I have been accused of occasionally being political in my sermons, and I may have, at times, been guilty of that. Of course, so was Jesus, but that seems to be missed by my accusers. What does it mean to be “political” in this context? I struggle with this every day – so here is today’s attempt to understand the problem.
I am deeply concerned about social justice, and this is what many people think of as political. There are dozens of social issues that the church should be concerned about, among them the environment, domestic violence, poverty, education (keep going – I don’t want to waste too much space on them!). Since when did talking about these things in a Christian or religious context become political? I notice that people who want school choice – most often Evangelicals, Fundamentalists, and Catholics wanting to send their children to their own Christian schools or educating them at home – speak about it in religious terms all the time. And what about poverty? Jesus spoke about money more than any other subject, and his words about the poor are quoted from all sides. Is poverty political because religious people seek political , as well as spiritual, answers?
Or is the problem that those opposed to social justice tend to be on one side of the aisle while those concerned about it tend to be on the other? That is a political quandary – for example, many of us who are more progressive in our faith are asking very serious questions about ex-Judge Roy Moore’s pedophilia, and how anyone claiming to be a follower of Jesus can support him for the Senate. This is a way in which religious people are challenging themselves to look closely at who a person really is. And while all of us would agree that nobody is perfect, and we can’t condemn every person for making one mistake, pedophilia is unacceptable – and a crime – and should never be overlooked by anyone, faith-oriented or not. Is this political? And, by the way, we are also confronting the growing accusations of sexual abuse and misconduct among Democrats as well as Republicans. No person, regardless of party, should be given a pass.
As a person who takes both the Bible and the Constitution seriously, and who is deeply committed to understanding them both, I have come to believe that the Jeffersonian wall between the State and Religion exists so that neither one might be encumbered by the other, and both can speak critically to each other. When politicians are immoral, religious communities should challenge them. When religious institutions behave badly or break the law, the State should censure them. This wall is meant to give each agency, so that neither can control the other. So when our government wants to pass laws or budgets that hurt the most vulnerable among us – the poor, children, the elderly, minorities – religious institutions need to speak up, in spite of those who might fling accusations of political preaching. And when Religions mistreat people, the State needs to step in and force them to either do the right thing or lose their tax exemption.
I preach the Gospel, and the Gospel clearly demands that people of faith stand up against bullies, whether they be political or religious. That is what Jesus did – that is what we need to do. Peace.
Steve Ohnsman has been the pastor of Calvary UCC in Reading, PA since 1999. He has a BA in Religion & Philosophy from Wilmington College (OH), an MDiv from Drew Theological Seminary (NJ), a DMin from United Theological Seminary (OH), and a PhD from Alvernia University (PA).