September has arrived and a new election season will soon be upon us. In the midst of turmoil both at home and abroad, tensions are running high. With this in mind, I’d like to take a moment to share about my personal commitment to keeping politics out of the pulpit.
Over the years, I’ve seen too many congregations torn apart by political differences to feel that preaching my own politics (even though I believe them to be Biblically based and fully justified) is a good idea. The reason is simple: I know that you (whether you lean right, left, or somewhere in between) believe your politics to be Biblically based and fully justified as well. The temptation when hearing a politically infused sermon is to assume (especially when our views seem to be in direct opposition to one another) that one of us is right and the other is… well, wrong. It is easy for us to translate this sense of “rightness” or “wrongness” into a belief that we are being judged and (by and large) this sense of judgment leads to division and alienation. So I won’t be preaching my politics from the pulpit.
To some of you, it may sound as though my primary goal here is to avoid difficult issues or the need to take a stand. But this is hardly the case. Instead, I’m recognizing that our understanding of the Biblical text and its implications for our political actions are strongly influenced by a variety of factors – our religious upbringing, the culture(s) we were raised in or in which we currently reside, our socioeconomic status, our racial or ethnic backgrounds, even (at times) our mood on any given day. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t a few things that are “clearly right” or “clearly wrong,” but it does mean that when we start exploring the complex weavings of our political system, things tend to get a bit muddy. And this isn’t just because some of us are exposed to certain facts (or “facts”) that others aren’t. Our individual calls to discipleship can differ significantly in their focus – something that leads to our prioritization of certain issues in our decision-making processes.
In and of itself, this isn’t a bad thing. In 1 Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul compares the Christian Church to a body. He observes that each of us has different God-given gifts all of which contribute to the body’s overall functionality. Though these gifts differ from one another, all of them are necessary for the fulfillment of Christ’s mission. For one part of the body to tell another “I don’t need you” is simply foolishness.
“Yes,” I can hear you saying, “but Paul is talking about the gifts of teaching and preaching, of hospitality and generosity. He isn’t talking about the idiot on the other end of my pew who is voting for that person.”
You would, of course, be right. Paul knew nothing of the twenty-first century American pollical landscape. But it’s worth noting that not all of these gifts for ministry (though they may be similar) are exercised the same way. Why? Because the individuals exercising these gifts come from different backgrounds and perspectives. There is a right side to the body and a left side – each a mirror image of the other. And while most of us have a hand on either side, those hands don’t always work equally well when it comes to performing the tasks assigned to them.
We’ve all experienced this practical aspect of “body mechanics” at some point in our lives. Ever dropped something behind the couch and need to reach into that narrow crack between the furniture and the wall to retrieve it? Perhaps you noticed that though you have two hands, one seems to have a bit more reach than the other. It’s the same with the Body of Christ. There are people lost and floundering, unaware that the love of God is being offered to them. Some are lost in places where only those Christians on the political Left will be able to reach them. Others will only ever connect with Christians on the political Right. To fulfill Christ’s mission and reach all who are lost, we need both arms.
It’s also worth noting that while the differences between our arms sometimes puts them in direct opposition to one another, this isn’t always a bad thing. We’ve all had experiences in which the only way to move a large object or hold something steady is to put one hand on one side, another hand on the other, and push both hands hard against one another. The tension created by this is necessary in order to get the job done. Too much pressure from one hand and the object topples. Too little from the other and it tumbles from our grasp. Balance the conflict between them and the mission gets accomplished.
As your pastor, I’m committed to doing everything within my power to help maintain this balance. While I do have my own political views (some of them quite strong), my primary call as a member of Christ’s Body is to help the other members grow closer to God and to one another. This call takes precedence over my personal political opinions. My charge is to be a safe space where all of you can come to express your hopes and fears and to help you evaluate how those are impacting your development as disciples of Jesus Christ. Are you growing in faith, hope, and love? Are you treating others with mercy and compassion? Are you forgiving as you have been forgiven? If you are, we will find unity even in the midst of our diversity.