Why You Get Mad When Your Pastor Mentions Politics, and Why She Has To…

Posted: April 28, 2014 in Current Events
Tags: , , ,

Let’s start with some political statements:church_state

“Jesus is Lord.”

Yes; that is a political statement.  You might think it’s pretty innocuous.  Perhaps you even think it’s a bit annoying (sometimes I find how this seems to be a catch-all answer for some annoying).  But, actually, for the ancient people in Palestine, this statement was scandalous.  Because they only had one Lord: Caesar.  And if you went around saying Jesus stands in the place of Caesar for you and your family…well…keep your politics to yourself.

“Prince of Peace.”

Yes; a political statement.  Want to hanker a guess as to who was the Prince of Peace in ancient Palestine?  If you chose Bill Murray, you were off by a few thousand years.  No, it was Caesar.  He was hailed as the one who kept the empire out of war.  He was the harbinger of peaceful times.

That is, unless, you were some of the occupied people under him.  The Roman Empire kept peace through military might and subjugation; through intimidation and economic sanctions.  Is that really “peace”?  The absence of war does not mean the presence of peace…

In fact, the opening chapters of the first three Gospels are chock full of political language.  But no need to just stick to the New Testament.  The prophets were certainly not quiet about politics, both domestic and foreign.  The whole book of Exodus was leaving one political reality for another, tackling immigration head-on.  The whole book of Leviticus was about how the people would organize themselves in the new land.

See, we have people who get pretty angry when they hear “politics” preached from the pulpit.  In fact, a colleague of mine recently noted that pastors should preach the Gospel and then shut up.

But, well, nothing happens in a vacuum.

(…I love that pun)

We aren’t people who are floating free in our own little religious world.  We must talk about politics from the pulpit.  The ancient texts compel it; the modern times call to us from the news programs and paper rags.  We are being pulled into it by the past and the present, and the preacher must put these two things together to comment on how God might be leading us into the future…

We should talk about how farm bills do or do not help feed the world.  We should talk about how, in Chicago, we are bankrupt and giving huge corporations billions in tax breaks while, just this last year, my housing tax went up, but my house value went down.  And if that’s the case for me, who lives in a pretty good neighborhood, what does that mean for my sisters and brothers who don’t?

Explain that to me, please.

We should talk about what it means to be able to carry on your person a weapon that is made only to kill other people.  What might God have to say about that?  What might the Christian world have to say about that?  Especially in Chicago where we don’t ranch cattle, but live in a concrete jungle.

See…your pastor has to talk about politics because you are enmeshed in political systems that have a spiritual dimension.  But we’ve been trained by the world to have a negative reaction to such talk because we see politics as divisive rather than unifying.

But, if there’s one thing that does unify the world, it’s that we are all under a political system of some sort.  And we should talk about it.  Your pastor should talk about it.

What she shouldn’t do, and here’s the rub, what she shouldn’t do is be partisan.

Sure, she has her own opinions.  And you might know them, too.  But her opinions aren’t the Gospel.  And you preachers…that’s important to remember.  God is not a Republican, nor is God a Democrat.  God is not in the Labour Party nor is God a Tory.

That being said, to pretend like the texts don’t say something about political issues is naive.  You follow the Prince of Peace, and yet you don’t think that God might have an opinion on war?  You say “Jesus is Lord” and yet your church is making most of it’s decisions based off of economics, putting money in the place of power?

Nothing happens in a vacuum.

Your church shouldn’t feel like a gathering of the Democratic Party.  That’s a church that would have a hard time saying “Jesus is Lord” and meaning it.  That’s a puppet platform.

Your church shouldn’t feel like a gathering of the Republican Party, either.  Or any part, for that matter.

So many do, though.

And I’ve been accused in my time of preaching politics…it’s a careful line the preacher has to walk, and hopefully it’s done with fear and trepidation.  Politics so easily turn partisan.

But let us not pretend that God might not have a word or two for the systems that surround us, for the systems we’re embedded in, for the systems we inhabit.

We can be careful how we speak, but we cannot not say anything.

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Comments
  1. Matt says:

    Tim, A quick question, do you think if the church needs to be preaching about politics it shoul stand up against the slaughter of the pre-born. Or is that not an issue the church should be political about. I agree with you that the very existence of the church is political. But I think that the danger lies in discerning God’s will in the many issues of the day.

    • Timothy Brown says:

      Hey Matt,

      The very way you phrase your question betrays some partisanship, agreed?

      This topic, more than most, is one of difficult contention because of the fuzzy nature of it all. Is a fetus a person? Is abortion violent? Is a woman who is unintentionally pregnant responsible to bring a fetus to term? Is the use of the term “fetus” (a scientific term) simply a way to make people not recognize that the bundle of cells inside the uterus is, in fact, a developing human?

      All these things play into consideration when talking about this issue.

      Should the church talk about the issue? Absolutely. And I have some thoughts on it, of course.

      But when you’re talking about “discerning God’s will” on the issue of the day, we must be careful, as you note. Because this issue is very muddy, unlike, say, hunger, sex trafficking, or even gun violence (I would contend).

      So, should we talk about it? Yes. Should we talk about the implications of what abortion is and does, both to a fetus and to a woman? Yes.

      Should I claim that whatever conclusions might be arrived at are “God’s will”?

      No.

      • Matt says:

        Not partisanship as much as my stance on a single issue. And I feel the stance that those who claim Jesus’ lordship should be standing on. The life issues are an area that in the early church set the Christian community apart from the wider world. My point in lifting up this issue that most “liberal” pastors would disagree with me (and the majority of the Christian Church) was to challenge you to think about how the political presence of the Body of Christ can be problematic even thought you affirm that the very act of being the body of Christ is a political act. Next time you want to rail against a “conservative” pastor remember your own blog. Thanks for your thoughts.

