Andy Stanley preached in DC to the President and a select audience before the Inauguration. CT’s Mark Galli interviewed Andy about the event:
In the sermon, you referred to the President as “Pastor in Chief.” That phrase has caused a great deal of anxiety among people.
First, I understand the anxiety. If I had read that in isolation, it would give me concern as well. So I don’t fault anyone. Apparently there was one pool reporter in the room, because they didn’t allow any media. In fact, they didn’t even announce who was speaking. This was as private as they could make a ceremony for the President private. The pool reporter wrote his or her story and mentioned that I said that, which I did. But of course, he or she didn’t have time to give the entire context. So I don’t fault anyone for the reporting or the confusion around that. But here’s what happened.
In mid-December, the President went to Newtown [Connecticut], to the high school, and gave this address on television. I knew the President got there early. Each of the families who lost a child was taken to separate a classroom. So this would be 20-something classrooms. In the classrooms were the parents, siblings, in some cases grandparents. And the President got there early enough and went to every single classroom, and spent time with every single family individually.
It’s still emotional for me to think about. As a pastor, I’ve walked into homes where people have lost children, teenagers. The grief and emotional toll it takes on a pastor to sit with a family, to listen, to be eye to eye—it’s excruciating. The President had done that with every single one of those families before he walked into that auditorium to give what I thought was an incredibly appropriate and powerful message.
I’m sitting there on my couch watching this, thinking,How is he doing this? I would be exhausted after a single interaction with a family. All these classrooms. And he sits through all that, and then he gives his speech. I turned to Sandra, and said, “Tonight he is the Pastor in Chief, isn’t he?”
[At the pre-inaugural service,] I knew that I didn’t want to get up and just launch into a sermon. When you’re in an environment where you have no personal connection with anyone in the room—and I certainly didn’t—as a speaker, you want to find a personal connection. I thought,Well, here is something that I felt deeply and here we have all these clergy on this stage.
So I said something like, “Mr. President, I don’t know the first thing about being President, but I know a bit about being a pastor. And during the Newtown vigil on December 16th after we heard what you did—I just want to say on behalf of all of us as clergy, thank you.” And I added, “I turned to Sandra that night and said, ‘Tonight he’s the Pastor in Chief.'”
So that’s the context. I wasn’t making a declaration that he’s our Pastor in Chief. But I can understand how that got reported.
Some of your critics assume that by preaching on such an occasion, you are associating yourself with the President’s policies, that you are onboard with his views of gay marriage, abortion, and health policies.
I think the President should be more concerned about being associated with my policies! I’ve been preaching for 17 years every single Sunday; he’s only been President for 4! I’m kidding, of course. The whole idea of fear by association [is a problem].
If Jesus had felt that way, he would have never come to earth—right? He would have never left heaven to become a human. So I do not make decisions based on guilt by association. I grew up in a culture that was all about that.
One time another friend of mine was asked to pray with President Obama, and he asked Billy Graham, “Dr. Graham, should I pray for the President?” And Dr. Graham looked at him and said, “You’re a pastor. That’s what you do; you pray for people. Yes, you can pray for the President.'”
So I felt like, Okay, they asked me to preach. That’s what I do. Why wouldn’t I go preach to the President?