Should Pastors Make Political Statements? A Retrospective on this Perennial Issue

In August of 1791, the Elkhorn Baptist Association appointed a committee of three (James Garrard, Augustine Eastin and Ambrose Dudley) to draw up a memorial on religious liberty and perpetual slavery to be presented to the Convention which would form the Kentucky constitution in 1792. In September, the report was read and approved by the messengers. However, there was apparently a backlash from the constituency of the Baptist churches against this anti-slavery document and a special meeting was called in December of 1791 to disapprove of the previously approved memorial. The issue of emancipation does not come up again in the minutes of the Elkhorn Association until 1805 when the association passed the following:

This association judges it improper for ministers, churches or associations, to meddle with emancipation from slavery, or any other political subject; and as such we advise ministers and churches to have nothing to do therewith in their religious capacities.  (Minutes of the Elkhorn Association of Baptists, August 1805)

Should the ministers, churches and associations of Kentucky Baptists spoken out against the issue of slavery in 1792? Would this have made a difference in our history? What are the implications for pastors today? Should pastors avoid speaking out on any and all political issues, or are their some moral issues that pastors and churches should take a stand for today? What might some of those issues be?

One comment

  1. I think pastors have a responsibility to speak out about moral issues to their congregations, handling the matter as wisely as possible where it overlaps civil affairs. A pastor’s ministry is to the spiritual development of his congregation and that involves how to behave biblically in the civil affairs of the world.

    Sometimes civil governments will overstep their boundaries and politicize a moral issue. It happens because legislation and policies naturally import popular moral sensibilities, prime opportunity for politicians to give way to the temptation to vie for inordinate political opportunity. Homosexuality is a modern example where we have seen pastors arrested and charged for speaking against homosexuality from the pulpit. I told a Sunday School class just this past week that if the authorities were going to send me to prison or sentence me to death, it was going to be for a good reason. That means being unjustly punished for doing right in the sight of the Lord rather than being justly punished for disobeying the civil authority for no good reason.

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