So I debated whether I wanted to post this because the whole issue is just plain controversial. The topic is politics in the church. In one sense, this is just an extension from what I wrote about last week on politics and social justice. (Look at point 3 and the comments).
There’s a ton of things to write about concerning politics and the church and politics in the church. The two are not even the same thing really.
This morning I read an article about someone who is critical of ELCA Presiding Bishop Eaton’s statements on the Isreal-Palestine conflict.
My point here is not to be critical of Bishop Eaton. I don’t envy her position of having to be careful with every word that is spoken because someone, somewhere is going to be critical of it, rip it apart, and quote it out of context. This post isn’t about Bishop Eaton at all. It’s more about local church people.
My point here is this – as a church, we should be really careful when we enter the waters of politics. We are entering a different world with different rules and the church is not the center of that world. Too many times I have seen the church, laypeople and clergy be used by political parties and movements for their own ends. And then when the church, laypeople and clergy are no longer useful, they are thrown under the bus.
I have seen this with so-called “social justice” statements in the church. I’m not talking about the official statements of the church. I’m talking about individual pastors and leaders in the church who think they are making social justice statements when in fact they are really making political statements. Here’s how I define the difference. A social justice statement is something like “feed the hungry.” There is hunger in the world and Jesus is quoted in Scripture as telling us to go and feed the hungry. He didn’t say exactly how we should, but that we should.
That’s different from a political statement. A political statement is one where a person advocates for a specific government action to do something. You’ve got to be really careful with this.
I think there are several issues with this. 1. Make a few of these political statements and you are becoming a mouthpiece of a certain political party. 2. There is not a one-sized fits all approach to any political issue out there. In some communities government action may be the best approach. In others, it may be the worst approach. It depends on the context. Effective action comes through agreement, not forcing things on people. I understand there are problems with this too, and this is not a universal solution either. Sometimes conflict and forcing things are needed. But it usually creates a lot of anger and division. 3. Pastors are not politicians. Most pastors and laypeople are not trained in the ways of politics. Most pastors and laypeople do not have a good understanding what politics is all about. It’s about power, not necessarily about solving problems.
Here’s what I know – Politics is divisive. Politics is bloody. Politics is about power. Jesus didn’t pick political sides. Instead he challenged the entire system of politics. He didn’t play by the established political rules of his day, instead he pointed out the injustice that the rules created.
It’s been asked in an US context what Jesus would be registered as politically. Would Jesus be a Democrat or Republican? I don’t think he would be either. I think he would look at the entire political system and point out injustice. I think he would paint a picture of what God’s kingdom looks like instead. That’s not picking one side versus the other. That’s saying both sides of the established political world can be lumped together as being a part of the problem of what is wrong. I think Jesus would challenge the status quo of the political world. I don’t think he would be making political statements (as I’ve defined the term earlier). I think he’d be doing things and saying things that turn the world upside-down.
I’d really appreciate hearing your thoughts on this issue – the good, the bad and ugly. I don’t claim to know everything. I’m still learning. I know for a fact that there are other perspectives out there about this. I would appreciate hearing those perspectives. I even imagine some of my statements will be read as being arrogant. If they come off that way, I apologize in advance. That is not the point of why I wrote I what I wrote. I wrote this post to continue working through thoughts and ideas on the church in the world, social justice and politics and how they might even relate to mission redevelopment.