In the early 1970s, the city of Hammond Indiana had a mayor whose name was Joseph Klen. Mayor Klen was a staunch Democrat. His politics resembled Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago. He was in no way a conservative politician. He was a Roman Catholic by religion.
Yet Mayor Klen loved Jack Hyles. He loved him so much that when Brother Hyles’ children graduated from high school Mayer Klen sent a card and a check congratulating them. He loved him so much that anytime Dr. Hyles called City Hall he was able to reach the mayor personally. Mayor Klen often visited First Baptist Church, and whenever he did Dr. Hyles would bring onto the platform and let him greet the people.
One of the things I remember about Pastor School was the annual greeting from the liberal mayor of Hammond Indiana. It was obvious that these men revered Dr. Hyles and perhaps even feared him somewhat. But it was also evident that they genuinely loved and respected him. They would invoke their Catholic faith hoping that they could appease the crowd, most who could not even vote for them. Dr. Hyles would graciously stand behind them and smile as they greeted us. I was always amazed at how Dr. Hyles was so influential with these liberal politicians.
As I got to know him better I learned why. Dr. Hyles did not play politics. He did not endorse candidates. He did not try to be a power broker in the political arena. He did not believe that was his role. He believed his role was to be a good citizen. He believed his role was to teach his people the right principles, so they could make the right choices. He believed his role was to go into the ballot box and vote his conscience. In all the years I knew Dr. Hyles I never saw or heard him endorse a candidate. Let me explain why he did not.
Dr. Hyles believed that to endorse a candidate was to risk alienating those who were for other candidates. It was quite obvious to his people where he stood on issues thus it was usually obvious for whom he voted. However he never said it publicly. No one questioned what he believed. They could easily determine who he probably voted for.
However it was not his place to tell them who they should vote for. If a person in his church was a Democrat he did not want to alienate them from himself. There were always many new Christians in his church who had voted for liberal candidates in the past. He did not want to lose their ear to the preaching of the Scriptures by endorsing a candidate for whom they may not like. It was not compromising. It was prioritizing.
He once told me that his in-laws were lifelong Democrats. They voted for many for whom he never would have considered casting a vote. Just as he never talked politics to his in-laws, he never talked politics to his church. Wait I did not say issues; I said politics and therein is the difference.
Dr. Hyles had men on his deacon board who were lifelong Democrats. Some of them supported and voted for candidates who Dr. Hyles believed were not the best choice. Had he stood and endorsed a candidate he could easily have alienated those good men and lessened his influence on them as their pastor. Influencing his people was more important than endorsing a candidate.
There were likewise people in his church who would have chosen his second choice as their first. Sometimes the more two candidates are alike, the more heated the competition. The moment that he endorsed their closest competitor the closer he could come to alienating those people.
Let me give an example. I have good preacher friends who love Rand Paul. Although similar in some beliefs, Ted Cruz has strong differences with Mr. Paul. If I endorse Ted Cruz, I become a part of the team of their candidates “enemy.”
Dr. Hyles goal was to teach his people the right principles that would influence them to vote for the right person even if sometimes it was second best in his own mind. First and foremost his goal was to train his people to be the right kind of people. Eventually that would lead them to vote properly.
He believed that it was better for his people to vote for the second best man because they felt it was right thing to do than to feel resentment towards him for trying to control what they did. He did not want to put them in a position where their loyalty had to be tested. Nor did he want to put them in a position where they felt he was on the other side. For that reason he never endorsed a political candidate.
I don't think anyone ever thought Dr. Hyles didn't love his country. I don't think anyone ever doubted his commitment to this nation. But he chose to show his love for America by encouraging pastors to reach the lost in their communities. He chose to give himself to raise up enough righteous people to spare our nation. He believed that God spared the nation because of the righteousness of his people not the political persuasion of their elected officials.
Dr. Hyles was right. It is dangerous to endorse candidates especially in Primaries. There are many who are running for the GOP nomination. They all have strengths. They all have weaknesses. They all have qualities that are good and they all have qualities that I don't particularly like. They all take a good position in some areas and are weak in others.
My recommendation to pastors is to teach your people what is right. If you teach your people what is right they will do what is right. And that includes voting. The moment we put ourselves behind a particular candidate we risk alienating that for which we were called.
