Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Our Church Shouldn't Be Political!

At least, that’s what I hear. One of the churches I am assisting in the search and call process, at a conversation about what they dreamed and hoped for in a new pastor said, “We want relevant sermons that speak to our daily lives – but we don’t want a pastor who is political. That’s not the church’s place.”

I pushed back a bit, wondering what they meant by that. And countered with the idea that the church has always been political – the history of the United Church of Christ (UCC) and its denominational forbearers is chock full of such examples. Reading the list of UCC Firsts on the denominational website is a pretty good primer on this. The Pilgrims landed on our shores to escape persecution and for religious freedom. Moreover, they organized churches using ‘congregational’ polity, a democratic, self-governing form of organization that became a model for the democratic government that would eventually form.

The idea of freedom of the press was formed when the Congregationalists formed the first publishing house in the new world, Pilgrim Press. Then there was the first stand against slavery. And acts of civil disobedience (the Boston Tea Party was inspired by thousands protesting unfair taxes at Old South Meeting House).

If you’ve been connected to the UCC for a while, you’re listing along with me. There was the ordination of the first African American pastor by a Protestant denomination. A Reformed church hiding the Liberty Bell under its floorboards to protect it from the British. Organizing to free the Amistad slaves, and later the formation of the American Missionary Association – the first anti-slavery society in the U.S. with multiracial leadership. Then there was the first theological school to admit women, and also the Social Gospel, which denounced injustice and exploitation of the poor.
In the 1950’s, at the request of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, the UCC organized and won in Federal court a ruling that the airwaves are public, not private property. The decision led to a proliferation of people of color in television studios and newsrooms.

Following that, there was the ordination of the first openly gay pastor, support for marriage equality, emphatic response to the Love Canal disaster, and so much more.

And it’s not just the UCC, of course. The people of God have always been called to speak truth to power, to bring injustice to light, to seek fairness and wholeness. See: Isaiah, Amos, Jeremiah, among others.

I hope I didn’t exhaust you with all that. But I make no apologies for being a church engaged in political discourse. Being civically involved is part of our DNA. We don’t take off our Christian cloak when we exit the sanctuary on Sunday morning. We are called to live as disciples all 168 hours of the week.  That doesn’t mean we are ever to be partisan, recent signing by our President to the contrary. We are called to participation but not to endorsements of persons or parties. We are called to speak to issues, not individuals.

As a church.

Everyone is of course entitled to their opinions, even your pastor, but that doesn’t mean the pastor gets to, in robe and stole, endorse a candidate for office on behalf of, or representing, your congregation. And no one else gets to either.

I went on a bit of a rant, I confess. And when I was done, I asked if I had helped to clarify things a bit. “Oh, yes,” was the response. “I understand. I suppose political is fine. But can we find someone who does it without being controversial?”