I read 12 essays from thoughtful, influential Christian leaders around our country responding to the question, “Do politics belong in church?” from one of the most respected Christian journals available, The Christian Century. As it turns out, we’re not the only church that is dealing with this question in a way we have never had to before. I’m sharing snippets of different responses I resonate with. I really hope you will take the time to peruse these nuanced reflections that capture at least some of the thoughts and feelings I have.
Nothing but Love,
Pastor Lee Hull Moses says that her church has experienced what we’ve experienced at Highlands; “Some folks have left because they say we’re too political and some have left because they feel we’re not political enough. Some folks wish we were out in force, wearing our church T-shirts, at every protest. Others wish I would tone it down from the pulpit and just preach about how to be a good person. I take some solace in the adage that if you’re making people mad, you must be doing something right.” Lee Hull Moses is pastor of First Christian Church in Greensboro, North Carolina.
“The church is a praying, singing, preaching, witnessing body. We witness to the in-breaking of God’s reign of love, justice, beauty, and abundance in time and space. We lament brokenness, evil, and violence. We proclaim that these dastardly realities are ending even as we groan and press toward God’s redemption of humanity and all of creation. Our prayers, songs, sermons, and testimonies are acts of political speech.” William H. Lamar IV is pastor of Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C.
“I believe both political parties have contributed to our nation’s current political dysfunction. Our faith stands in judgment of our nation’s lawmakers—of whatever ideological stripe—when they fail to uphold the values implicit in the gospel demands for justice.” Scott Anderson is pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Madison, Wisconsin.
“Jesus resisted an oppressive empire in ways both overt and subversive. His message wasn’t inherently political, but it was a message that demanded people act out of a certain ethic. In these days, as in all times when people are suffering, a church that is proudly nonpolitical would be well served to reflect on what it means to reinforce the best part of a community’s identity and what that looks like in practice.” Sandhya Rani Jha is founder and director of the Oakland Peace Center.
“The gospel obviously couldn’t have envisaged the political systems in place in the United States today. “Gospel values” do not prescribe for us how to shape our governments. They tell us how to live. This leaves us with the responsibility to make our political decisions on the basis of our best judgment as to which actions will yield the most life-giving results. Many Democrats, and many Republicans, feel with great conviction that their choice is the truly Christian one, but let’s face it: neither party today truly and fully embodies Christ values, and neither presents the only right solution.” Peter Bouteneff is a professor of systematic theology at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary.
“Political questions are often good ways to get at the moral, the ethical, even the spiritual. For the sermon to stop at a political end is to truncate its potential. Politics, at its very best, reflects our principles, values, convictions. Like Jesus and the Roman coin, political responsibilities point to greater obligations: “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God, what is God’s.” Rob Schenck is president of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Institute in Washington, D.C. Rob will be speaking for the Interfaith Council here at Highlands on Oct. 8, 6:30-9. All are welcome!
“As Christians, our work must always be theologically grounded and focused on aligning what we do with the command of Christ to love one another as he has loved us. Spiritual disciplines such as prayer and Bible study help us to articulate how we understand God’s call to follow the example of Jesus Christ. When we speak, we must speak from that theological grounding, not from loyalties to tribe or politics. We are on dangerous ground when we identify a particular theological perspective as “American” or when we insist that only certain political positions are “Christian.’” Teresa Hord Owens is general minister and president of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
“There are times when a preacher has to echo Luther in saying, ‘Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me.’ This is one of those times. No pastor should remain silent at the election of a president who has deceived the working class with empty promises, and who is clearly misogynistic, Islamophobic, an advocate of racist stop-and-frisk policing. He wants to build walls around the country rather than offer hospitality to the stranger. All of that is anathema to the gospel of Jesus Christ’s love for a world he was literally dying to love. So I stay awake at night praying for the pastor who has to figure out how to say this to a congregation that believes Jesus is the lord of life, but that says, please, don’t talk about politics.” Craig Barnes is the President of Princeton Theological Seminary.