Well, actually, no signatures have been counted concerning me, and I have no intentions to announce. However, the pastor who I grew up under and alongside–the same pastor who gave me my first ministry post–wrote the other day, in his Facebook status update, that he was considering a run for the mayoral job being left by Chicago’s Richard M. Daley. He asked, “What do you think?” I commented that my short answer was no and that I’d need a couple days and a longer email to tell him more about my thoughts. So I emailed him.
Then I started thinking a bit more broadly, pulling myself away from Bishop Trotter in particular and toward the broader question of whether a pastor could be a politician in general. I wasn’t altogether convinced that my Bishop was considering a run. Knowing him, I left open the possibility that he could have been throwing out a good question, trying to get some feedback. He, indeed, confirmed in his reply that he was teasing. But the broad question of how a pastor might mix inside a political world intrigued and intrigues me.
Now, my wife and a few of my closest allies will readily remind me that, in the past, I’ve nursed or jilted or turned over this consideration as a personal professional question. So, I’m not distant from it. But I’d like to make a few observations, especially given my last post about a pastor’s job description, and see what you think. In other words, do you see the two roles working together in a person? Have you?
1) Pastors are not new to serving and leading in the political arena. In my city and state, for example, Rev. James Meeks (my wife’s pastor when she was a child) currently serves as a state senator. He pastors one of the region’s largest churches, and it seems he’s found this balance for several years. Rev. Floyd Flake leads a thriving AME congregation in New York, and for part of his pastoral tenure he was a sitting Congressman. There are historical examples too. Most noted, Adam Clayton Powell, Sr. from New York led a church while serving in the US Congress. There are many others.
2) It’s a good thing to have people of faith in politics. Of course, the question is, should those people of faith be preachers in general and pastors in particular? A pastor is charged to “feed the flock,” so says the New Testament. And while the roles of pastors have changed over the centuries–to the point where we have specializations like pastors of this and pastors of that–much of the basics of being a pastor sits the same. We preach and teach and pray and marry and eulogize and cry and fast and motivate people to follow Someone great. And somewhere along the way the pastor has to gauge whether his or her commitments in one area conflict, diminish, or enliven commitments in the other. I would imagine similiar questions could be raised for non-Christian spiritual leaders like rabbis, imans, and on through the line.
3) What comes first, the constituency before me or the God before me? This may be an unfair question. Here’s the thing about Christianity–and remember, that’s the place from which I offer my scattered ramblings–in this faith, we exalt the person of Jesus and all that he says for the world that he runs. If Jesus is in charge, what he says happens. Jesus gets what Jesus wants. Of course, Jesus isn’t running for mayor or governor. But if a follower of Jesus or, more pointedly, a pastor of one of Jesus’ churches is running, when and how does that person live into their responsibilities as a spiritual leader while living into those explicit responsibilities as a political leader? They don’t always conflict, but they probably don’t always converge. What would be that pastor’s first responsibility? Would she or he compromise internally or externally on something that either God or the people expected, and when she or he made that compromise, what would that mean for her or his fit for leadership in either arena?
4) Serving the church. Perhaps this is more of that third point. When you serve the church, your hopes and goals come from a spiritual center. The expectation in church leadership is that you’ll give yourself over to the agenda of the Divine, and when that agenda conflicts with yours, you will adjust. After all, who is able to compete successfully with God? Who in history picked a fight with God and won? The same is true about serving God. You do what God asks/expects.
I could likely go on, but I’m interested in what questions and comments come up for you. What do you think about a pastor serving as a political leader? Do you think that automatically brings compromises? Do you have connections to people who’ve done this well?