Skip to main content

Separated, but not Divorced: What is the Church's Role in Politics?

Back in 2004, I wrote a spiritual advice newspaper column titled "Faithfully Yours" that ran for a while in the Loudoun Times Mirror and The Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star.

One of the first questions I received - again, this was more than 12 years ago - was about the church's role in politics.

Here was the question:

"In some churches, political views are strongly expressed by the church leadership, and church members are encouraged to vote for specific candidates or instructed on how to vote on certain social/political issues.  In other churches, this is not done, and the church leadership encourages people to prayerfully develop their own views.

What is the church's role when it comes to politics and the pulpit?"

Here, in italics, was my answer in 2004 - and, not changing a word of it - is also my answer today: 

There are two opposite and equal dangers churches can fall into regarding faith and politics.

The first danger is to say that there should be no connection between the two - to claim that "politics has no place in the pulpit."

In the early 1930's, when Germany began enacting official measures against Jews, the Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a lone voice crying out in a wilderness of Christian cowardice and naivety. But in fighting against fascism and bigotry, Bonhoeffer understood what many Christians of his day (and our day) refuse to: that sometimes faith demands we take actions that are considered political, even if those actions are unpopular or go against the current culture.

So clearly, politics has a place in the pulpit. We do not check our faith outside the voting booth.

But the other danger is to check our brains outside the church door.

If you encounter a church that is happy to do all your thinking for you, sparing you the trouble of sorting through the implications of your faith yourself, watch out: chances are that church has put a political agenda - of either the liberal left or the conservative right - at the center of their life together, and not God.  But God says "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," and we should have the humility to admit many people of good faith can act courageously out of many viewpoints.

(2016 me again) So, insofar as my ministry as Rector of The Falls Church Episcopal, that's the tension I have tried and will continue to try to keep here:
  • On the other hand, to insist we practice that rare Christian virtue called humility - to resist equating "our agenda" with "God's agenda" and recognize that people of good faith can act courageously out of many viewpoints... 
AND...
  • On the other hand, to re-read our Bonhoeffer, and in the spirit of Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed, insist that sometimes our faith demands that we take actions that are considered political, even if those actions are unpopular or go against the current culture. 
In this nation, church and state are separated -- and for good reasons.

But they're not divorced. And so we remain in cautious conversation with one another, appropriately distrustful of each other, but always looking for ways that we can, through public policies and ordinary acts of kindness, help repair the world.


--##--




That's Jefferson, of the phrase "separation of church and state," staring at "In God we trust"-- on government currency ...irony? Or holding a tension between two truths? 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Children's Creed: What More Needs to be Said?

One of the joys of my ministry is leading children's chapel for our Day School every other Wednesday (Rev. Cathy and I take turns). About 11:30 each Wednesday, the children - about a 190 of them, ranging in age from 18 months to five years of age - file in with their teachers, take their places in the pews in the Historic Church, and wait for Mrs. Thomas, the Day School Director, to start us. The service is simple: Mrs. Thomas welcomes everyone, brings us to order with a short prayer, and introduces Rev. Cathy or me. We give a short message based on the theme of the week ("David the Shepherd," "Mary and Joseph Go to Bethlehem," "Jesus is Born," "Jesus as a Little Boy" and so on.) After the homily, we stand and say what's called "The Children's Creed." I believe in God above, I believe in Jesus' love. I believe His Spirit too, comes to tell me what to do. I believe that I can be kind and good, dear Lord, like Thee.

A Christianity and a Church that people want to be part of

  A Church and a Christianity people and want to be part of Sermon preached November 22, 2020 Interim Dean John Ohmer All Souls Cathedral, Asheville, NC Matthew 25:31-46 Jesus said, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you

Don't Make Me Poor. Or Rich?

I was recently listening to a podcast of a wonderful on-line daily prayer resource called " Pray as You Go ," and the day's reflection was on part of Proverbs 30:8 - " ...give me neither poverty nor riches,     but give me only my daily bread." Can you imagine yourself praying that prayer to God? Can you imagine sincerely, honestly praying, "Dear God: please... please give me neither poverty nor riches. Don't allow me to be poor, but don't allow me to become rich, either. Please give me only what I need to get through this one day." It's a counter-cultural (and counter-intuitive) thing to pray for. Well, actually, only part of it is counter-cultural: I'll bet most of us would be perfectly comfortable - certainly more sincere! - praying the "please don't give me poverty" part of the prayer. (I don't know too many people who pray on a daily basis for poverty, do you?) But listen to the author