Let me make it perfectly clear there are people who we cannot endorse. Mr. Obama has proven himself to be anti-God and anti-Christianity in many ways, not to mention being anti-constitution. My condemnation of his behavior and his beliefs is not an endorsement of another candidate, but speaks clearly for itself. At times we must speak out at certain behaviors of certain politicians. However we must be cautious about endorsing a particular person.
But what about endorsing a candidate who professes to be a born again Christian over one who is not? In 1976, Jimmy Carter, a born-again Southern Baptist Sunday school teacher was running for the office of President against Gerald Ford, a man who did not give a clear cut testimony of his conversion.
The fact is I could not have voted for Jimmy Carter. Voting for a Christian is the litmus test some Christians have when deciding for whom to vote. In my opinion Gerald Ford was the better man, in spite of the fact that he was not a professing born-again Christian.
We must be cautious that we do not promote our people to vote for someone based solely on who we think is a Christian. Many Christian businessmen are crooked and many lost businessmen are honest. Are we to do business with a crooked Christian or with an honest pagan? I don't think that's a difficult decision. The same is true with politicians.
Let me give some practical advice to pastors regarding this matter of election
Never endorse a particular candidate.
Give your people some guidelines as to how to decide for whom they are going to vote. What are the important issues? If all things are equal choose the born again believer, and if not choose the one who is most right on the important issues.
Make your people aware of the importance of our Constitution and how to decipher the candidates who will protect and abide by it and those who won’t. Remember the job of our elected officials is to honor the constitution upon which our nation was built.
Inform your people of the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates. I plan to do this in an article before the primaries and the general election.
Warn people of critical issues that are important in their decision making.
Honor all those in office but never water down your message.
Do not make political zealots of your people. Make soul winning zealots of them. If we win more people to Christ than to our politician of choice we do more good for this nation than if our man wins.
Have prayer meetings before elections and ask the people to pray for God to be honored and for them to have wisdom in their voting. Pray that the will of God is done, not your will.
Remind your people that it is God who lifts men up and it is God who puts men down. Sometimes God allows a man into power for whom we would not have voted, and does so for a purpose which we do not see.
Remind your people that God is still in control no matter who wins. Elections have no power over our God.
Vote and make certain your people know you are voting, but not for whom you are voting. Let me say here that the choice between a Mormon and a liberal sitting president was not a good one, but one man was better than the other. Not to vote is a disgrace and your people should understand that. Many, estimates of 4 to 6 million, Christians sat out that election and that could have changed the outcome.
Remind your people that even if their man wins he will let them down along the way. In my lifetime I have yet to see a president who did not at some time disappoint me. Expect it and prepare for it.
Teach your people to be gracious to people who strongly promote candidates who they do not believe are right. Don’t argue with them. You may win the argument and lose your influence. Worse yet, you may win the argument and lose the chance to win them to Christ.
Do not attach supernatural permission or consequences to a political election. One good man wrote me recently and said, “I'm not sure I understand your opposition to endorsing a political candidate. I don't understand why you make public a disagreement between good men when a phone call would be best; far less confusing to some. We are on the same team. I do not promote stopping the work of the local church; soul winning. I personally believe we are going to lose our freedom to preach if we do not elect a God fearing man like ____________.”
The candidate he named is a good man and on the top of the list of those for whom I would probably vote. However, as good a man as he is, I am concerned with the last line my dear brother used, “...we are going to lose our freedom to preach if we do not elect a God fearing man like __________________.”
If we lose our freedoms, it will not be because we do or don’t elect that man to the office of president. I do not believe that nor do I think we should put that kind of power into an election. The truth is, we are spoiled. We have the freedom to do what many have lost their lives doing in other places.
Let me also make it perfectly clear that I will have the freedom to preach as long as God gives me breath. If I am put into prison for preaching then I will preach in prison. I may be martyred for it, but if so I believe there will be a Saul nearby who take my coat and my message and keep on preaching. Glory to God, I am free to preach and I will leave the consequences up to my God.
May God give us as men in our pulpits with the wisdom to understand the position that God has given us. May we not use our influence to alienate our people. May we also not use our personal opinions to alienate our political leaders. We must do our best to show ourselves like men of old in the Scripture who when placed in positions under pagan leaders showed forth the wisdom of God in their behavior.
I am not angry at anyone, nor was this written to scold any one person. I am a few days from being 70 years old. It might do good for some younger men to heed the warnings of this grizzled veteran. I am not just old, I am seasoned. You may be well advised to take these thoughts into serious consideration.