I spotted a letter to the editor in our local paper that chastised a pastor for writing a Sunday pastors’ column that commented on the national debt. The writer believed that it was out of line for a pastor to comment publicly on political matters. He abused the privilege of writing a column that is supposed to be about religion, not politics. I didn’t read the column in question, and knowing the pastor, I doubt that I would have agreed with much of what he had to say.
However, and it’s a big however, I cannot imagine how it would be possible to follow Jesus Christ, especially as a pastor, and not have a great deal to say about politics. On Ash Wednesday many of us heard a passage from Isaiah in which God called on his people to: “…to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke;…to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them…” Luke writes that Jesus, reading from the same prophet, announced that he was the one to “…bring good news to the poor,…proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” My favorite ethical prophet, Amos, wrote at length about the political sins that made God angry not only of Israel, but of all the surrounding territories. They are not so different from many of our own behaviors. If you haven’t read Amos lately, you might be surprised that God has something to say about taxes, housing, income disparity, wealth, international relations, civil behavior, etc. All familiar ground.
God is not disinterested in how we organize our communal lives, and doing that is politics. There is no way around it. I’d like to offer up a series of pithy quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr., or maybe one of the Niebuhrs, but you can do that for yourselves. The point is that Christianity is a religion that has a lot to say about politics, and pastors are called upon to do a lot of the saying.
It does raise a problem. We are called to speak, with a provisional level of confidence, from what we know of God as revealed in scripture, to the political environment in which we live. It is a prophetic voice that can only be uttered after prayerful confrontation with God, honest confrontation with self, and a serious time of reflection. We are not called to speak from our own deeply held political ethos that we have decorated with scriptural citations. More important, we may not speak with absolute certainty, nor may we attribute to God the certainty of our own political values. Getting that camel through the eye of the needle is not easy. Nevertheless, it is something we are called by God in Christ to do.