I recently saw a quote (unattributed) that went something like this, “Sermons become political when they disagree with our personal agenda.” To say that sermons should never be political is a foolish statement – if that is your opinion, you probably never read the Bible. The prophets and Jesus were constantly challenging the governments and structures they lived under, believing that it is a rulers responsibility to do the right thing for the people, especially the poor. Moral issues are used politically, but that doesn’t mean they are actually political. Poverty, education, hunger, homelessness – these are just a few of the important moral issues throughout history that have been turned into political footballs.
Take healthcare – is it a human right? It isn’t spelled out in the Constitution, so many originalists refuse to accept it as a human right. Is it the responsibility of the government to make sure everyone has some kind of basic healthcare? I can’t answer that, but I think it mattered to Jesus, otherwise, he wouldn’t have spent so much time healing people. What about education? Again, not in the Constitution, but it is so important that we have provided tax-based public education for all children for almost a century. Following the American Revolution, Thomas Jefferson argued that we needed a national system, but he was ignored. Massachusetts was the first state to mandate it (1852), and by 1918 every state had at least a mandatory elementary education system. Still, from an originalist point of view, education may not be a necessary task that should be mandated by the Federal Government.
I think it is important to challenge our leaders to do right by us, but that may mean something different to you than it does to me. Government paid cable TV? No. Government sponsored basic healthcare? Yes. Affordable housing? Yes. A Porsche next to every porch? No. Just because we are a secular nation does not mean that we shouldn’t have a moral/ethical code. The separation of church and state allows people of faith to challenge the government when it behaves badly. I think we need to remember that, especially now.
Pastor Steve Ohnsman has served Calvary United Church of Christ in Reading, PA, since 1999. He has a BA in Religion & Philosophy from Wilmington College (OH), a M.Div. from Drew Theological Seminary (NJ), a D.Min. from United Theological Seminary (OH), and a Ph.D. from Alvernia University (PA).