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Has Your Preacher Jumped the Shark? September 26, 2008

Posted by TimTheFoolMan in Religion.
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First, Fonzie jumped over a shark in that fateful episode of Happy Days, and the show lost it’s following and whatever credibility it might have had with its audience as something worth watching. Since then, the digerati have begun referring to the phenomenon of fading into irrelevance as “Jumping the Shark.” Here’s a way to tell if this has happened to your preacher. From today’s New York Times:

“I would say endorsement is a strong word,” he said. “I’m planning to make a recommendation. I’m going to evaluate each candidate’s positions in light of Scripture and make a recommendation to my congregation as to which candidate aligns more so.”

Let me be clear. I have no problem with anyone publicly endorsing a candidate for any office, and doing everything in their power to influence others to support that candidate.

Pat Robertson Jumping the Shark

Jumping the Shark from the Pulpit

My first problem is someone wanting all the benefits that come with being a 501(3)(c), but also wanting to be a political entity. The purpose of the existing law was to ensure that political influence didn’t make its way through the financial channels of a charitable organization. Granted, you can argue that even with the existing law, a huge number of organizations, both on the left and the right, have successfully circumvented this law. That hardly suggests that preachers should take advantage of that fact.

The Larger Problem

My second problem is with the way that preachers have (historically) assessed candidate positions. Very rarely, if ever, does a preacher truly look at the breadth of a candidate’s career and official positions on various matters and then elucidate all the various ways in which Candidate A might meet some scriptural litmus test but Candidate B does not. Instead, they grab for a particular element of a candidate’s platform, and then ignore any evidence that might suggest that the candidate is less than Billy Graham or Mother Theresa.

For example, how would one judge Senator McCain “according to scripture”? Do you use the standard that the New Testament provides for deacons, and then say “Well, he’s not the husband of one wife, because this is his second marriage”? Given that a deacon is considered a “sub-shepherd” within a flock, shouldn’t we hold Presidential candidates to a similarly high standard? Likewise, do we look at Governor Palin’s family with the same scrutiny that we would examine a potential preacher or deacon? Certainly Senator Obama’s position on abortion is going to go against the grain for conservative Christians. What of the rhetoric that has been forthcoming from his church? What of Senator Biden?

Get Carter?

I dare say that few, if any, Southern Baptist churches would look at the positions of either Presidential candidate and suggest (with a straight face) that they meet the New Testament qualifications for a deacon. The only problem there is, anyone who would meet such qualifications and also desire to hold the highest office in our country runs the risk of being largely ineffective, as evidenced by the term of President Carter. President Carter aligned more closely with my theology than possibly any other in the history of our nation. Unfortunately, any number of less-theologically-sound presidents (both Republican and Democrat) have been better leaders for our country.

Christians would have done better to have examined President Carter’s qualifications outside of his theology. Can he work in a bipartisan way in the mess that is Washington, D.C.? Does he have the ability (or disability, depending on your perspective) to reach compromise solutions?

The Proof of the Text is in the… Preaching?

To close, here’s a word to all the preachers out there waiting anxiously to push your congregations toward one candidate or another (either explicitly, or by the power of suggestion and association). If you’re going to use scripture to determine who your flock should support, make sure you haven’t already made up your mind before you begin the examination. As a former pastor of mine used to say, “a text without a context is a pretext to a proof-text.”

If you’re going to go that route, just be honest with everyone about what you’re doing, and leave your Bible in the cushy chair before you step into the pulpit. For prooftexting the scriptural soundness of your favorite candidate, you won’t need it.

It will just slow you down.


1. Mia - September 26, 2008

I read the following and thought of this post.

In a world where blind guides lead the unsuspecting to oblivion, God promises to give both sight and insight.

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go: I will guide you with My eye. Psalm 32:8

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. 2 Timothy 3:16

No doubt as a nation under God we’ve gotten way off target from the Message, it appears even from the pulpit. Do you ever wonder as you see what is being played out what the bigger picture truly is? I do. Scripture tells us that God looks down from heaven and see’s the hearts of men. So November 4th will be a day already forseen. My hope is that each of us approaches it with prayer that asks for clarity and wisdom and that we vote with God’s leading and not from the information the media provides or the photo opportunities that feed into the similarities of our lives with those running for office.

These are definitely times we are ill prepared for on the home front.

=o) I think I just journaled in your blog.

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