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Should Pastors Endorse Presidential Candidates?

Less than 10 percent of registered voters in the U.S. voted for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump during the primary process – and the same is true for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

By comparison, you can pick just about any random, crazy conspiracy theory and find at least 10 percent of Americans who believe it.

To suggest that we must support a candidate just because a few primary voters picked him or her is dangerous rhetoric.

It suggests morality is truly up for a few primary voters to pick. We must not surrender our consciences simply because of how a few voters cast their ballots.

Consider the case of David Duke. He’s the former KKK leader who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988 and the Republican presidential nomination in 1992.

He has served as a Republican in the Louisiana House of Representatives, enthusiastically backs Trump and is now running for the U.S. Senate.

If Duke had won a presidential nomination, would people have had to join the team? If he wins the GOP nomination for Senate this year, will Republican leaders back him because the voters have spoken?

Some GOP leaders already say they will not support Duke if he wins, which means they don’t actually join the team every time.

If you are willing to draw a line there and say you couldn’t support an unrepentant racist, then that means there is, in fact, a line.

If there is any candidate that you would not support even if your preferred party nominated them, then you’ve already rejected the ‘join the team’ argument. Each candidate must then be judged on an individual basis.

If you’re not willing to be a good team player, that’s OK. As chapter 11 of Hebrews shows, you’re in good company! It turns out that as Christians we’re on a different team first.

We do not owe our chief loyalty to the Republican Party or the Democratic Party. Our devotion is not to conservative causes and politicians or liberal causes and politicians.

Our allegiance is to the Kingdom of God. We don’t follow the elephant or the donkey; we follow the lamb.

It’s one thing to show up on election day, grab a ballot, say a prayer and fill in the box next to Donald J. Trump or Hillary Clinton or someone else. It’s quite another to publicly endorse a candidate.

When you publicly endorse a candidate, you endorse the policies they advocate and the rhetoric they employ.

By publicly endorsing a candidate, pastors will tie their own credibility – and, thus, the credibility and witness of their churches – to what that candidate says or does.

I’m not saying we can’t be political (in fact, I argue we must be). But we must tread carefully.

The 2016 election particularly poses dangers as both major candidates come with serious moral concerns.

Even if you think one of them is great, it’s important to recognize we have the two least popular nominees in polling history. Trump is the least popular and Clinton is second.

More than half of Americans don’t like Clinton and about two-thirds don’t like Trump.

Harry Enten of FiveThirtyEight.com, a site known for its analysis of poll numbers and accurate predictions, explained that the “distaste for both Trump and Clinton is record-breaking.”

Looking at the “net strong favorability ratings” (which takes the number of people who strongly like a candidate and subtracts the number of people who strongly dislike a candidate), Enten found that Clinton’s score is twice as bad the previously most unfavorable candidate – but Trump’s score is twice as bad as Clinton’s!

“No major party nominee before Clinton or Trump had a double-digit net negative ‘strong favorability’ rating,” Enten explained. “Clinton’s would be the lowest ever, except for Trump.”

These numbers should make pastors and Christians stop and think very carefully about offering a public endorsement. Either candidate we choose is disliked by most Americans, and many Americans dislike them both.

Do we really want to tie ourselves to sunken ships? To marry one’s moral authority and reputation in such a manner is to accept an unequal yoking.

It risks the credibility of our churches and ultimately of the gospel message we proclaim. And it risks driving many people away from our churches.

We need the prophetic imagination to challenge the system from the margins and offer an alternative approach. It’s not about winning; it’s about faithfulness.

Brian Kaylor is a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com. You can follow him on Twitter @BrianKaylor. He is the author of four books, including “Sacramental Politics” and the newly released book, “Vote Your Conscience: Party Must Not Trump Principles.” This is a revised excerpt from “Vote Your Conscience,” which is available for purchase here.