From the Old Testament prophets to the present day, religion and politics have been deeply intertwined.
It’s on everyone’s minds. It’s all over the news. Millions of women took to the streets to make their voices heard. Should churches join in the political talk or not?
I say yes. The Bible is intensely political. Every prophet is risking their skin by talking truth to power. Every king weighs obedience to God against other concerns. Every temple, shrine and altar has political ramifications. The same with every war, skirmish and battle. Even the Sermon on the Mount is political. Love your enemies? Do good to those who hate you? Who do you think Jesus is talking about? Religion and politics have always been deeply intertwined. Jesus’ own life is an example of that.
This co-mingling didn’t end with the biblical era. The church, at its best, and its worst, has always been political. We’re at our worst when we imagine Christ is aligned with one political party or another. Or when we cut deals. Or when we trade faith for power. We’re at our best, however, when like MLK, we strive for the soul of the whole nation.
How to talk politics though, without causing further pain and discontent? Here are some suggestions to get you started.
- Start with ground rules that insure mutual respect.
- Don’t assume they voted for their candidate for the exact reason you didn’t. In other words, don’t assume the worst in them and the best in yourself.
- Plan to listen deeply for the personal stories behind the political passion.
- Assume they’re not all wrong and you’re not all right.
- Assume God loves you all.
Once these are in place, talk about biblical principles that you agree on. Look for how the biblical principles might get played out in a particular policy. Ask, What are the ethical ramifications of such policies? When we discuss things at this level, we are talking politics in a way that edifies and builds us up, rather than divides and tears us down.
To get beyond knee-jerk reactions means listening deeply. To the Bible, to the Spirit, to one another, to journalists and to the politicians who present these options.
This is far from easy. It requires us to be well-schooled in both our faith and in the issues at hand. It means digging into the Bible, our personal beliefs and the guiding principles behind legislation and policy. You’ve got to listen to more than sound bites to do that.
It’s worthwhile though. I believe engaging in these kinds of conversations keeps the church honest. It helps us determine if we are living our baptismal vows of using the power God has given us to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. And if we are appropriately loving our neighbor as ourselves. And if we are embodying love.
In the midst of the discussion, let’s not forget to pray. For ourselves. Our country. One another. And our leaders. President Trump needs our prayers and our love. At the same time, he needs our accountability and engagement. His success, and our success as a country — whether you voted for him or not — depend on that. We can only hold him and other leaders accountable, appropriately, if we are spiritually grounded, well-informed and speaking from love.
~Rebekah Simon-Peter, an ordained Elder in The United Methodist Church, is an author and church renewal consultant.