Like many Americans, I have been following the political primary season with interest. The truth is it is difficult to miss considering election coverage is dominating most news cycles this time around. It seems like there is even more coverage than usual given the oversized personalities campaigning for the nomination of their respective parties. Add to that the sheer number of talking heads on television opining on the candidates and how different demographic groups are polling and now that voting has begun, what the results mean and it is nearly nonstop. This election cycle is unlike any I can recall since I came of age.
There is much about this cycle that concerns me, not the least of which is the candidates who are said to be the frontrunners in this process and how people, specifically evangelical Christians, are responding to them. I have been wrestling especially with the way many leaders in our tribe are incredulously expressing their frustration toward their Christian brothers and sisters who are choosing to support a candidate with whom they take exception.
In his recent article in The Atlantic, Jonathan Merritt argues the conservative Christian movement that successfully aided candidates in the past is now fragmented with dozens of leaders who are no longer politically aligned. He views the last thirty years as a period in which Evangelicalism has languished under what he terms partisan political captivity. Merritt also sees the reason behind the declining influence of the conservative Christian movement as being caused by our lack of strong moral leaders who can unite our tribe behind a single unifying political vision.
I find Merritt’s conclusions wanting. To say that Evangelicalism has been held in some sort of partisan political captivity is to throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water. Such an argument is not unfounded but Merritt overplays it. He is on to something when he identifies the dozens of leaders now present within the conservative Christian movement though he misinterprets what he sees.
Though unrelated, I believe Sam Rainer’s recent blog points us in the right direction. Rainer discusses the importance of local leadership versus a national platform. Perhaps what Merritt sees as a lack of strong moral leadership is in fact the pursuit of a national platform that Rainer contrasts with local leadership. Rainer articulates this well in his post and even acknowledges there are some who manage to do both well.
So here’s the rub and the reason for the title of this blog: is it possible that the too many of our leaders no longer smell like the sheep? Are our local leaders too focused on developing some sort of national platform and not spending enough time actually focusing on developing deep relationships with their congregations? Are national leaders so far removed from the people they serve that they no longer have any meaningful influence? Rainer says, “Local pastors with local influence are needed more than prominent thought leaders,” a sentiment with which I agree. We need shepherds that smell like the sheep!
Expressing incredulity towards those Christians in our tribe who support a political candidate with whom a national leader disagrees does nothing to advance the gospel or specific causes conservative Christians support. Questioning the faith of brothers and sisters whose support of a political candidate our national leaders strenuously disagree with does little more than undermine their own position within our tribe. Such leaders may find themselves on television enlarging their own personal brand while failing to realize a great many of the sheep have tuned them out.