But should a pastor be president?

Mike Huckabee is a Southern Baptist minister running, currently with some success, for the presidency. This raises an interesting issue of vocation. I’d like your help in sorting it out.

During the time of the Reformation, the archbishops, in addition to their ecclesiastical functions, were given large fiefdoms, which they ruled like any other prince. The pope claimed temporal authority not only over Rome but over all earthly rulers. He had an army that often warred against the emperor. The Reformers steadfastly rejected all of this, insisting that the church was to attend to the spiritual kingdom of God and let those with the Roman 13 vocation of earthly ruler attend to the earthly kingdom.

Not that a Huckabee candidacy would necessarily fall into this pattern. It isn’t the Southern Baptist church that would be claiming temporal authority, nor would the pastor of a congregation be ruling. Is it even correct to call Huckabee a pastor? Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that he USED TO BE a pastor?

This hinges, of course, on whether it is ordination or the call that makes a pastor. (Or, as I would say, both.) In my journalism days I found that former presidential candidate the Rev. Al Sharpton has NEVER served a congregation. Is he really “a reverend”? I also knew of someone who went to seminary, served a congregation for a while, then resigned his call and later got a job with the FBI. Is that FBI agent still a pastor? Is his exercise of the temporal sword illegitimate?

This gets us into that thorny issue of church and ministry that ties us up in knots, but Huckabee provides an interesting test case. (Not that he would be the first pastor in the presidency. I believe that honor would fall to James Garfield.) Keep in mind that Baptist ordination is not the same as that in other churches and may not even be recognizable. (A friend of mine in high school got ordained in his baptist church just because he showed promise, before any kind of seminary training or call to a church. A high school kid! He did take a congregation later for awhile, but then he left that office for teaching, then to work in an office.)

But what do you think about this? Help me out here in untangling how the doctrine of vocation applies to a possible Huckabee presidency.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Bror Erickson

    I agree that it is more proper to call Huckabee a former pastor. I am one who has mixed feelings about laying aside the call to go into politics. To me it seems like a demotion of sorts, taken willingly. But then maybe that makes him all the more acceptable in the position of President. And I don’t get to choked up when I see a baptist quit the ministry.
    Lutherans have never really had the whole R.C. concept of once a priest always a priest. Not sure Rome really does either. But there is a certain sense that we never ordain a person a second time either. Not sure what baptists do about that.
    Of course then there is also the fact that Romney is at a minimum a priest in his religion. But that is a completely different matter, and means absolutely nothing as mormon’s have no clergy in our sense of the term.

  • Bror Erickson

    I agree that it is more proper to call Huckabee a former pastor. I am one who has mixed feelings about laying aside the call to go into politics. To me it seems like a demotion of sorts, taken willingly. But then maybe that makes him all the more acceptable in the position of President. And I don’t get to choked up when I see a baptist quit the ministry.
    Lutherans have never really had the whole R.C. concept of once a priest always a priest. Not sure Rome really does either. But there is a certain sense that we never ordain a person a second time either. Not sure what baptists do about that.
    Of course then there is also the fact that Romney is at a minimum a priest in his religion. But that is a completely different matter, and means absolutely nothing as mormon’s have no clergy in our sense of the term.

  • Bror Erickson

    one thing that always bothered me about the “Christian” right was that it mixed the two kingdoms in an unholy matrimony. It besmirched the name Christian, and associated it with nothing but moral watchmen, and power hungry politicians. I thought this would be a danger for an ex baptist minister running for president. Yet so far it just doesn’t seem to be the case. As if somehow he innately gets the differences between the two kingdoms, and knows that he left his office of pastor to pursue the political career. Yet he has not left his faith.

  • Bror Erickson

    one thing that always bothered me about the “Christian” right was that it mixed the two kingdoms in an unholy matrimony. It besmirched the name Christian, and associated it with nothing but moral watchmen, and power hungry politicians. I thought this would be a danger for an ex baptist minister running for president. Yet so far it just doesn’t seem to be the case. As if somehow he innately gets the differences between the two kingdoms, and knows that he left his office of pastor to pursue the political career. Yet he has not left his faith.

  • FullTime

    There are a great many different flavors of “Baptist” out there. If your high school friend was ordained a pastor in a Southern Baptist Church it was unlike ANY that I have ever attended (and there were MANY, Air Force brat) The very concept goes contrary to anything I ever encountered in the SBC.

  • FullTime

    There are a great many different flavors of “Baptist” out there. If your high school friend was ordained a pastor in a Southern Baptist Church it was unlike ANY that I have ever attended (and there were MANY, Air Force brat) The very concept goes contrary to anything I ever encountered in the SBC.

