- A pastor is a very public role. Especially in small towns or congregations, your behavior is a matter of more or less constant public scrutiny. Most pastors set out self-consciously to serve as examples, and if they don't they are still regarded as such. You are called on at least once a week to speak at length, in public, on issues of relevance to the lives of your parishioners. Your opinion is often invested (rightly or wrongly) with a vague kind of authority. If you wear vestments you are immediately identified, even by those who don't know you, for your position and all manner of social baggage is attached to that.
- A pastor is a very private role. You are often called upon to be present with people in extremely private moments such as death, deprivation, counseling, sickness and prayer. Confidentiality is the keystone of your moral authority arch. A majority of your work is performed in isolation and your responsibilities include matters like personal spiritual development and study which are typically very private. Furthermore, in order to effectively fulfill your public role it is often necessary to be more private than another person - your political views, past experiences, and even theological convictions can be an obstacle to effective ministry if made public. A pastor's sexual life is more private than a construction worker's for example.
You are asked by a member of your congregation how you intend to vote in an upcoming election. I prefer to just answer questions with complete honesty, but what happens in this situation if I agree with the person - they may take that as theological vindication of their personal opinion. And if I disagree than it is possibly a theological assault on their opinion. Either way pastoral authority can corrupt this into a situation where simple agreement or disagreement turns into approval or condemnation. This applies to more than politics obviously.
It is impossible to avoid all statement of opinion. Anyone who tries is an idiot, and probably also very boring. So clearly one important issue is how to manage agreement and disagreement in a healthy manner when pastoral power dynamics are at play. However, there are plenty of times when it makes sense to avoid this trap. Discretion is the better part of valor and all that.
There are a number of ways to go about this:
- Be direct - tell them you prefer not to speak about that.
- Answer the question with a question - turn it back on them "What do YOU think?"
- Tell an anecdote/quote from scripture/use a parable - give them an answer they have to unravel for themselves, or an inconclusive answer.
What do YOU think?