“When you pull into the church parking lot on a Sunday morning, you see remnants of the scuffle on the car bumpers: “I’m With Her” alongside “Make America Great Again,” with some Bernie Birds and Carson stickers in the mix. 2016 was a bruising political year.
I pastor a purple congregation, which means that on any given Sunday I’m liable to upset someone. The modern pastoral dictum is true: “When I preach a sermon about Jesus, I garner smiles and nods. When I preach a sermon about what Jesus preached about, I garner emails and anonymous notes.”
We seem to smell political bias in everything: newspapers, online media, television stations. And, I would add, in the liturgy, sermons and hymns. In the case of the latter, it’s surely there—just not in the way we might imagine. After all, you can’t hear Micah 6:8 or Isaiah 58:1-9 and not hear God’s political bias.
The difference, of course, is that it’s not a partisan bias. And there is a difference.
Have our party politics tainted our faith, or have the teachings and the life, death and resurrection of Jesus affected our politics? This is a salient question, and we must answer it honestly. While we do affirm the separation of church and state, we don’t affirm the separation of faith and life.
Our lives are political. It’s who we are; we can’t live together and be otherwise.
So what are a pastor and a congregation to do in these days?
Be who you are within the church. Politics, for me, is both a hobby and something I take quite seriously as a tool that shapes our common life together. I’m sure parishioners may see something on my social media feed that makes them cringe, much as I see some posts on their feeds that make me cringe. These are opportunities for holy conversations, not for (un)righteous anger.
The Christian call to tame their tongue does not mean that they don’t say anything, but that they’re mindful in what they say. And surely we can disagree with one another and still commune at the Lord’s table, right?
Lead with love. The purple church has an opportunity to teach the world a lot about love. William Sloane Coffin, the late minister of Riverside Church in New York City, once noted that a congregation will let their pastor get away with a lot if they know that their minister loves them.
I would say the same is true about the congregation from the office of the pastor. This love also means that pastors are mindful that their political biases don’t cover the gospel in their sermons and that congregants are mindful to not attach a partisan agenda to any and every comment or phrase that pastors utter.
Stop playing defense all the time. We’re so lock-and-step behind political candidates that we fail to be critical of them any longer. The signal whether to agree or disagree with someone is determined by the capital D, R or I next to their name. This isn’t the Christian’s calling. We can certainly support a candidate while disagreeing with a policy proposal, and we may find a policy proposal we agree with coming from a candidate we didn’t vote for.”
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