PULPITS AND POLITICS
My friend Arnold called the other day with some excitement in his voice. “I’ve just been talking to a friend who was up in arms about the pastor in his church, and I wanted your opinion.”
“About what, Arnold,” I asked.
“Well, you know I don’t go to any one particular church, and I haven’t been lately, but I just wanted to know if you preach politics from the pulpit.”
“Why do you ask?” I wondered out loud.
“Because my friend insisted that clergy should not be saying anything politically from the pulpit, and he thinks his pastor is going too far on that subject. So I wanted to ask your opinion on whether politics belongs in church.”
“Well, wherever two or three are gathered together,” I said, “there’s going to be politics, right?”
“Come on, Richard, I’m serious.”
“OK, my friend, let me ask you: as someone who would be rather “objective” about this – like you say you are about religion in general – do you think pastors should preach politics?”
“Why not?” Arnold asked. “I would guess that some people would like to have some political direction from their pastors, wouldn’t they? I mean, if they are serious about applying biblical principles to their lives, wouldn’t they want their ministers to guide them? Who would be a better resource than that?”
“So why don’t I see you in church more, Arnold?”
“There you go again, trying to evade my question. Maybe if you had more politics in your sermons, I’d come more,” he said with a chuckle.
“Arnold, our primary goal in preaching is to preach the gospel of Christ, the good news that we have been redeemed by God as God’s free gift to us.”
“Wasn’t Christ political? Weren’t the Old Testament prophets political? Didn’t your New Testament biblical leaders – like John the Baptist and the apostles -- take on kings and rulers when they were wrong?”
“Whoa, my friend, you’re getting ahead of me now.”
“Well, speak up. Give me some answers,” Arnold said, a bit irritated at what he thought was my evasion of his concern.
“OK. Yes, the prophets of the Old Testament were directly political when they felt they had to be. And yes, John the Baptist took on King Herod and the apostles appeared before governors and kings. And Jesus himself was executed as a political threat to the establishment.”
“So what’s the problem about you pastors getting political?” Arnold asked.
“OK. If you mean that we should engage in partisan politics from the pulpit, we will simply turn some people off and bring division in the church. That’s not very helpful to the unity of a congregation. But if the gospel of Jesus, with its emphasis on unity and love, is spoken boldly and clearly, people should be able to apply it to the decisions they have to make in life. Don’t you agree?”
“Yes,” Arnold said, “but do you see them doing that?”
“I know what you mean. People can hear Jesus’ message of unity and love and still support division and hate in their communities, in their voting, and in their daily lives. But if I bluntly tell them to stop it, and tell them what to do in every situation, they will still make up their own minds, won’t they? After all, I can’t force them, can I?”
“Then why do they go to church?” Arnold asked.
“That’s a totally different subject, my friend,” I said.
“I’m still not sure you’ve answered my question, Richard.”
“Well, drop in some Sunday, Arnold, and maybe I might.”
Richard Jeske, Vicar