  • http://www.christlutheran.net Jeff Samelson

    For what it’s worth — and I believe these are generally accepted explanations/definitions:

    “Rev.” is a title given to anyone who has been properly ordained (we don’t need to get into what that means here) and can therefore stay with that person indefinitely, much the same way that someone who has met the degree requirements and passed the bar to become a lawyer can be identified with the “j.d.” or “esq.” label indefinitely — whether he or she is currently practicing or has ever practiced law or not.

    If someone were to make a very clean break with the ministry for some reason (choosing a very different career, being “defrocked”, etc.), it would be natural to stop using the “Rev.”, but I’m not sure the title could actually be “taken away”. (To the point of your post: Lutherans who understand the doctrine of the two kingdoms would certainly consider “governor” (or “president”) to be a career very different from the ministry.)

    “Pastor”, on the other hand, is a descriptive title — it describes someone who is serving as a pastor. There is disagreement as to what exactly constitutes a call to pastoral ministry, so we don’t need to get into that, but all agree that a pastor is someone who is fulfilling a call to be a spiritual shepherd.

    But once he is no longer in a shepherd’s call, he is no longer a pastor — it’s not his vocation anymore. Thus a pastor who resigns his call for, say, health reasons and takes a job selling insurance is no longer “Pastor Smith”, although he can still be “Rev. John Smith” (although I would hope he wouldn’t use that title to sell insurance!).

    There are two (perhaps more) exceptional situations. One is when a pastor retires — we will often continue to call him “pastor” out of respect and affection, whether he officially gets the “Emeritus” title or not. The other is the man who for reasons other than “cause” no longer holds a call as pastor but does desire to have such a call again. Because such men often serve as guest preachers or vacancy pastors while waiting for a call of their own, they often are still referred to as “pastor”.

    Just as a side note: People who have strong objections to women in the pastorate but who still have to deal with such women in some way will sometimes avoid having to say or refer to “Pastor Helen Johnson” by simply recognizing that Ms. Johnson’s church body ordained her and saying or referring to her as “Rev. Helen Johnson”.

  • http://www.christlutheran.net Jeff Samelson

    For what it’s worth — and I believe these are generally accepted explanations/definitions:

    “Rev.” is a title given to anyone who has been properly ordained (we don’t need to get into what that means here) and can therefore stay with that person indefinitely, much the same way that someone who has met the degree requirements and passed the bar to become a lawyer can be identified with the “j.d.” or “esq.” label indefinitely — whether he or she is currently practicing or has ever practiced law or not.

    If someone were to make a very clean break with the ministry for some reason (choosing a very different career, being “defrocked”, etc.), it would be natural to stop using the “Rev.”, but I’m not sure the title could actually be “taken away”. (To the point of your post: Lutherans who understand the doctrine of the two kingdoms would certainly consider “governor” (or “president”) to be a career very different from the ministry.)

    “Pastor”, on the other hand, is a descriptive title — it describes someone who is serving as a pastor. There is disagreement as to what exactly constitutes a call to pastoral ministry, so we don’t need to get into that, but all agree that a pastor is someone who is fulfilling a call to be a spiritual shepherd.

    But once he is no longer in a shepherd’s call, he is no longer a pastor — it’s not his vocation anymore. Thus a pastor who resigns his call for, say, health reasons and takes a job selling insurance is no longer “Pastor Smith”, although he can still be “Rev. John Smith” (although I would hope he wouldn’t use that title to sell insurance!).

    There are two (perhaps more) exceptional situations. One is when a pastor retires — we will often continue to call him “pastor” out of respect and affection, whether he officially gets the “Emeritus” title or not. The other is the man who for reasons other than “cause” no longer holds a call as pastor but does desire to have such a call again. Because such men often serve as guest preachers or vacancy pastors while waiting for a call of their own, they often are still referred to as “pastor”.

    Just as a side note: People who have strong objections to women in the pastorate but who still have to deal with such women in some way will sometimes avoid having to say or refer to “Pastor Helen Johnson” by simply recognizing that Ms. Johnson’s church body ordained her and saying or referring to her as “Rev. Helen Johnson”.

  • http://prouty.wordpress.com/ Les Prouty

    Well here is a former SBC pastor who has left “ministry” to be in the insurance business. But, not before becoming a PCA pastor.

    I will not bore you with too many details, but I was ordained in the SBC after getting a degree (not MDiv) from a SBC seminary. Note: I could have become ordained SBC without a degree. It is not required. Later, I left the SBC to become a Presbyterian in America (PCA) minister (teaching elder TE)). Did that for 7 years. I wrestled with leaving vocational ministry and decided to do that, believing that God can change a man’s vocational call. I am now in insurance (no white shoes and slick hair. actually need some more hair).
    When one leaves the “ministry” as a TE in the PCA he cannot remain ordained without a specific ministry call. Thus, I am no longer ordained in the PCA as a TE. I am, however, now ordained as a ruling elder (lay elder) in the PCA.

