Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Problem With Polls

I love to read over the latest polling data, especially when it deals with perceptions about church and state issues. The very topic is one I enjoy studying and discussing. It is like Bruce Gourley says: It lights my Baptist fire. So when I found the latest poll from Lifeway Research that six of ten Protestant pastors disapprove of Obama's job performance, I cringed a bit.

OK. I did more than cringe.

Then I read where 47% strongly disapproved of Obama's performance. I almost fell out of my chair. The poll bothered me.

The poll did thrill me when it found that by a large majority of Democratic aligned pastors (84%) believe that endorsing candidates from the public pulpit is wrong. However, among Republican aligned pastors, that number fell to only 61%. This tells me that politics might be playing a role in more than the voting booth; it is quite possibly an influence on what is being preached.

Disagreeing with the public policies or actions of a politician is fine, even encouraged if we are to be a moral voice. We must always be careful that disagreement is done in the proper sphere, with the pastor walking that fine line between his or her personal and pastoral voice. What bothers me, however, is that too often history has shown that we will let politics become the moral voice instead the moral voice shouting down the politics.

I could cite all sorts of anecdotal evidence where the politics have been confused for the theology. Pastors have endorsed candidates from the pulpit because they believe that is what Jesus would want; public schools giving the mic to one religious group to lead the entire stadium in the worship expression of prayer, while excluding all other faiths and those other tax payers who are of no faith; or cities erecting the banner of one religious group using tax money but excluding all others (link to an opinion piece by Audrey Love who certainly needs a lesson in the history of our nation and the religious persecution that resulted in the First Amendment.).

So I would argue that while our pastors should be applauded that the see the need for a hedge between church and state, I also know that history has taught us that the hedge is likely to be cut down if the political yearning of the pastorate gets too excited. This is something we cannot afford to give an inch of the wall that separates the church from the state, lest both become corrupted by the power of Caesar instead of the power of the Spirit.

I guess that is why it bothers me when the poll showed such a large percentage of pastors who simply do not like Obama. Now I could argue that is due to pastors, by and large, have a lack of economics training to understand how desperate things were in Q4 2008, or Q1 2009; I could also argue that very few pastors understand the basics of tax policy well enough to grasp the dynamics of what is needed to fund the mandates the American people insist upon having. I could easily make the case that much of the criticism of Obama is due to simple lack of understanding of how things work economically and of our basic system of government or our history/legal system. While all that may be true, it is of little comfort to know that history is replete with examples where clergy have gotten so disgruntled, they climbed over the Wall of Separation and began using political weapons under the guise of spiritual truths.

Maybe it is time for pastors to step back a moment from the political fear mongering out there and begin concentrating on our mission instead of the next election.

Just thinking out loud.

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