I, like many Americans, watched in horror as the capitol of the United States of America, the seat of American democracy, was overrun by rioters last week. In a wave of uncertainty, news reports were filtering in on social media about weapons being fired, offices being destroyed and people breaking into the Senate chamber. In the end, five people were killed because of this despicable act. As with many events, people turned to their faith to try to find an answer that would help them to fully understand and grasp what just took place. Within hours of the Capitol being cleared, Christian authors, theologians, ministers, and denominations condemned the violence and lawlessness that took place. They cited scripture and the teachings of the church universal as theological underpinnings for their arguments.
The National Council of Churches of Christ (NCC) drafted a letter calling for President Trump to resign and if he would not that all available democratic processes be used to remove him. Due to this letter and the calls for resignation that have come after it from members of Congress and religious leaders, a familiar refrain began to pop up in on social media and in conversations; religion and politics do not mix; there is no need to mix to two together.
It is a common belief that politics and religion should not come together. This is what we are taught as children when with company or around the Thanksgiving table. It’s a way to keep the peace and not to strained relationships. The thought is that “agree to disagree” is a more amenable position.
What happens when the lines of politics and faith meet? In other words, is there a space within the local church for conversations to take place at the intersection of politics and religion? For some, this is a frightening question to consider. Ministers often hear from congregants that a sermon, prayer, communion table mediation, or newsletter article was “too political” or “not political enough,” even if this was not the minister’s intent. I have been caught between these two ends many times. How are followers of Christ especially ministers supposed to live into their call to serve the least of these or stand up for marginalized when their proclamation of the faith is seen as being divisive?
While this might be good table manners, I disagree with this sentiment of separating faith and politics; it’s not practical and it is not true. How many candidates run on the platform for being religious? We cannot keep faith in the church only on Sunday mornings at 10am.
Faith is a powerful tool and is something that should permeate all of our lives and being. It is that we turn to in our times of joy and in your times of sorrow and pain. Faith guides us in our relationship with God and in that relationship, Christians are asked to examine whether the life they are living is in line with the commands and teachings of Jesus the Christ.
Politics is not a dirty word, but we have made it one. Many people unfortunately enter conversations about politics and faith ready to win a battle and not listen to others. We cast wide nets about “those people” or subjugate entire groups based caricatures. In their book, “I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening) Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers contend that the process of learning and discussing politics (even in a religious setting) has the potential to make our communities better. I’m not advocating that ministers regurgitate talking points or party platform statements. I am, however, stating that sometimes events in our society and nation need a Christian response, they need a Christian witness.
If the faithful of God are silent when people are in pain or suffering, then what good is our faith?
I believe that many people want faith and politics separated because it might cause them to change their view on an issue or shift their frame of thinking. By hearing another person’s view, it might have its intended effect, changing of one’s thinking and mode of contemplation. Change is a scary thing. But reevaluating our faith in light of actions from our leaders in society or the actions of others is the bedrock of growing and sustaining faith.
The gospel is political, but it is not partisan. The gospel is political in the sense that it calls for a reordering of the world, our society, our communities, and our relationships. Jesus was a political person in his time; he spoke against the practices of not just the righteous but of society as well. He called for the betterment of all people especially those who had no status in first century Israeli society, like women, children, and orphans. He spoke truth to power.
His teachings are not stuck in the past; they inform how our life as followers of Christ should be and can be. Too often I see politicians or religious persons trying to fit the platform of the party they support on to the Biblical text; this is a backwards way to approaching faith. We must allow our faith to change our views and our ways and then seek our how those actions and beliefs can be lived out. I am not asking that hold a debate during worship, but I invite you to begin the process of exploring how our faith calls us to action to seek out those who are in need, who are hurting, and who need God’s grace and care. Politics is about divining, the gospel is about recognizing that all of God’s people must be cared for and loved. Love has no party; grace has no party. Instead of fighting lets listen, learn, and find ways to bring the wholeness of God’s peace and mercy to all people.