First – I hope that my non-Christian friends understand that I often speak as a follower of Jesus and do not feel qualified to speak for, and often about, other religions. I try to be inclusive when it fits but will not pretend to understand all the nuances of other faith traditions. I have enough to keep me busy with my own.
Today I want to consider what is really going on when people get mad at me and others because they think we are getting political. One doesn’t have to be a biblical scholar to realize that politics and religion intermingle throughout both Testaments; you only need to read it to see this is true. And while the Apostle Paul was reticent to cross that line – he even said that all leaders were appointed by God, which is utter nonsense – Jesus was murdered for challenging the political power structures of His time. The King of the area where He was born tried to have Him murdered as a baby. He was also accused of blasphemy, which was punishable by death, but the fact that He was crucified and not stoned to death is proof that He made Rome mad enough to execute Him. This is indisputable.
So, what most people really mean when they get mad at what they perceive is crossing over the line is that I (for example) am saying something they disagree with. Flag in the Sanctuary? No problem. Saying “God bless America”? That’s fine. Prayer (Christian, that is) in schools? “The removal of it is what ruined America!” some say. The list goes on, but you get my point. When I preach against political actions or behavior that is immoral? Stop being political! President Trump gets his picture taken holding a Bible in front of a church (without that church’s permission)? Right-wing Christians were giddy. Politicians pretending to be Christian to get votes? Unconstitutional, but often mandatory to get elected.
Clergy can officiate at weddings, which crosses the line. Christian prayer at public school graduations and events – crosses the line. Football coach prays at mid-field after a game – approved by the Supreme Court, but still – crosses the line. Crossing the line between religion and state that takes place a lot, and that will probably never end, even as America becomes less religious. What we have to keep vigilant about, however, is the state blessing a religion, or religious people becoming sycophants for the state. If you allow Christian prayer, you need to allow Wiccans and Jews and Muslims, and all the rest to pray as well. Elected officials are free to practice their faith, but not to use it to suppress others. Truly religious people recognize the need for religious freedom side by side with the need for government to care for all people, religious or not.
You don’t like that I speak about moral issues that are also debated by politicians? Fine – but don’t think you can keep clergy from standing up for those who are oppressed by zealots. The prophets did it; Jesus did it; you and I can do it too. As long as we are respectful and cognizant of our need to protect all people, not just people like us. That’s the line we can’t cross. Jesus doesn’t need our protection, but people do. If we stop, that’s when we lose our moral integrity.
Prayer – Remind us, God of justice, that we have been called to practice our faith and stand up for those in need. Amen.