    Here is the thing. I still have my SBC ordination certificate. I could call myself an ordained minister. But, it seems not right to do so without a specific pastoral call.

    As to Huckabee, I see him as a former pastor.

  • http://prouty.wordpress.com/ Les Prouty

    Well here is a former SBC pastor who has left “ministry” to be in the insurance business. But, not before becoming a PCA pastor.

    I will not bore you with too many details, but I was ordained in the SBC after getting a degree (not MDiv) from a SBC seminary. Note: I could have become ordained SBC without a degree. It is not required. Later, I left the SBC to become a Presbyterian in America (PCA) minister (teaching elder TE)). Did that for 7 years. I wrestled with leaving vocational ministry and decided to do that, believing that God can change a man’s vocational call. I am now in insurance (no white shoes and slick hair. actually need some more hair).
    When one leaves the “ministry” as a TE in the PCA he cannot remain ordained without a specific ministry call. Thus, I am no longer ordained in the PCA as a TE. I am, however, now ordained as a ruling elder (lay elder) in the PCA.

    Here is the thing. I still have my SBC ordination certificate. I could call myself an ordained minister. But, it seems not right to do so without a specific pastoral call.

    As to Huckabee, I see him as a former pastor.

  • fw

    Huckabee AND Romney are BOTH trained to be pastors and served as such for years. actually Romney in positions of greater standing than Huckabee. He was the head missionary in France and was a prominent bishop in his church, the closest thing Mormons have to pastors).

    And here is what Romney taught his flocks (no wonder he does not want to talk about it!):

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-3518122935543352086

  • fw

    Huckabee AND Romney are BOTH trained to be pastors and served as such for years. actually Romney in positions of greater standing than Huckabee. He was the head missionary in France and was a prominent bishop in his church, the closest thing Mormons have to pastors).

    And here is what Romney taught his flocks (no wonder he does not want to talk about it!):

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-3518122935543352086

  • Booklover

    In our neck of the woods, it is common for a pastor to leave his flock and sell real estate–I guess there is more money in it.

    It is difficult to understand how one can leave his true calling, yet I’ll try not to judge harshly. I can see from personal experience that it is hard to raise a family and go through many hardships with just four children–it must be a hundredfold more difficult to shepherd a whole pack of sinners.

  • Booklover

    In our neck of the woods, it is common for a pastor to leave his flock and sell real estate–I guess there is more money in it.

    It is difficult to understand how one can leave his true calling, yet I’ll try not to judge harshly. I can see from personal experience that it is hard to raise a family and go through many hardships with just four children–it must be a hundredfold more difficult to shepherd a whole pack of sinners.

  • Bror Erickson

    Booklover,
    Very sorry to hear that. Not only for you but for the pastors who had to leave their flocks, in order to feed their families. But it is something everyone should consider on Sunday morning when the plate goes by. That is: Do I need a real estate agent, or a pastor more?

  • Bror Erickson

    Booklover,
    Very sorry to hear that. Not only for you but for the pastors who had to leave their flocks, in order to feed their families. But it is something everyone should consider on Sunday morning when the plate goes by. That is: Do I need a real estate agent, or a pastor more?

  • JLarson

    On a tangent: Some have raised a similar question about Ian Paisley, founder of the Free Presbyterian denomination; pastor of Martyrs Memorial Free Presbyterian Church in Belfast, Northern Ireland; and British MP.

    The main reply I’ve heard has been that “he wears different hats.” But as the WCF is the confessional document backing the denomination, its Chapter 23 seems to contradict the notion that one is permitted to wear different hats (when it comes to the church and state).

    Of course, it’s a moot point because of his standing down as denominational moderator in 2008.

  • JLarson

    On a tangent: Some have raised a similar question about Ian Paisley, founder of the Free Presbyterian denomination; pastor of Martyrs Memorial Free Presbyterian Church in Belfast, Northern Ireland; and British MP.

    The main reply I’ve heard has been that “he wears different hats.” But as the WCF is the confessional document backing the denomination, its Chapter 23 seems to contradict the notion that one is permitted to wear different hats (when it comes to the church and state).

    Of course, it’s a moot point because of his standing down as denominational moderator in 2008.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    Romney’s work as a missionary, church leader, and bishop within Mormonism deserves to be better known. He was surely just as much a church operative as Huckabee was.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    Romney’s work as a missionary, church leader, and bishop within Mormonism deserves to be better known. He was surely just as much a church operative as Huckabee was.


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