Pastor As Pirate or, Better Than Pulpit Freedom Sunday

Pirates open up spaces closed off by power. Kester Brewin, in Mutiny, traces the history of pirates and piracy in Europe. He even includes modern Somali pirates in his examples. When access to goods and services become blockaded by power and privilege pirates emerge to open those channels back up for others. So goes the story from Brewin.

An interesting discovery in Mutiny is that those who became pirates often were once part of the system used to blockade the very goods and services they now work to open up. Put simply, once you discover you are part of the failed system that holds out hope and promise the pirate in you, or me, erupts to say, “Enough.” These very resources should be available to all, not just those who have the power to possess them.

Were pastors to embrace the pirate spirit, they might be less inclined to work for their own freedom to endorse a candidate of their choosing and instead work toward the freedom of the captive. Not one improvement comes as result of my endorsement of a political candidate for public office. Not one. I do however, sacrifice the prophetic position stationed at the edge of the inside.

Steven Colbert gets this. Just watch. (HT: Out of Ur Blog. Don’t be put off by Colbert’s reference to Garlow’s moxy.)

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Pulpit Freedom Sunday – Jim Garlow
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog Video Archive

One does not observe from Jesus as pastor that he looks for his rights. In fact, when the Apostle Paul radicalizes the message of Jesus’ call to serve others with, “in humility count others more significant than yourselves,” it is hard to think that a pastor would be working for his own rights. Sure it could be argued that Garlow and others are working for the rights of others, as in other churches. But, this would still beg the question, “Who should churches, and by communal expression Christians, be fighting for?” Maybe Isaiah helps,

learn to do good;

seek justice,

correct oppression;

bring justice to the fatherless,

plead the widow’s cause. (Is. 1:17)

Greg Boyd closes his reaction to Pulpit Freedom Sunday this way,

As a final thought, when a church accepts tax exempt status, it is premised on the promise that the church will not be used for partisan political purposes, for the church is now subsidized by all taxpayers. If a pastor is going to use the authority of the pulpit to weigh in on partisan politics, wouldn’t integrity demand that they first wave their tax exempt status? To use the authority of a pulpit to weigh in on partisan politics demonstrates a complete lack of integrity, which is yet one more way in which the activity of these leaders doesn’t resemble anything Jesus would do.

We need more pastors as pirates. Let’s lay down our lives, and privilege, for those whose needs really demand our attention and action. Not one candidate will win or lose because pastors endorse a candidate in public. But, I believe the pastor, the church, and the Way of Jesus loses when we spend our energies to protect our voices when others go muted and un-noticed, blockaded by the powerful systems and decisions that keep them in shackles. Sure seems like the story of Jesus.

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About the Author
Husband to Patty. Daddy to Kimberly and Tommie. Grandpa Doc to Cohen, Max, Fox, and Marlee. Pastor to Snow Hill Baptist Church. Graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Reading. Photography. Golf. Colorado. Jeeping. Friend. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and should not be construed as representing the corporate views of the church I pastor.

12 comments on “Pastor As Pirate or, Better Than Pulpit Freedom Sunday

  1. Gary Snowden says:

    Excellent reflections here, Todd. Thanks for sharing a perspective that adheres to a proper understanding of the separation of church and state as Baptists have historically defended this principle. Here in good old Missouri, the editor of The Pathway (Baptist state paper) is extolling the virtues of Pulpit Freedom Sunday. Here’s the link to his editorial:

    1. Gary,
      Thanks for your comment.

      I read the editorial. It does seem the writer and I would disagree on the merits of this sort of engagement.

  2. Gary Snowden says:

    I have to confess I haven’t found very much that I do agree with when it comes to the writing of said editor.

  3. Dougals Belardi says:

    Paul clearly exercised his rights as a Roman citizen

    1. Douglas,
      Thanks for commenting. Does your comment mean Paul’s appeal to Ceassar while considered a prisoner equates to a pastor today being prohibited from endorsing a political candidate for public office?

  4. Rob Masters says:

    Greg Boyd gets a few things wrong in his statement here

    1. His definition of partisanship is not the lawful definition. The IRS has a guide that includes several criteria that must be met before the “partisanship” label can be applied.Telling your congregation why they should vote for candidate x will not meet this criteria. Thus the reason why the IRS has not sued anyone yet and why I suspect it wont this year either!

    2. He is wrong about subsidies also but that is another discussion for another time.Tax exemption is not the same thing as receiving tax funding.

    3.The “precious puritans” got this right when they talked about certain unalienable rights from our Creator and Lex Rex …thats why we are a Christian country!

    1. Robert,
      Remember, that you contend someone s wrong does not make them so. Given that, if you are correct in #1, then you help make my point even in disagreement. If endorsing a candidate does not meet the Johnson Amendment criteria then pastors participating in an attempt to provoke the IRS are wasting their time under the rubric of First Amendment guarantees. Which, to my way of thinking does not negate Boyd’s overall conclusion. Regarding #2, likely rests on how one chooses to frame paying taxes versus not paying taxes. If a church is tax exempt, it may not in the letter of the definition be considered a subsidy, but in the bottom line of church finances it would certainly be interpreted as a tax. So, it is not hard to see how Boyd would use subsidy if the aim of the pastoral message shifted to partisanship. And #3, your reference to “precious puritans” seems more pertinent to the kerfuffle over Propaganda’s recent musical critique of idolizing ideology. A habit you seem to have a penchant for. I only remind you, your precious puritans did not believe all human beings were bestowed with inalienable rights. I am not sure what unalienable rights refers to. Sort of ironic in a comment aimed at Boyd’s use of terms.

      Always fun with you Robert.

  5. Rob Masters says:

    A little personal information concerning Erik Stanley who heads up the Alliance Defense Fund pulpit Sunday Initiative.He was a attorney for me in a case against Gateway computers with Liberty Counsel. Also his wife was an MK in West Papua, Indonesia where I grew up.

    Although I dont speak for them;I think that the ADF would be fine if all the pastors in America would speak about the great moral and political issues from the Pulpit and the IRS never sued a one of them.The goal is to be unhindered or be salt and light Christians.

    Unalienable is the language of the Declaration of Independence.These rights were given to us by our Creator. The numerous Puritan founders worked hard to include these in the Declaration
    Inalienable rights were given to people by government….ie they could be bought or sold.
    So you are right the puritans did not believe in inalienable rights but in unalienable rights coming from God

    1. Rob,
      Interesting information about Eric Stanley.

      I am still unclear what a pastor is prohibited from saying short of endorsing a candidate for public office. Where current law instructs that we cannot speak to moral, atypical issues in the context of Christian life and faith?

      If there is no such law then it seems to be misplaced energy.

  6. Rob Masters says:

    Will you admit one area in which you were wrong..just one!

    Unalienable is the language used in the final Declaration of Independence.

    1. Rob,
      “Unalienable” is the language used.

      Now, will you admit that regardless of who fought for the language it is inaccurate that they had in mind all human beings. Had they there would have been no need for the Women’s Suffrage Movement or the Civil Rights Movement?

      And, given your premises about the IRS language and the Johnson Amendment, would you not also be willing to admit the time take to challenge what you admit will surely never happen to be a veritable waste of time for the gathered people of God who allegedly join to celebrate the God who made heaven and earth?

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