      • Timothy Brown says:

        I’m surprised to hear that you think I “railed against” anyone in this post or in my response.

        In my response to you, Matt, I merely picked up on the fact that you used the term “slaughter” and “pre-born.” That language is partisan, not only political. That is all. It was not my intention to rail against you, but rather just answer the question.

        On one post I’ve been chastised for defaming liberals and conservatives.

        Interesting…

  2. Judy says:

    “Your church shouldn’t feel like a gathering of the Democratic Party. That’s a church that would have a hard time saying “Jesus is Lord” and meaning it.”

    Please STOP perpetuating this inaccurate stereotype! I am a liberal, I am a Democrat, and I have no problem saying, “Jesus is Lord”, because I deeply believe it. I believe in salvation through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. So cut the crap, Timothy. I’m sick of hearing it.

    • Timothy Brown says:

      Thanks for the reply, Judy.

      Not meaning to speak any “crap.” And, if you read through my blog, I don’t think I’ve ever perpetuated a stereotype of the kind you’re suggesting.

      Please understand me: I think that, if a church feels like a meeting of any party (notice, also, that I think it shouldn’t feel like a Republican meeting, either) then it’s really just a political meeting, rather than a meeting for public worship.

      I think you can be a liberal, a Democrat, and anything else and say “Jesus is Lord.”

      I think a house of worship that has a platform that mirrors a party, though, is putting politics as Lord, and Jesus second.

  3. Bill Usinger says:

    Tim,

    So the difficulty will always lie with agreement. If I agree with you: then preach on, if I disagree then…well…you’ve overstepped…

    But I’ve always thought the Jesus’s bedrock lesson was love. And if the preaching is how love (for neighbor, self, God etc.) does or does not drive public policy then I think you would always be right on target…

    Having said that I would have say reasoned dialogue should always be welcome; in or out of church…

  4. […] The Reluctant Xtian explained, “Why you get mad when your pastor mentions politics, and why she has to…“ […]

  5. Clint Bollinger says:

    Tim,

    Peter turned me onto your blog and I love it! Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

    You appear to have a problem with people carrying guns to defend themselves. Not that I really care if I’m struck dead in an instant, I look forward to everlasting life! But on earth, I have a responsibility to be here for my friends, family and work and those I serve as long as I can. Suicide can be seen as a selfish act. If you allow yourself to be a victim of a crime that would take your life that could have been prevented by arming yourself, is that not selfish too? If someone that doesn’t value life, that would kill you on a whim and spend the rest of their life behind bars to take advantage of you forces your hand, shouldn’t you shoot them before they kill you? What if you were in a crowded place and a madman opens fire killing everyone he can. Would you not want the opportunity to stop him at two victims instead of 22?

    Respectfully,
    Clint

    • Timothy Brown says:

      Hi Clint,

      Thanks for your comments, and I think you make a good case for your point of view. And while we don’t agree, I don’t think you’re off base. I just think that the hypothetical that you propose isn’t likely, and doesn’t outweigh banning handguns for public use outright.

      Morally, it is impossible for me to reconcile holding a weapon made for the sole purpose of killing another human being. Anything can be a weapon; this is true. Hand guns, though, serve no other design purpose (though others use them for other purposes). Still, I’d even be fine with cattle ranchers having handguns. A licensing process that took into account a person’s vocation is something I could probably get behind.

      But as it is, we’re a less safe society with handguns. I value life, all life, and therefore think the safest way to value all life is to remove the weapon that is responsible for taking the most life in violence. And I don’t think that you can prevent most attacks by arming yourself. Statistically there is no data to corroborate that idea, at least not that I’ve seen in my research.

      That being said, I know not everyone will agree on this issue, and this is where I fall.

      Having a gun in your house makes it more likely someone in your family will be hurt or killed by gun violence (http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/160/10/929.full).

      In New York City two years ago, well trained officers responded to a mad man with a gun at the Empire State Building. In the process of shooting him, they also shot three other innocent bystanders.

      I don’t trust the idea that an armed public makes us safer as a society. I, from this view here in Chicago, only see it as making us less safe.

      I appreciate the comment and discussion.

      • Clint Bollinger says:

        Hi Tim,

        The statistics in the study you refer to are attempting to influence the reader to your conclusion. What the study does not show is the odds of a defending an attack when having a gun in the home. Also, the violent death in that study also could have been a gun brought into the home by the assailant, not the gun that the resident has. So an armed robber could come in and kill a homeowner before they could get to their own gun, and it would increase that statistic.

        Secondly, There will always be evil and bad guys will always have guns. It’s a idealistic to think otherwise. Disarming law abiding citizens and putting signs up at schools and offices that prohibit guns only keep out law-abiding and responsible gun owners, creating fertile places for crazies to pull off mass shootings. No one that is intent on shooting up a school or office is going stop because of a sign that says, “No guns allowed”. Likewise, no sound-minded person legally carrying a firearm is going to use their gun in school or office just because they get mad at somebody; no more than a person driving a car to intentionally hit pedestrians on the sidewalk, or drive into oncoming traffic to kill someone.

        Lastly, if you pay attention, you will see and hear many stories where would-be victims have defensively protected themselves with firearms. They are often buried in the news, but they are common. Here’s one from today in my hometown.

        http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2014/05/13/4906563/alleged-charlotte-robber-dies.html#.U3uaj8e0Yns

        If these stories were shared more often, and more law-abiding people carried guns, it would only deter crime and create a safer environment for peaceful people.

        Best regards,
        Clint

      • Timothy Brown says:

        Hey Clint,

        It’s clear we don’t agree. That’s OK, too. I don’t think the answer to violence is more violence. I do not feel safer with anyone having a hand gun.

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