An Open Letter to the Pastors of the United States
August 20, 2020
I write to you as a fellow preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This Gospel makes clear moral demands on individuals and on governments alike. The duty of preaching the Gospel involves not only the urgent exhortation to personal holiness and salvation, but the equally urgent exhortation to govern justly. Those responsible for the common good are obliged to protect the fundamental rights of the citizens and their freedom to live out their Faith in the way that they – and not the government – see fit.
Anyone who has been paying attention over the last six decades has seen an organized and persistent effort to limit the Gospel to the private arena of our hearts and within the four walls of our Churches.
Prayer and Bible reading have been banished from our schools. People of faith have had to fight in court to display religious symbols in public and to conduct their businesses and ministries in accordance with their moral convictions. The right to even talk about our faith has been attacked on campuses and in the media.
And as the courts have increasingly upheld religious freedom, haters of religion have now taken to the streets to show their contempt for our beliefs by destroying its symbols.
Moreover, the legal protection afforded to our most fundamental good, life itself, and to God’s creation of marriage and the family, has been obliterated by amoral legislators and activist judges. Some 62 million children have been killed in the name of “freedom.”
Yet our Founding Fathers, anticipating the extent to which human nature can fall into error and sin, have provided for us a system of self-governance that can overcome and correct even these drastic departures from the laws of nature and of nature’s God.
Our nation is preparing to engage in two months of voting from September 4th, when the first absentee balloting begins, through Election Day, November 3. In this time, some 100,000 electoral races will be decided at every level of state and federal government.
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We therefore have a choice.
And the choice we have is as relevant to what kind of church we will be as it is to what kind of nation we will be.
On the one hand, we can adopt a mentality that says that we have neither the duty nor the possibility of changing the course of public policy in our nation. This mindset takes various forms and utilizes various excuses.
Some maintain we cannot really know the difference between what’s good for the nation and what isn’t, or that morality is up to each church or individual to decide.
Some maintain that churches and pastors are to stay far away from any engagement in politics or public policy, and simply preach a Gospel that pertains only to individual, interior spiritual life.
On the other hand, we have the choice to engage the battle, taking on the same mindset that led pastors to preach the large body of political sermons of our nation’s Founding Era, giving spiritual and moral energy and guidance to the very creation of our country.
We can commit ourselves to the same spiritual imperative that led believers to fight slavery and that led their descendants to move from the Churches into the streets to battle segregation.
We can be convinced of the words Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached on the night before he was assassinated:
“I’m always happy to see a relevant ministry. It’s alright to talk about ‘long white robes over yonder,’ in all of its symbolism. But ultimately people want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here. It’s alright to talk about ‘streets flowing with milk and honey,’ but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can’t eat three square meals a day. It’s alright to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day, God’s preacher must talk about the new New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee. This is what we have to do.”
We can understand that equipping the People of God to elect the right candidates is not a political task but a pastoral task, because we are enabling them to carry out the Great Commission, teaching all nations to carry out everything our Lord has commanded.
This is our choice, as we enter Elections 2020.
Our Lord told us we need to be attentive to the signs of the times. The problem is not that the Church is becoming too political, but that our politics have become too pagan.
The political divide in our nation is no longer between two major parties that “have the same goals but different ideas of how to get there.” That was once true, but is no longer.
They have different goals, different views of America, totally divergent views of morality, and completely incompatible views of religion and the Church.
The Democrat Party has not only departed from the Republican Party in matters of policy. The differences are matters of principle. The Democrat Party has abandoned the principle of the God-given right to life and the liberty our Founders embraced to practice their Faith in their public life. Moreover, they have made their intentions clear to write into the laws and into the Courts a worldview completely devoid of those principles.
This is not the kind of divide we can “rise above,” nor the kind of battle from which we can exempt ourselves or our congregations.
This is a test for us. Either we recognize this problem, and like good shepherds, warn our people, or we retreat into a ‘neutrality’ so absolute that it no longer allows us to see, much less neutralize, threats to the very survival of our nation and our ministries.
When a political party embraces the destruction of innocent life and the suppression of the freedom of the Church, it can no longer be treated in a neutral way by the Church. That Party becomes an existential threat to the nation to which we pledge our allegiance and to the Kingdom to which we have pledged our souls.
We are, moreover, at a moment when our President, Donald Trump, his Administration, and the Republican Party at every level, have achieved record-breaking accomplishments to protect our religious freedom from oppressive mandates at home and persecution abroad. The President has defended our freedom to preach in the pulpits, and the freedom of our children to pray in school and speak up on their campus for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The over 200 federal judges he has put in place, moreover, are men and women likewise committed to religious freedom.
Dear pastors, at the founding of our nation, Pastor John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg declared in his sermon on January 21, 1776, “In the language of the Holy Writ, there is a time for all things. There is a time to preach and a time to fight. And now is the time to fight.” He then threw off his clerical robes to reveal the uniform of an officer in the Continental Army. As one account relates, “Drums began to roll, men kissed their wives, and they walked down the aisle to enlist. The next day, Pastor Muhlenberg led 300 men of his church and surrounding churches to join General Washington’s Continental Army.”
Nearly two centuries later, Catholic Bishop Clemens von Galen (d. 1946), preached fearlessly against the Nazi regime and its oppression of human life and religious freedom. He was not afraid to name and fight the political threat that was right before his eyes.
It is not that these men abandoned their pastoral mission in order to become political. It is, rather, that they saw the demands that their pastoral mission placed on them in the circumstances of their time, and courageously rose to the occasion.
That is the choice, and the opportunity, you and I have before us right now.
The choice for our nation is not simply about which political party will have power, but about which kind of America we will be – one marked by moral chaos, the Culture of Death, socialism and religious oppression, or one based on the freedom and principles our Founders made clear.
And the choice for our churches is whether we will retreat in silence and cowardice out of fear of being ‘too political,’ and hence become irrelevant to the world around us, or respond clearly and courageously to this moment of unprecedented conflict, and lead the People of God to protect their rights, their freedom, their Church and their beloved country.
Fr. Frank Pavone
National Director, Priests for Life