The Issue of Politics and Religion

My latest for the Longview News-Journal


 

In life, we are taught or socialized to believe that there are two areas in which we should refrain from speaking about during dinner conversation: politics and religion. This sentiment comes from the notion that these two areas are quite divisive. Broad-ranging opinions are found on both sides of either argument. Instead of trying to learn and hear one another, we have taken up the position of avoidance. This tactic will ensure that no one will have their feelings hurt or having a shouting match at the dinner table. In the 21st century, this idiom has long been ignored thanks to the internet and social media. The internet was advertised as a place for people with like-minded thoughts, and beliefs could share and learn from one another. It was heralded as an open forum full of opportunity for learning and discussion. While this is a grand, almost utopian, idea, it is far from evident today.

Today, social media are hot spots for people to share their believes and opinions. In 2017, a study found that 67% of Americans get some part of their news from social media. As the popularity of these platforms has grown, so have the boldness of the rhetoric that people are propagating. Sadly, there is little to no tolerance of conflicting viewpoints or opinions. The quest for learning and shaping one’s thoughts is gone; all that is left are tweetable one-liners and half-truths.

As a minister, I am called to proclaim the message of God and Jesus. The Church as a response to faith enacts ministries and activities so that God’s love, mercy, grace, and justice can be shared. What happens then when the lines of politics and the religion blur? I have heard in every church I have ever served “I don’t want politics preached from the pulpit.” What they are truly saying is “I don’t want to hear politics that I disagree with preached from the pulpit.”

There are prohibitions against non-profit organizations endorsing or contributing to any political candidate or campaign. This is known as the Johnson Amendment. During the 2016 election, Donald Trump and some of his supporters spoke out against the amendment.   After the inauguration, President Trump signed an executive order rescinding the amendment.

I have wrestled with this idea of politics and church. How involved should a church be in its community, state and nation’s politics? As a citizen, I participate in the election process, but most people would never know which particular candidates I am supporting. I have made a choice not to put a bumper sticker on my car or a sign in my yard endorsing a party or candidate. Why? As a minister, I am called to serve my congregation regardless of their political affiliation. I never want a yard sign or a bumper sticker to be a barrier for someone. I know many ministers who do not practice this, and that’s fine. We all find different ways to share our views and outlook on life and theology.

Faith is political; it is countercultural, and at times it is radical. The problem that a lot of Christians have today regarding the interplay of faith and politics is the recognition that faith is not partisan. Some ministers across this country have stated that Jesus would have been a Republican or a Democrat or even a Socialist. Thousands of people each year write in Jesus’ name on the election ballot. Once I heard a minister try to get around the Johnson Amendment by listing the ways that his congregants should “Vote Christian.” The only issue with that particular angle is which branch of Christianity is the one I should align my vote?

Too many people believe that since they identify with the Republican or Democratic party that they must adhere to the primary issue stances and talking points. They then take these political ideals and superimpose them on to a religious structure. This is a gross misuse of faith. Our faith in God and Christ should not be used as a weapon to prop up some political devices and schemes. By carefully examining our theological positions we then should make decisions as people of faith not as a member of a party.

I believe that churches should provide opportunities for listening and learning from different perspectives and understandings of God and how it drives them to act in the world. These conversations and interactions will give those gathered a fuller view of who God is and how God is working in other’s lives. If we can erase the labels that we place on each other and remove the prejudices we assign groups of people, then we then will come to the conversation with listening ears and open hearts.

Having conversations about “hot topic” issues are difficult because they can be profoundly personal or emotional. This does not, however, mean that congregations should not speak about them. Instead, the community should wrestle with what it means to live a faithful Christian life in the face of evil and destruction. It is too easy to externalize the problem and blame “society” or “social media” or some other group; it takes the pressure off us and assigns to blame to a situation too large for a church to handle.

Christian Piatt, a Disciples of Christ author, once wrote, “If we can’t ask the tough, keep-you-awake-at-night questions within our faith communities, then what good are they?” Piatt’s question is a tough one and one that many churches do not want to hear. Are we willing to wrestle with the concerns that people are struggling with?  Are we willing hear people out and listen to their concerns and feelings? Is the Church ready to have these vitally essential conversations?  I hope so.

Let us come to together united under the banner of Christ and God’s restorative justice. We can have differences about taxes and immigration, but we need to be unified in the message that Christ’s call for all of us was to love God and love each other.

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