Why Pastors Don’t Laugh at Politicians

Saturday, when Barack Obama introduced Joe Biden at a rally in Springfield, they each made slips-of-the-tongue that had to have been embarrassing.

In presenting Biden, Senator Obama said, “Let me present to you, the next president of the United States—er, the next Vice-President of the United States, Joe Biden.”

Then, when Biden was concluding his remarks, he really blew it. “Let me pay tribute to the next President of the United States–Barack America.”

That’s what he said. Ew. How embarrassing was that.

Reminds me of the time Senator Ted Kennedy was trying to get Obama’s name out–back when it was unfamiliar to all of us–and he called him Osama Bin Laden or something. Hard to live down, I betcha.

Preachers understand. We’ve been there and done that.

I once called the groom by the best man’s name in the middle of a wedding.

I’ve stood at the front door at the end of the worship service, greeting people and calling them by name, and gotten more than a few names wrong. I once called a young woman up to the podium to give a testimony on a mission trip she had made and called her the wrong name.

My pastor friend Larry went to the wrong Mrs. Sullivan’s house to inform her that her husband had been killed that day. She refused to believe him, thankfully, because it turned out she was right. The secretary who sent the pastor to that house was in hot water, however.

Two or three people have forwarded to me the “youtube” video of Barack Obama addressing a crowd without a teleprompter and losing his fabled eloquence. In the clip, he stumbles verbally, has trouble expressing himself, can’t find the word he’s looking for, and begins again several times before finally giving up on the point he was trying to make.

I didn’t laugh. As Molly used to tell Fibber in the old radio show, “Tain’t funny, McGee.”


In the clip, Obama explains his awkwardness by saying he hasn’t slept for a couple of nights. Assuming that to be the case, most of us know the feeling. You’re tired, your mind has shut down, and you’re tongue isn’t cooperating, but you still have to stand up and do your job.

What I generally do in times of fatigue is to lose my train of thought in the middle of a sentence. It’s so embarrassing, it’s what made me decide never to enter the pulpit without written sermon notes in my Bible. I may not be referring to them as I preach, but they’re there and if I lose my way, I can always find it.

In recent weeks, as Obama and McCain have struggled with the decisions on vice-presidential running mates, pastors know that feeling also. When we are trying to choose an assistant pastor–or any staff member, for that matter–there are so many factors to consider. In our case, it’s not that a choice will help us win over a segment of the population, but we juggle considerations such as his experience, qualifications, education, doctrine and beliefs, family and personal situations, and his all-important personality against the needs of the church and what we personally prefer in a colleague.

In choosing a sidekick–for that’s what presidential nominees are doing and what the pastor is doing in selecting a staff member–you may follow McCain and “go with your gut,” or do what Obama did and delegate the groundwork to a small team of people you trust, with you making the final call.

I have a mixed record on this. I’ve chosen staffers whom I had known for years, really liked, and felt would be great to work with, only to discover later this one was lazy or that one had some serious problem that did not surface until we were working together. I’ve chosen poorly at times because I felt the church leadership team wanted this particular guy, even though I didn’t, and I didn’t want to disappoint them. And, I will add for the benefit of former staff members who read this blog, I have also picked some real winners.

It’s a tough call and a faith decision, no matter how well you know the person.

In 1972, Democratic presidential nominee Senator George McGovern chose Missouri’s Senator Thomas Eagleton to be his running mate, only to have it come out a few days later that Eagleton had suffered severe depression years back and had gone through electro-convulsive-therapy or ECT. Shock treatments, we call them. My family has direct knowledge of these procedures and we know personally the good/bad of them. Suffice it to say the medical world is divided on their value and the thought of Eagleton’s being a possible heartbeat away from the presidency was too scary for most Americans. McGovern dropped him and then went through the public embarrassment of being turned down by a number of high-profile politicians he asked to join his team. Finally, Sargent Shriver–the first head of the Peace Corps and father of Maria Shriver Schwarzenegger–accepted the role and served admirably. By then, it was all over and Nixon beat McGovern handily.

