Sometimes folks in the Church, especially in the Church, feel compelled to speak on political issues. And in many ways this is sort of expected. I was talking to an old friend of mine from High School who is now a pro-migrant worker activist, and she was interested in knowing my opinion... not merely because I am a smart fellow who can analyze things, but because I am a religious leader, and the impact of religious leaders upon immigration issues has been great.
Historically, clergy have had a major impact upon society - and often from the pulpit. There were revolutionary preachers - there were abolitionist preachers. The leaders of the Civil Rights movement were members of the clergy. And even today, and even within the LCMS, many of the folks who speak out against Abortion are preachers. And then, also, many of the pro-migrant, pro-homosexual leaders tend to be clergy as well. Pious preachers will take to their pulpits and say, "We as a country, on the basis of God's Word, need to do X" - whatever X may be.
I am extremely hesitant to do this. On any policy.
Why? Because there is a nuance that I think we can forget about preaching. Our preaching is to be authoritative, and our authority is nothing but the authority of Christ to preach His Law and His Gospel - Thus sayeth the Lord. There are many things that I can say on topics that are hot button today on the basis of Scripture. Abortion on demand is wrong, because the Scriptures depict and describe human life, specific, known individuals, as beginning at conception. I can say, "Don't do this wantonly." I can say to the woman who has and is repentant, "I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost." Those are the things in scripture. Thus sayeth the Lord.
I cannot say, "As candidate X supports this policy about abortion, you cannot vote for him in good conscience." I can't. Not with the authority of Scriptures. I can say, "his policy would allow wickedness to remain legal" - I can say, "his approach would not fix everything entirely" - but how do I mandate voting in this specific time from the pulpit? Can I say, "this policy alone should determine your vote"? Where on the basis of Scripture can I say that? There may be other issues, indeed, issues involving life and death that are rightly important. How do I mandate that? How can I say, "This issue must be more important than all others"? Moreover - what about the actual politics - OK passed a law mandating an ultrasound before abortion. I think that's horrible policy from a strategic point of view - it's just going to rile up pro-abortion (okay, pro-choice) folks with rhetoric about, "See, they are just trying to rule people's lives". Am I bound to support this? What if I don't want candidates who support these sorts of measures because I think they are counter-productive in the long run? How can I say from the pulpit, which is in the Lutheran understanding an implied, "Thus sayeth the Lord", that you must vote X and not Y on this issue?
I can say conclusively "Love your neighbor". I can even tell people, "When you vote, do not consider just your own interests or whims, but consider what policies best show love to your neighbor." But I don't think I can tell you, "Policy X shows love - candidate Y is the loving candidate." I can say whether some specific act is right or wrong for you to do - but that doesn't mean I can tell you whether you think in our society an action should be legal or illegal (I actually tend to think that defending liberty socially means defending the rights of people to do precisely the things that you would never do). I can say it's wrong to not wantonly skip Church - I can say that "Thus sayeth the Lord" - but I certainly would never advocate criminalizing skipping Church.
Sometimes we as pastors can want to shape the Kingdom of the left - our society. That's fine - but we need to remember that this is part of our duties not as pastors (for pastors are not given that task by our government), but part of our job as citizens. You want to campaign for someone, fine (Ron Paul in 2012!). But it needs to be clear that these are your thoughts as a citizen, as a part of the kingdom of the left - not your pronouncements as a leader in the kingdom of the right (not voting for Ron Paul is not a sin).
Clergy have weight, we have power, we have authority given by God. And as such we should say what the Scriptures say. But we must remember that, in spite of what has happened often in the history of America and often happens now by political preachers today. We in the LCMS know not to fall into the Social Gospel - we ought not fall into the Social Law either. Saying, "You must vote this way" is a binding of conscience, it is nothing but the creation of law - and the Lord doesn't tell us any specific policies we must support. You are free - free to love your neighbor. Be content with that.
Teach people - instruct them in the Way of the Lord, and encourage them to vote their consciences which you have informed on the basis of the Scriptures. But when you preach, when you bind consciences. Trying to fix this world, this country, which is to pass away is not worth this binding, nor is it our duty as Pastors.