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

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. Read more

silhouette image of a hand placing a piece of paper into a slot in the top of a box

A Prayer for Election Day

silhouette image of a hand placing a piece of paper into a slot in the top of a boxEven as we speak the words
“A Prayer for Election day”
We find in our guts
the traces of humanity:
in suspicion
in wondering
what kind of prayer this might be.

For what are we asking of you,
Divine One who gave us voice
And thought
And will

What shall our petitions be
On this day we deem to set aside
For democracy
For exercising each of our own
Civically gifted political authority

And yet, still, we have need of you
Of your Wisdom and your Word.
In spite of and because of
This worldly yet holy belief in our collective voice
For it is exactly that divisiveness our suspicion breeds
That we seek to heal and make whole

So we come to You,
God of a power that is beyond our understanding.
With these prayers for our day of voice and vote.

 

For all those who vote, for their diverse voice and conviction, and for our collective discernment as national community.

We pray to You.

For the casting of ballots, may they become our voice of your creation, calling out the promise of your Love and Justice.

We pray to You.

For candidates and ballot measures and all those who work to share their message

We pray to You.

For our thoughtful considerations, debates, discussion and research

We pray to You.

For just access to ballots

We pray to You.

For volunteers and election workers and their equitable exercise of stewarding the election

We pray to You.

For what seems to us the inevitable tragedy of voter discrimination

We pray to You.

For the waiting and the watching, for our doubts and our dreams

We pray to You.

For all those who will be elected this day and for all those who currently hold public office, that their work might be enlivened by Spirit’s stirring toward our common humanity.

We pray to You.

And for the courage in the days to come to continue to seek and speak our values that are rooted in Your Love and Promise,

We pray to You, O God of Love
Who gives us voice
Who convicts our thoughts
And who calls us to lives of justice, peace, and reconciliation.

Ask a Young Clergy Woman: Politics in the Pulpit Edition

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Dear Askie,

I’ve always been pretty into politics, but I’m wondering if that has to change? I’ve been serving in my first call for two years, and my church has a big spectrum from conservative to liberal. I’ve posted some articles on social media about my preferred candidate, and some articles that are critical of my preferred candidate’s opponents. I’ve mentioned the election in sermons, and talked in a bible study about how one of the candidates in particular doesn’t seem to understand Christian doctrine and practice. If my least favorite candidate wins the primary, I’m thinking I might volunteer for my preferred party’s nominee. Now some of my congregants are complaining that I’m “too political,” and that pastors are supposed to be neutral. They emailed the personnel committee and the board because they’re “afraid our church will lose its 501c3 status.” Askie, I’m pretty sure they’re off-base on that particular claim, but what are the limits here? Do I have to give up politics for my congregation?

Sincerely,
The Political Pastor

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They Will Know…By Our Love

We just wrapped up a highly contentious election season here in the United States.  Mud – and other sorts of muck – was flung freely between all of the political parties and their supporters.  It wasn’t pretty.  I suppose that much of that behavior was to be expected in the secular arena (which is a sad commentary on our culture); but, it was (and still is) particularly disconcerting to witness that behavior being demonstrated by Christians – clergy and parishioners alike.

I get it.  We are passionate people.  Our faith does not require that we give up having an opinion (or two or three) about things going on in the political realm.  In fact, our faith often informs our politics.  But I struggle to remember that part of our faith that encourages us to throw insults at others.  I have not been able to identify that part of our faith that teaches us to mock people for having opinions and beliefs that are different from our own.  Unfortunately, during this past election season – and even in this post-election season – there’s been a lot of “love the ones who vote the same way as you” and not a lot of “love the ones who vote for other people”.

One of my favorite hymns is “They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love”.  In it, we sing of how we will walk with each other, and we will work with each other.  Most importantly, perhaps, is the bold declaration in the first verse that “we are one in the Spirit” and “we are one in the Lord”.  Indeed, as members of the Body of Christ (the Church), we are made one in Christ Jesus.  And, as members of the one Body of Christ, we are called to love – to love God, and to love our neighbors.

In John 13:34-35, Jesus gives us the foundation for the well-known hymn.  He says to his disciples: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  It is by our showing love for one another that everyone will be able to tell that we are Christ-followers.  It isn’t because of the crosses we wear around our necks.  It isn’t because of the bumper stickers we have on our cars.  It isn’t even because people see us walking into a church building from time to time.  Plain and simple – from Jesus’ own lips – it is by our love that people will know that we are Christians.

Hurtful words and actions do not answer God’s call for us to love one another.  They don’t bring about the Kingdom.  They don’t let people see clearly that we are Christ-followers.  In this post-election season – as some cheer for those who have won, and others grieve for those who have lost – I am left wondering: when does love win?  When will we challenge ourselves to love the ones who don’t agree with us just as much as we love the ones who do?  When will we dare to walk with each other, hand in hand?  When will we put our differences aside and work with each other, side by side? 

Ultimately, the answer to these questions is up to us.  Like it or not, we aren’t always going to agree on how things should be done.  We aren’t likely to agree on who should (or shouldn’t) get the credit for things that happen in the world.  And God knows that we aren’t all going to agree on which people to vote for or which news channels to watch.  But I pray that maybe — just maybe — we who call ourselves Christian might agree on the importance of showing respect to one another — even when (and maybe, most importantly) we disagree so passionately about other things.  If we can refrain from the temptations of finger-pointing and name-calling, then maybe love can finally win.  Maybe then, we can all live out the words of the hymn, and “they will know we are Christians by our love.”

The Rev. Amy Loving serves as the pastor of the Seneca Presbyterian Church and Bellona Memorial Presbyterian Church in New York State, as well as the creator of The Worship Closet.  She enjoys reading, karaoke, and has never met a sharp cheddar that she didn’t like.

photo credit: Vox Efx via photopin cc