Again, most pastors did not gloat. We’ve all made bone-headed decisions regarding staff, too, and sympathize with anyone who makes such a faith call and gets it wrong, then has to go through the humiliating work of undoing it and trying to make it right.

On the other hand, I’m certain most pastors did not sympathize with John McCain when he did not know how many houses he owned. Most of us have no problem whatsoever pronouncing the word, “One.”

I did not sympathize with Obama when he hedged on the question of when the unborn life within the mother becomes a person–however Rick Warren phrased it–by saying it was above his pay grade. There’s no excuse for such shallowness when one is dealing with the question of taking human life. Nothing has frightened me about this candidate more than that.

And yet, most of us pastors have at times given shallow, even flippant, answers to serious questions. So, we can sympathize there, too. A little, anyway.

I once told the coach of the New Orleans Saints at the time, Jim Mora, that preachers could sympathize with what coaches go through. “We give our best on Sunday, then have to endure people tearing it apart and throwing it back in our faces.” He said, “Yes, but do they do it on television and in the newspaper?” No, I had to admit. But that’s why coaches make the big bucks, to put up with that, I suppose.

Sympathy is a good thing, as a rule. Literally, it means to suffer with another person.

The next time you hear a political commentator–or a mean-spirited preacher for that matter–lambasting a politician over some bone-headed gaffe or slip of the tongue, let’s remind ourselves that mercy is a wonderful quality. Scripture promises that those who show it will receive it (Matthew 5:7) and that’s good enough for this frail human who is so prone to needing mercy.

9 thoughts on “Why Pastors Don’t Laugh at Politicians

  1. Having been both an elected official as well as a pastor, I can appreciate when either one messes up there are people watching. And they usually are not shy about pointing out your errors to you.

  2. You forgot my personal favorate, Bro. Joe.

    Joe Biden speaking about Barak Obama saying…

    “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy,” Biden said. “I mean, that’s a storybook, man.”

    I do feel a little judgmental on this point because of the way liberals like Biden often accuse conservatives of being racist, but Biden’s moment of unguarded candor shows just how paternalistic white, rich liberals really are.

  3. Just for clarity; the 2007 financial disclosure required by all members of congress shows that Joe Biden and wife Jill had assets from $59,000 to $366,000 and debts from $140,000 to $365,000 which included a line of credit extended to send his son to college.

    He seems pretty ‘liberal’ politically, but “he ain’t rich.”

  4. Just for clarity; the 2007 financial disclosure required by all members of congress shows that Joe Biden and wife Jill had assets from $59,000 to $366,000 and debts from $140,000 to $365,000 which included a line of credit extended to send his son to college.

    He seems pretty ‘liberal’ politically, but “he ain’t rich.”

  5. Kinda reminds you of when Dan Quayle made his “potato” gaffe by having a kid put an “e” at the end the it. The liberal press tried to make him seem like a blithering idiot over it. It will be interesting to see how much play this will get in the media over the next few weeks.

  6. What, no favorite “Bushism”? Too many to choose from? Random pick:

    “I’ll be long gone before some smart person ever figures out what happened inside this Oval Office.”

  7. Sorry, got to add this one and promise to stop. Perhaps the most important words ever uttered by President Bush:

    “It would be a mistake for the United States Senate to allow any kind of human cloning to come out of that chamber.”

  8. “I did not sympathize with Obama when he hedged on the question of when the unborn life within the mother becomes a person.”

    As you alluded to there is a differnce between a pastor and politician. You and I shoould see life much more distinguishable than politicians. Many of them are intune with what they can do, and not with the true concerns of God. We should view the world from a biblical eye.

  9. Joe,

    Last Sunday while closing out my message, I was attempting to quote F.B. Meyer.

    My wife and daughter say that I quoted the FBI!

    It happens!

    Mike(no relation to John)