booth. Why? Basically because two delegates in powerful committee chairmanship positions kept the bill from going to the floor of the House of Delegates for an up or down vote.

As a citizen, this drives me up the wall. Aren't our representatives obliged to listen to those whom they represent? I communicated with several Delegates and State Senators regarding this issue during the regular session. In most cases I was told that, while they were personally supportive, and some even co-sponsored the measure, they were powerless to get the issue out of committee. The Governor saw no reason to offer such an amendment since the state already has a "Defense of Marriage Act", and the House leadership is in lockstep with the Governor. However, as anyone who watches the news or reads the paper knows, DOMA's can easily be declared unconstitutional if the right case gets to the right judge in an appeals court. The only thing that can keep this from happening is to simply amend the constitution do define traditional marriage - something that 30 other states (including neighboring Ohio and Kentucky) have already done.

Part of me is political. I can't help it. It's just there. Some of it is due to my heritage. Some of it is due to my passionate world view, and my deep felt belief that Christians should be involved in the public square. That part of me began to come out in the meeting this afternoon.

"The only thing these people understand is votes!" I said passionately. "Except for a few intense ideologues, most of these politicians are only interested in which way the wind is blowing. Their main interest is to get reelected. You can try to handle them with kid gloves, but it's going to take boxing gloves to really get anything done." I continued, "The best bet is to pour everything you've got into getting those two particular delegates (from Charleston and Morgantown) defeated in the next election. That will send a message that we mean business."

Political Science 101, pure and simple.

Then the old conflict came up again in my spirit. As a pastor, just what is my role in public policy?

Some feel that the Pastor must be at the center of these activities. That school of thought sees the minister as a glorified lobbyist and political activist. Others feel strongly opposed to Pastors being heavily involved in public policy. Some are just apathetic. I, personally am conflicted. Let me explain why.

My mind went back to February 13, 1996. It was a defining moment in my ministry. After nearly a quarter of a century in the ministry, I got a recall.

I sat in a crowd of 40,000 pastors at a Promise Keeper's Pastor's Conference in Atlanta's Georgia Dome, and God spoke to my heart about my personal involvement in politics. That's not what Tony Evans' message was about, but it was during that message that God spoke to me. Now, I'm not one of those guys who claims to always be hearing the voice of God. Of course I do hear Him as He speaks to me through His word, and as He leads and teaches me through His Holy Spirit. But there have been times - very few in number - but real, nonetheless, that God has gotten "right in my face". That night in Atlanta was one of those times.

Did He speak to me in an audible voice?


It was much louder than that!

I was coming to the end of my first term on the local Board of Education. I loved what I was doing, and felt that I had wonderful opportunity to represent Christ in that particular arena - and that is what I tried to do with all my might. Just before leaving for Atlanta, I had gone through some catalogs containing information about yard signs and other campaign materials. My thoughts were that I would place my order when I got back from the Clergy Conference, but after my confrontation with the Lord, that order was never sent in.

What did God say to me that was so profound?

It was really very simple.

"I didn't call you into public service. I called you into ministry!"

That was it. No bolt of lightning, no heavenly choir singing, but what a humbling moment it was! Like Isaiah, in chapter 6 of his prophecy, I was broken before the Lord.

It was a recall to His original purpose for me. Upon my return, and at the next meeting, I told my fellow School Board members, about my specific decision not to seek re-election, and the reason why. That confrontation with the Lord is something I am obliged to remember every day that He spares my life.

I had to remember it again today.

So therein lies the conflict in my heart. What is my role as a pastor in public policy?

When I hear of such meetings and strategy sessions, I feel compelled to be involved. Yer my first allegiance is to what my Father has called me to be and do. The Good News of Jesus Christ is the primary message. Then the manner in which Christ impacts our lives comes into play. Following Jesus and making disciples is our main task, teaching new Christ Followers "all things that He has commanded us". Does it spill over into every area of our lives? Of course it does. Do I stop being a citizen? No, but I have to remember that I am first and foremost a subject of His Kingdom. Jesus Christ changes lives. Furthermore, the only way we will ever create lasting change in the world (or even just in our state) is not through the ballot box, but through changed lives. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of salvation to everyone who believes.

Personally, I have committed to never again be identified with partisan politics. While I will speak from a Biblical world view to issues of morality and public policy from the pulpit, I will not allow myself to be pigeonholed into a particular "camp". I have even gone so far as to change my voter registration to "Independent". My prayer has become this, "God please help me be reminded that my greatest impact is not through flexing political muscles, but by leading people to a personal relationship with you, through Jesus." Effectual fervent prayer will surely have more impact than all the political strategy in the world.

Perhaps the day will come that we will hold more "pastor's roundtables" around the state to focus on the life changing power of the Gospel - and pour our energies into executing a strategy to bring our state to Jesus - the way the early church did it.

More on this later...


Cathy Durso Howerton said...

I'm sorry you have to stiffle that political urge but you know how the saying goes... "the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing". What if somebody couldn't hear your message of God's love because they never got past your political stand (better to lay down eh?). Keep on keepin on Ashman! Luv ya!
OLD sad Mary

dan said...

All the political strategy is for nought without the power of God within His church. We, as His servants, are to 'preach the Word in season and out of season'. Prayer can change a government over night; prayer can change all the wrongs in society if we would only prevail.

God bless brother

C.J. Adkins said...

Thank you, dear friends, for your comments. Cathy, you are correct about keeping the main thing... the main thing. You are an encourager!
And Dan, how true about the power of prayer. It has been said that Satan scoffs at our programs, laughs at our labor, but trembles when he sees the weakest Christian on his knees!