“Political Pandering” or “I Have Issues with ‘Issues'”

Posted: October 22, 2012 in Current Events
Tags: , , ,

I hate election season.

I love election season.

I kind of love to hate election season, if I’m perfectly honest with myself.

For some pastors it is truly a struggle to stand in a pulpit and say…anything.  They struggle out of fear.  There is a fear that connecting the faith with the life of the body politic will illicit the dreaded “email of political shaming.”

Luckily, I don’t get many emails like that.  But I have colleagues who do.

I keep emails that I get telling me that I’m too “political” in my sermons in a special folder.  It’s tentatively labeled “Trash”…but I may change it to “Inconsequential.”

Funny enough, it’s the same folder where I put emails that deride me for not being political enough in my sermons…

It’s not that I discount what people are saying in those emails; I take them seriously.  But I don’t see a way around preaching the way I do.  I think we’ve screwed up our definitions on what is a “political” issue and what is a “faith” issue.

Poverty is not a political issue.  It is a faith issue. It is an ethical issue.  It has just been politicized.

Dignity for the marginalized is not a political issue.  It is a faith issue. It is an ethical issue.  It has just been politicized.

In many respects, how we care for our sick, our elderly, our children, our indigent…these are not political issues. They are faith issues.  They are ethical issues.  They have just been politicized.

I love election season because it has the potential to be an intellectual exchange of ideas that results in action.

I hate election season because it invariably turns into a steaming pile of vacuous rhetoric with sides parading issues as if they and they alone are the standard bearer bringing awareness to them, and that they and they alone care about them.  The opposition not only doesn’t care, but hates the issue and those that hold it dear.

Typical political pandering.

And then I rise in the pulpit on Sunday and say things like, “The early church held all things in common…” (Acts 2:44), or “And Jesus healed the paralytic who was cared for by his friends…” (Mark 2:1-12), or “Joseph and Mary fled with Jesus to Egypt, where he was kept as an immigrant in a strange land until the age of…” (Matthew 2:13)

And what I receive in return are emails that accuse me of preaching socialism, endorsing free health-care, and taking sides on immigration issues.  In effect, those emails are insinuating that these issues are political in nature, and that I’ve made them into faith issues.  Unfortunately, that’s a reversal of reality.

And then I hear issues of personal morality, particularly how we love and how we reproduce, take the stage in spectacularly religious language that seems to drip from pastors mouths in the pulpit laying the bedrock for party platforms.

I wonder if those pastors get emails.

The message is that personal morality fits within the church walls and the political sphere.  Communal ethics, however, are purely political and have no place within the church walls.

Let us not make the mistake of thinking that social issues are God’s good news for a suffering world.  As a Christian I see God’s good news as Christ himself and the work that he did/does in the world for humanity.

But let us also not make the mistake of thinking that we come from a tradition whose sacred texts have no commentary on ethical issues.

I’m a reluctant Christian sometimes because we have a schizophrenic relationship to just how our sacred texts can be used in public life.

To ensure freedom of religion we must have a political process that is free from religion; this is true.

For me, this means that a particular candidates faith tradition, whether it is Christian, Mormon, Muslim, or Atheist, doesn’t affect my vote.

(In our current political season, I care that Romney is a Mormon about as much as I care that Obama is a Christian: I don’t care.  Not one bit)

It means that you cannot use the word “God” to get votes, either in your party platform or in your stump speeches.

It means that if you pick up a baby on the rope line, it better be because you’re checking to see that she’s within the weight ratio for her age, and not to show that you value “faith and family.”

But while we must have a political system that is free from religion, I’m not sure how we can have a religious tradition, that seems to focus intently on how to live together, free from commentary on issues that have been politicized.

My faith is integral to how I treat my neighbor, and how I hope society treats my neighbor.  And to ensure that I keep my faith integrated into my practices, I need a preacher and a church that looks at scripture and civilization together in such a way that we acknowledge personal and communal issues within the church walls.

And I need candidates and political parties who are not opportunists. I need candidates and political parties who don’t look at moral issues through the lens of political manipulation.  I need candidates who shun the vacuous political rhetoric of vote-getting and take up the prophetic leadership voice of one who speaks truth to power even as they seek it.

No more political pandering to my faith, please.

But can we dare to speak about issues in church and not assume that we’re pandering politics?

I don’t know, but I don’t know how to stop doing it.  I have issues with issues.

And if you have an issue with this post, feel free to send an email.  I’ll put it in my special folder…

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Comments
  1. Love this article, Tim. Thought of you as I drove through Chicago today. Thanks for sharing.

  2. G’day Tim,
    Great article! Christianity needs more leaders (and followers) like you.
    Thanks

  3. Laurie says:

    I won’t use awesome to describe your blog, but I am happy when I see Reluctant Xtian in my in-box. I am in awe of our God who calls us to love and to life and to community. And to struggle with how to do that

  4. Diane says:

    Can i just say that you are freakin awesome. You take what i am thinking. What i am unable to say or write. And you put it on paper with impeccable timing. I’m beginning to idolize you a little. You are the breath of fresh air America needs in religion and politics. be them the same or different. They are so mixed up today and you organize them, put them in their rightful spot, remove the dust and put on a fresh cost of paint in just a few paragraphs.Thank you Nadia.

    • Timothy Brown says:

      Haha, thanks. I gave a sermon last Sunday joking that we use the term “awesome” to describe burritos…and challenged the congregation to be careful with words. I think that’s where Laurie is hesitant 🙂 But appreciate the support. Thanks for reading.

  5. […] Even if you think it’s not about the guns, but about the perpetrators or family systems or the violence or how our systems let the psychologically disturbed slip through the cracks…and I think you’d be right about that…by God let’s stop arguing over the reasons and actually do something. […]

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