Should pastors tell their members who to vote for president? Will the post-pandemic church resemble the pre-pandemic church? What’s being done about the racial divide in the streets of America and within the fiber of the church?
These are among the issues discussed by 20 visionary church leaders from around the country during “The Conversation With Dr. Kenneth C. Ulmer, Next Generation.” Ulmer is the senior pastor of Faithful Central Bible Church in Inglewood, CA who conceived and moderated The Conversation over three days to find out how new generation church leaders view their roles in politics, social justice, and more.
With an extraordinary and critical presidential election upon us, tantamount in the discussion was whether church leaders should advise parishioners how to vote. The consensus of the multi-ethnic, multi-generational panels of men and women pastors, academicians, and legal experts was that the primary responsibility of Christian leaders is to teach the word of God and to model their lives after Jesus Christ. If they effectively perform these duties, they equip members with information necessary to make sound political decisions and ballot choices.
During the candid, sometimes heated, and always engaging talks, the leaders agreed that both major political parties have shortcomings—to which Ulmer asked, what they are willing to compromise when voting for either candidate—but that is where the consensus ended. They differed in their practices about influencing members, especially when it comes to electing the U.S. president.
Attorney Nicole Rommero spoke adamantly and cast the only vote against church leaders influencing their members. “Voting is a personal decision,” she said. “I don’t think that’s the avenue for the church.” However, Rommero supports the church working on social issues, “as Jesus did.”
Some said they would not tell members who to vote for and some didn’t state their practices, however, Dr. Charles E. Dates of Progressive Baptist Church in Chicago has no qualms about advising his members on political issues, including who to vote for president, while preaching to them. “We don’t need to tie Jesus to either of these (political) parties,” he said.
“Jesus is not in heaven worrying about who’s going to be the next president of the United States.” Nonetheless, Dates assured everyone that his members know which presidential candidate he supports.
Albert Tate, who pastors a multi-ethnic congregation at Fellowship Church in Monrovia, CA said that while no one wants to critique their own political party, as an Independent, it has been his practice to “critique both the elephants and the donkeys, and lead them to the lamb.”
Tate’s position stops inches short of Dates’. He said that, just as Dates, he doesn’t shy away from telling members how he thinks they should vote; however, he is more purposeful about how he shares that information. “I’m going to tell you who to vote for,” he said, “just not from the pulpit,” and rousing laughter erupted from his peers.
“If we teach the word of God…then they’ll make the right choice,” Dr. Ty Moody of The Worship Center Christian Church said. It’s no surprise that other panelists voiced this sentiment too, including her husband, Bishop Van Moody, who said, “We’re supposed to hold up the blood-stained banner of Jesus Christ, and preach that, and inform our people of that, and then allow them to make whatever decision they’re supposed to make. “Bishop Moody added that Christians do not have a party and are neither Republicans nor Democrats, however, they are supposed to pray for those in leadership.
Also affirming this position, Dr. Michael J.T. Fisher of the Greater Zion Church in Compton, CA said, “Our Bible—our code of ethics—tells us who we ought to vote for.” Looking ahead, he said that despite the importance of the 2020 general election, “our real concern needs to be two years from now.” Fisher believes that more attention should be given to lower offices, such as congressional representatives, senators, and assembly members, than to the national government, because community members have more influence and power, and receive more benefits from local offices than national offices. Local officials provide more direct services to their stakeholders than elected officials in Washington provide.
Adding to the discussion about church leaders’ duties, Dr. Conway Edwards of One Community Church in Plano, Texas said, “It is our job to tell the story of the gospel of Jesus Christ,” and “We need to tell a better story about the love.”
Another concern the panelists shared is an unwarranted emphasis on the position of the president of the United States. As multi-award-winning gospel artist Eric Campbell commented, “We sometimes lean on our president to do a job they’re not called to do. Our president is not our pastor. He won’t be the gatekeeper when we get to heaven. Jesus won’t ask who we voted for. He’ll ask about our souls and our lives.”
Affirming Campbells’ position, Dr. Moody said, “the president is not the one to help us come closer to Christ.” She repeated that unlike the president, church leaders are responsible for teaching God’s word.
Most of The Conversation leaders agree that the church should be represented and have some form of involvement in politics aside from or in the absence of advising their members on how to vote. Wayne Chaney of Antioch Church, in Long Beach, CA explained that there is a need for prophets and priests, activists and organizers to address the myriad issues facing communities.
Rommero believes that God is preparing young people—The Joshua Generation—to effect change in our country, especially in response to the recent slew of police-involved shootings, including the unwarranted murder of George Floyd which sparked civil unrest and resulted in worldwide protests, which continue although he was murdered in May.
There was also consensus that leaders are duty-bound to remind members to continue to trust God for all of their needs because God controls the world regardless of who occupies the White House.
Ever-changing social mores complicate and seemingly diminish the role of the church; however, these visionaries welcome the challenge to prove the value of the Christian voice and spread the word of God to enrich lives. They are committed to telling people throughout the world about God’s love, and some of them boldly share their political positions and to aid their communities.
Our exploration of The Conversation continues. We will share their perceptions of how the church should address social issues, including systemic racism and racial reconciliation within the walls of the church. Is the church still relevant? In part two we’ll disclose their plans for the evolution of the church and how these leaders plan to pivot, adapting ministry to fluid pandemic restrictions as well as their plans to re-enter edifices. We’ll spotlight more panelists when The Conversation continues (next week).
“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28