Parallels between election turmoil & ministry draw Sutton's reflections

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)--Comparing the recent turmoil in the 2000 presidential election to obstacles in the ministry, Baptist historian Jerry Sutton encouraged Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary students to keep their focus on Jesus.

Sutton, pastor of Two Rivers Baptist Church, Nashville, Tenn., speaking Nov. 9 on the Wake Forest, N.C., campus, outlined several issues visible in the election and campaign efforts that are also inherent in pastorates and other ministerial roles.

"Leadership passes from one generation to the next as time marches on. Just as it's true with Clinton and the passing of time to the next president, whether it's Bush or Gore, it is true that you are preparing for a time of leadership. Most of us are relieved that there is a passing of time in the White House," Sutton said, meaning that someone else will have to step up to tomorrow's leadership. "And the truth is that those of you sitting here today are the ones that will have to step into the leadership of tomorrow."

Leadership is assumed by those who are prepared to exercise it, Sutton said.

"Both Bush and Gore have been preparing for years to be the president of the United States," Sutton said, noting that sometimes preparation is accompanied by a price. "And in the spiritual arena, God always prepares somebody before he uses them. He wants to prepare you so that he can use you in the days ahead."

Sutton also said that choices made today, make a difference tomorrow.

"The person you put in the White House today will make a difference by their policies," Sutton said, noting that a candidate's campaign platforms reveal the direction the nation will take. "And the same is true for [ministers]. The choices you make today will have a bearing on your tomorrows."

As an example of this, Sutton cited the pre-election publicity of Texas Governor George Bush's DUI 24 years ago, "suddenly discovered and conveniently released," Sutton said, "making it look like a political mudsling."

"The mistakes of the past can come back to haunt a person. This realization makes it crucial for pastors and church workers to guard their hearts and minds. When you're in the ministry, a mistake in the past can come back to haunt you. That's why it's so important to guard your heart and be cautious. Compromises can cost you."

Sutton said that in following the election, one discovers that Proverbs 18:13, which reads, "a fool answers a matter before he hears it," is true. Referring to the early call of Gore as the winner of votes in Florida, Sutton said the major media networks tried "to get a leg up on the competition" making them "look like fools" because they did not have complete accounts of information.

"This is true in ministry," Sutton said, reminding pastors and those who give counsel to others that there are always two sides to every story. "Don't take sides on something until you know both sides of the story. You can make an idiot out of yourself by taking a stand because you don't have all the facts."

Again referring to the recent dismay of Floridian voters who are demanding a re-vote because they incorrectly voted on election day, Sutton stressed the importance of doing something right the first time in the ministry arena.

"If you don't do something right the first time, you might not get another chance," Sutton said. "You may never get an opportunity to do it over again."

Pointing to the alleged discrepancies of confusing ballots in specified Florida counties, Sutton said "the hinge of history can turn on a single event."

"The big issue is not if Gore's in the White House or if Bush is in the White House, but this: Who will they nominate to go to the Supreme Court? Because the judges they nominate may sit there for the next 30 or 40 years," Sutton said. "One of my prayers is that in my lifetime the Roe vs. Wade [abortion decision] will be overturned. And the hinge of history may well turn on this election and may well turn on the number of votes cast in Florida."

Sutton, convinced that prayer makes a difference, asked seminary students to pray for the nation, and the resulting moral and spiritual consequences.

"If you're like me, I prayed long and hard for the election, even to the wee hours of the night ... but ultimately God chooses leadership. If you'll be faithful to serve, and if you're a person of integrity, God will place you where you need to be.

"The last eight years, we've gotten what we deserve," Sutton said, referring to America's tenure under Bill Clinton. "And hopefully in the next eight years, God will give us what we need." Citing Psalm 106:15, which says, "And he gave them their request, but sent leanness into their soul," Sutton called the verse a commentary on the nation for the last eight years.

"A lot of things pale in comparison to the things which are most important. This election pales in comparison to the Lord Jesus, because all of this is temporal," Sutton said. "But knowing Jesus, serving Jesus, living for Jesus is eternal, and that is what really matters. We should learn from the culture, learn from the Word [of God] and keep [our] eyes on Jesus."


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