Pastor Rick Warren conducting the inauguration prayer for Barack Obama, Chicago pastors praying with Gov. Blagojevich, Rev. Tony Campolo serving as then-President Bill Clinton’s spiritual adviser … Pictures of pastors in proper roles as spiritual counselors or unbiblical consorting with the enemy?

One of the great dilemmas that have caused many pastors to avoid any involvement in “politics” is reflected in that facing Rick Warren, as the controversy over his role in Obama’s inauguration has generated criticism from the right and the left. Just what is the pastor’s role while interacting with elected officials at any level who are not congregants, which would be different than the normal shepherding relationship? Should a pastor give a public prayer over a politician with whom there are critical departures from Scripture and material differences between them?

On one hand, President-elect Obama seems to have nailed a perfect “triangulation” with his choice of Warren for the prayer. While the frenzy by GLBTQIA (Gay, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual, Transgender, Questioning, Allies – the newest self-identity of the movement used in the 2007 Houston Gay Pride Parade) leaders against Warren because of his support of California Proposition 8 has not even remotely been equaled on the right, as we are much more “tolerant,” there is opposition among conservatives as well.

However, given that Obama has firmly reiterated his commitment to the carte blanche sexual diversity agenda, has not wavered on his extreme pro-abortion plans and that the infrastructure of his Chicago-based political “family” seems to be in the process of seeking to renew the glory days of Al Capone and “Boss” Daly, Warren’s decision to accept raises serious questions.

There will no doubt be lay Christians and pastors who will first turn to 1 Timothy 2:1-2 as a defense to pray for any and all leaders. They would be right, as there is no qualifier on how good or evil those rulers are to receive those prayers. These prayers, however, are not to be for “President Obama’s success,” as I have heard a number of conservative leaders suggest benevolently lately.

Pastors and other ordained members of the clergy who are given such a platform have a duty first and foremost to the One by Whom they were commissioned, to be His voice to those He has given an audience. Whether it is Moses before Pharaoh (Exodus 5), Jeremiah before Zedekiah (Jeremiah 21), Elijah before Ahab and Jezebel (1 Kings 17) or thousands of incidents since the role of clerical prophet and priest were passed under the new covenant to pastors and bishops – we are not to be “king pleasers.”

Shortly after Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s arrest on corruption charges, a group of several Chicago pastors met with him in his home. “I look at it like this: Everybody that’s hurting needs hope, and the family needs hope, and that’s what our jobs are as pastors,” the Rev. Steve Jones of the Baptist Pastors Conference said. “Nobody should be left hopeless. Nobody – no matter what the circumstances.” Another pastor amazingly was quoted as saying he “… prayed that [Blagojevich] would continue to be a great governor for the state of Illinois.”

Is that true? Is that the pastors’ primary job, to bring hope to an elected official who was just caught trying to sell a U.S. Senate seat as just his latest act of shameless thuggery but who adamantly insists he is pure as the wind-driven snow? Hope begins with truth just as forgiveness and restoration begin with confession and repentance. I truly hope those pastors were willing to look him in the eye and with firm admonition urge him to do what is right.

As for the pastor praying that he will continue to be a great governor, that is an outstanding example of James’ reprimand, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives’ …” (James 4:3) Praying for leaders should be grounded in seeking God’s will.

The only legitimate authority is that which conforms to the creator of the authority (yes, go back and read Romans 13 again!) and is a terror to those who do evil and a protector of those who do good. Success as a ruler, then, should be determined by how closely their personal lives and public decisions reflect the priorities of “Nature’s God” and the guiding principles He has established.

I strongly encourage pastors in every city to build solid relationships with elected officials at every level because they are serving in a role of ministry that is in desperate need of biblical influence. However, the danger is that we become more concerned about the horizontal relationship with the politician than our vertical duty to God, and we become timid because we don’t want to offend them or lose the relationship.

Peter put our priorities in order and was willing to give his life for his call – if we will adhere to his charge (1 Peter 2:17), we can have relationships with, godly influence over and effectively pray for office holders on every level with confidence.

First, “… fear God …” then “…honor the king. …” That will keep pastors anchored on the Rock when the temptations of being on the “inside” politically creep in. We MUST be engaged, we MUST choose godly leaders and we MUST stay at their side while serving.

We just need to make sure our eyes are on our God and not on our status. I will pray that Rick Warren will pray for God to change Obama’s heart for the sake of our nation, or that God will implement Psalm 109:8 – you have to look this one up yourself.

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