Politics and the church

How much involvement should clergy have in politics? It depends what you mean by politics.


Brent Was, an Episcopal priest writes of his experience with answering the question about his own level of political involvement:

“My own summer drama has me, a recently under-employed person, interviewing for jobs as an Episcopal priest, which is actually a lot more fun than it sounds. One question I am regularly asked in interviews, one that you might hear if you are a person of faith, is, “Are politics part of your religious life?”

“Of course not,” I always reply. Advocating  parties or candidates as a religious professional is dreadfully unethical and compromises religious not-for-profit status, and developing policy is not in the job description of most local religious leaders.

“But, if by politics,” I continue, “you mean how we get along as neighbors, how we cooperate as residents of the commonwealth, how we organize ourselves as Americans (documented or otherwise) and how we exist as human beings alive in this magnificent creation, then I guess I am decidedly political in my religious life, be it from the pulpit, on a bar stool, at the beach, wherever.” Church interview committees seem to like the bar stool part the best.”

From here.

Is that a fair division to draw? Or is a clever way to avoid the real issue?

Dan Webster, also an Episcopal priest, takes the subject on directly in his essay on ENS:

I expect to hear the Gospel of Mark (12:17) quoted to justify separation of church and state. In this passage, Jesus is challenged by opponents about paying taxes to the emperor. He responds by telling them to give the emperor what was his and give to God what is God’s. What he said may have satisfied critics but in reality, everything belongs to God.

Jesus was cunning in his reply. Like the Jews of his time, his teaching was always anchored in the words of the prophets. From Isaiah and Jeremiah to Amos, Micah and Jonah, the prophets spoke up, calling on leaders to act in accordance with God’s law. They consistently advocated for justice.

Now, I certainly agree that religious leaders should not be preaching about candidates. Partisan politics has no place in the pulpit.

But matters of justice, matters that have an impact on the poor, hungry, the imprisoned and the stranger need to be addressed by church leaders in the pulpit, online, in the media and wherever else we can proclaim Gospel values. The National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, of which the Episcopal Church is a member, even has a list of principles to guide Christian voters during elections.

What do you think?

Category : The Lead

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2 Comments
  1. tgflux

    The National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, of which the Episcopal Church is a member, even has a list of principles to guide Christian voters during elections.

    …but you can bet that other churches publish a “list of principles” (at least! And sometimes, much more specific) which “guide Christian voters” to do the EXACT OPPOSITE (all drawing on the same Bible, of course).

    The Gospel IS political . . . and yet, it’s always a struggle to find a balance (and within the law!) to urge and nudge on Gospel principles (esp. *knowing* that other Christians view things very differently) in the election booth.

    Even something as simple as “Do Justice, Love Kindness, Walk Humbly w/ Your God”: how does THAT translate at election time? 100 Christians will give a 100 answers (but mainly, they’ll divide 50-50. Oy Vey!)

    JC Fisher

  2. revsusan

    Interesting you should ask. Heres’ the quote we have on the home page of the All Saints Church website at the moment:

    “Faith in action is called politics. Spirituality without action is fruitless and social action without spirituality is heartless. We are boldly political without being partisan. Having a partisan-free place to stand liberates the religious patriot to see clearly, speak courageously, and act daringly.” The Rev. J. Edwin Bacon, Jr.

    Susan Russell

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