Putting Politics Back in the Pulpit: Growing a Politically Active Congregation

Post Author: Stephanie Kendell

The first ballot I ever cast was in kindergarten for the 1988 election. I specifically voted for Dan Quayle because he was like our state bird. I remember people talking about who and why they voted for their candidate, citing religious views, personal needs, social values, and party affiliations. Me, on the other hand? I voted for the man I thought might also be a bird. I voted for Bush/Quayle because I related to Mr. Quayle the most. I knew quails were important to California and so, he must be as well. No one was talking to me about policy or vision; no one explained that who we vote for reflects our understandings of a just society. I was five, so why would they?

But all these years later, I still remember what people were saying around me — instead of talking with me — and why I chose the person I voted for.

As Jesus reminds us, ‘“there is nothing hidden, except to be disclosed; nor is anything secret, except to come to light. Let anyone with ears to hear listen!’ And he said to them, ‘Pay attention to what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you.’” (Mark 4:22-24, NRSV). Our children are listening, just like I was. In fact, everyone with “ears to hear” is listening. But what are we telling them?

Now, as a 35-year-old woman, I am a proud registered voter. I am strong in my opinions and fierce in my support for my candidates. I am a woman and so my body is a tool in political dialogue. I am also a pastor, and whether we name it or not, being religious is political. Thus, I cannot divorce myself from the political acts of our governing systems.

But it gets more complicated: It is also illegal and unethical for me to use my vocation to encourage support for a specific candidate; I believe in freedom and democracy, so I wouldn’t dare to even think of it. But what I can do, and what I must do, is preach and teach the stories of God and God’s people as shared in our scriptures. And one of the acts of the apostles that we rarely mention is voting.

…And I cast my vote… (Acts 26:10, NRSV)

Voting matters just as much now as it did back then. Paul was talking about voting against Jesus and his followers because he thought he had the sole and dominant understanding of God’s truth. Then through life experiences, he changes his mind and his heart about Jesus. And I find it hard to believe that he stopped voting after that, in light of the other votes in scripture, such as the one between saving Barabbas and Jesus.

Scripture tells us that voting matters.

It also reminds us that voting is an act of justice and resistance, and one that we should not take lightly. Our very lives depend on it.

So, then, what are we to do as pastors? How do we participate in democracy and shepherd our people to be good stewards of their votes? My answer is: bring politics back into the pulpit.

God has called us as pastors to help navigate life situations such as these. Specifically, as Christians we are called to be active in life and faith, not to be passive or silent. And the best way to be active is to exercise our right to vote. Just as Paul did. Just as Jesus did. Make no mistake about it, Jesus may not have used the word “vote,” as it is written that Paul did, but he continually asked people to respond and take a stand. And what is voting if not a personal response or a stance to a question?

Congregations are familiar with a democratic voting process. In congregationally-based denominations such as mine, annual meetings and their subsequent votes help cast the vision of our church’s future. And if your congregation does not have such polity, chances are your congregants are still exercising democratic voting processes other places in their life: the PTA, charity boards, or even in their family dynamics. In both our secular and spiritual lives, the ability to be heard and represented is an integral part of who we are as created beings. We were created in God’s image because representation matters, and we should vote so that leadership represents us well.

So, since democracy and representation are important pieces of our faith, we as preachers and teachers need to name it as such. Preach about the right to vote and the consequences of not voting, or even worse, being denied the right to vote. Teach a bible study about what it means to have diverse representation in leadership in both church and state, even if that is a growing area for your church or denomination. But most importantly, empower your congregation to vote.

You can’t tell them who to vote for, but you sure can encourage them to register and vote. Like scripture, people are more likely to be engaged in the voting process if it is accessible. Have a computer for people to use to register. Make sure all elections are publicized in your social media, announcements, and bulletins. Host a “Get to Know the Candidates” lunch after worship and have an open discussion on the platforms of everyone running (our Young Adult Group is doing this in the fall!). Offer support to get people to and from the polls. Talk about the issues as they relate to your faith, and don’t shy away when asked a question. Most importantly, talk about the weight and importance of voting – and not just during election seasons – talk about the process of democracy often.

Don’t worry about telling people who or what to vote for. That is not our job. The gospel, at its core, is a call for justice and community and scripture (with thoughtful interpretation) can be one of the most useful tools in a voter’s discernment. We owe it to our congregations, and to the future of our country, to teach our congregants, from the youngest to the oldest, how to be active in their faith and to use the tools of discernment God gave them.

We owe it to them to bring politics back into the pulpit and vote like Jesus, lest we get a country of people who vote for the candidate that reminds them most of their state bird.

The Rev. Stephanie Kendell is the Executive Minister at Park Avenue Christian Church (The Park). She received her Master of Divinity with an additional certificate in History, Theology, and Ethics from Brite Divinity School. Ordained in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Stephanie is passionate about justice-seeking ministries that aid in the value and understanding of intersectional perspectives.

Stephanie is a native of the San Francisco Bay Area where she continues to be an avid supporter of the San Francisco Giants. In 2005, she graduated with a degree in Musical Theater and Theater Arts from the University of Redlands. Before her call to ordained ministry, Stephanie was a Producer and Operations Manager for an international theatrical marketing agency based in Los Angeles.

Image by: amberzen
Used with permission
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