By David Waters
E.W. Jackson, a Virginian who identifies himself as the bishop of a nondemoninational church called Exodus Faith Ministries International, has announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate.
A press release from Jackson’s campaign says he is seeking public office “to restore fiscal sanity, constitutionally limited government, and to fight for a sound energy policy that will allow Virginia to mine its coal and drill for its offshore oil.”
And God said, “Let there be offshore drilling.” Fortunately, the press release didn’t go on to say the clerical candidate would “seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God,” or make any biblical campaign promises.
Not that there’s anything wrong, constitutionally speaking, with a clergy person running for public office. Every U.S. citizen over the age of 30 is free to seek election to the U.S. Senate.
The ordained can even run for president.
Recent American history is scattered with a few, high-profile political candidates who at some point earlier in their lives had been ordained and/or had led worshipping congregations.
Jesse Jackson, often still identified as the Rev. Jesse Jackson, even though he has never served a church and was ordained by a Baptist church way back in 1968, ran for president in 1984 and 1988.
Pat Robertson, who was ordained a Southern Baptist minister in 1961 and who did lead a couple of small congregations early in his career, ran for president in 1988.
Ordained or not, neither of these men were serving as clergy at the time of their candidacies — though I suppose you could argue that they played clergy on TV.
Mike Huckabee, pastor of two Southern Baptist churches in Arkansas and former president of the Arkanas Baptist Convention, did serve as governor of Arkansas for two terms. He ran for president in 2008 and likely will again next year.
But he quit the pulpit before he ran for public office in 1992, and the only pulpit he serves now is the one on Fox News.
I can think of only one recent example of an elected official who wore a collar” Robert Drinan, a Jesuit priest who served five terms in Congress until 1980, when Pope John Paul II ordered him to quit. The Vatican said the pope was merely enforcing a provision of canon law forbidding priests to hold elective office.
Seems like a good rule.
Before he announced his own candidacy, “Bishop” Jackson drew some clear lines between clergy and candidate. During the 2008 presidential election, he was asked why his church did not endorse candidates or parties.
“My job”, he told the Christian Newswire, “is to help Christians view life–which includes politics and public policy–from a Biblical worldview and to discern the truth. They can draw their own conclusions about how to vote.”
My question isn’t can clergy run for public office, but should they?
Does a person called to ministry by the highest authority automatically lose credibility or mitigate his or her moral authority by seeking earthly political power?
By seeking to be elected an officer of the state, does a clergy person surrender what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called the minister’s prophetic role as “conscience of the state.”
Put more bluntly, can the ordained really serve God and government?