This morning, as I was looking back at unpublished blog posts, I happened upon the following paragraphs. Written back in 2016 — doesn’t that seem like a long time ago??? — I still stand by my argument.
A few days ago, a Facebook friend of mine posted a status update recounting an interaction with a parishioner in which my friend had been told, “a minister should not be so political.” Anyone who has had the opportunity to lead and serve in any aspect of congregational life has likely heard some version of the adage, “religion and politics don’t mix.” Apparently, the agreed upon tradeoff is, “You can tell us all you want about religion as long as you don’t suggest religion has anything to do with the rest of our lives.” I suspect this compartmentalization of the religious life stems from the Cartesian notion of religious life as an intensely individualized, and exceedingly private matter.
The only difficulty with this line of thinking is its complete departure from the way I read the stories of Jesus and the Church in the New Testament. We are not baptized into “a customized faith journey.” Rather we are sacramentally drowned and raised to a life that is inherently communal and connected. Our religious life can no more be abstracted from our political life than our bodies can be abstracted from our minds.
That said, there is an important distinction to be drawn between the words political and partisan. The Gospel is about a new politics — called “The Kingdom of God.” The Church (as in the Body of Christ, not a particular denomination) is political to the extent that it gathers a people under the banner of the Cross to promote justice, peace, and the dignity of every person as reflections of living our lives under the rubric of the Two Great Commandments (Love God. Love neighbor). By ordering our common life in such a fashion Christians are at odds with any and all partisan politics which run counter to the Gospel.
Part of the challenge in parish life is giving people theological tools to reflect upon partisan politics deliberately and prayerfully whilst being ever-mindful that people of good faith often come to very different conclusions. In our country’s current partisan chaos, I believe offering a witness of respect, forbearance, prayerful thought, and careful speech is about the most important thing anything anyone in parochial leadership can be doing. Godspeed.