Do Government Leaders Deserve a “Pass” From Religious Leaders?

July 12, 2013

Interesting story:

There was once a famous Methodist evangelist named Peter Cartwright was known for his uncompromising preaching. However, one day Andrew Jackson the President of the United States came to worship there.

Cartwright was known for his plain speaking, and the church elders warned him not to offend the President.

But when Cartwright got up to speak, the first words out of his mouth were, “I understand that President Andrew Jackson is here this morning. I have been requested to be very guarded in my remarks. Let me say this: Andrew Jackson will go to hell if he doesn’t repent of his sin!”

The entire congregation gasped with shock.  How could this young preacher dare to offend the tough old general in public? they wondered.

After the service, everyone wondered how the President would respond to Cartwright.  When Andrew Jackson met the preacher at the door he looked at him in the eye and said, “Sir, If I had a regiment of men like you, I could conquer the world!”

I don’t know if this anecdote is precisely accurate, but I find it thought-provoking nonetheless.

How much respect should religious people give government leaders?  Is it a great thing when pastors or other leaders in the religious community stay politically neutral or treat politicians/issues with kid-gloves to avoid offending parishoners or the general public?  If all pastors took that approach, would the anti-slavery or civil rights movements have succeeded when they did?

We could take this a step further beyond the government.  Do private CEOs deserve a “pass” for the activities of their companies?  Is it a good thing or a bad thing when religious leaders make any effort to avoid offending parishoners?

This is not to say that religious leaders should abandon all tact and start casting out wild, speculative political accusations under the cover of an assertion like “I will not try to avoid offending people,” but perhaps we need more challenging, thought-provoking religious discourse even when it steps on the toes of political figures.

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