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Political candidates and ‘prophetic’ clergy – Endorsement or Empowerment?

revfisher 600Campaign season (which one could argue is endless) is always ubiquitous and duplicitous for me as a pastor. These moments are joyous; making ministry real! Election cycles remind us that those who have a theology or faith-based-belief that does not take into account political developments and social realities have signed a promissory note to ministerial irrelevance. Those who serve in the pastorate must constantly be mindful of how legislation and the appropriation of resources impact those who we are called to serve at a grassroots, neighborhood and living room level.

These same moments are frustrating. The tension rests in the requirement pastors have to calculate the best way to exert our pastoral influence. It has been common place for pastors to publicly endorse candidates directly and indirectly. This is commendable when it has been done through a thorough deliberation and discernment process and not merely to score points in the game of ministerial and political opportunism.

Sadly, some ministers cut back door deals with politicians. Others, however, deeply vet the candidates and sign on to support the one they have presumed will do the best job. I believe endorsements are plausible but empowerment is more persuasive. In some ways, to presume our parishioners need our political direction and guidance via a direct endorsement of a particular candidate implies a naiveté or anti-intellectualism on behalf of our parishioners that ought to indict the ministerial leader as much as it does the church member. In this regard, what I believe serves the pastoral motive most effectively is empowering the voter base over and above endorsing a candidate directly.

What I have resolved to do in this season of my ministerial tenure is to work tirelessly towards shifting the focus from the candidate to the voter. I am mindful that candidates do what is politically expedient and ultimately in their own best political interest. I understand that. Politics can be a visceral venture that requires unethical (or at least "not so ethical") compromises. But there ought to be a stark difference in the motives of a pastor/preacher and a politician. Pastor/Preachers are bound by redemptive prophecy and not run-of-the-mill political procedures.

To this end, pastors must admit that the cardinal political sin of our communities has been our apathy regarding the electoral process (especially in local elections). Therefore, I encourage all ministerial leaders to lean more on strategies to empower the voter and less on endorsing candidates. I am not objecting to any minister who has (or will) endorse a candidate. That is their pastoral and ministerial right (as long as it is done within the bounds of the law). It is a model that has moved several candidates into the realm of office by which they have aspired.

However, I contend that the process of strengthening the voter base serves as its own endorsement of the most qualified and apropos candidate. Any viable candidate who believes in the "power of the people" would be well invested in working with all willing partners in increasing the voter turnout. Elected officials who are indifferent to voter apathy indict themselves as unfit to lead those whom they seek to represent. We must demand that all elected officials do what is personally impactful for those they represent; not what is merely politically expedient for themselves (or even our individual ministries).

I have not been persuaded to the point of endorsement by any candidate, recently. I remain an independent thinker and voter. In the words of Malcolm X, "I'm for truth regardless of who tells it. I'm for justice, not matter who it is for or against." My academic training and critical thinking methods have taught me to suspend my judgment when I don't have enough compelling evidence to draw a definitive conclusion.

Meanwhile, I stand committed to plans of action that increase voter registration, expose voters to the platforms and potential of each candidate through town-hall debates and other public forums, denounce political manipulation and impropriety and empower each community member to make the best decision regarding their political representation. This is where I have chosen to take my stand and pledge my efforts. On this cross I am willing to be socially, politically and even ministerially crucified.

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