Finding Our “Political” Voice

“Oh boy! Where is Brian going with this topic,” I can hear the whispers in your head already forming. I know this is a sensitive topic and can be controversial in the church. I also know that a Christianity that remains silent in the face of injustice and inhumane policies is not a Christianity that I am willing to talk to my friends about.

Voter registrationYou need to understand that I partly came to religion through politics. Before I entered college I took a one-year break from school in order to grow up a little. During that gap year I worked as a saw man for a mobile home factory, but I also was a precinct coordinator for Bill Armstrong, who was running for the U.S. Senate from Colorado.

I still remember the day I stripped down out of my factory clothing with paint and sawdust covering every inch of my clothing and donned a three-piece suit as I accompanied Mr. Armstrong to a fundraiser. There I ate food that I couldn’t even pronounce and sat mesmerized as then California governor, Ronald Reagan, offered the keynote. I felt pretty special that day as this 19 year-old stood just feet from Governor Reagan in a separate room as the press shoved their microphones and their bright lights into his face and pelted him with questions.

Political valuesA few months later I was enrolled in college with a declared major in political science. I wanted to follow Bill Armstrong into the world of politics. I loved this arena where we were asking questions like, “What is the role that government should play in people’s lives?” “What are the values that guide and govern our common life?” “How do we make our society fair to everyone?” “What is the line between individual rights and the public good?”

Strangely enough, I was also taking religion courses alongside my courses in political science. I soon discovered that religion and politics were not all that different. They were asking essentially the same questions. The only difference was that our political answers were grounded in a broader political, sociological and ideological framework, whereas our religious answers were grounded in a sacred narrative about God’s activity in the world.

As I entered my second year of studies I shifted my major to religious studies and abandoned my pursuit of a political science degree. Some might have thought that it was a major shift, but for me it was simply a decision to continue my study of human nature and social structures, but to ground those studies in a spiritual narrative reflecting God’s hope for humanity.

Senate chambersThe word political comes from the Greek root polis which is the word that points to the philosophy of how the city/state is organized, governed and ordered. It is the word that assumes such questions as “How ought we to relate to each other economically, socially and politically?” “What are the values and laws that guide and govern how we treat each other?” “What are the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship and belonging?”

I have titled this blog “Finding Our Political Voice” not because I want to see the presbytery and our churches suddenly insert themselves into our increasingly polarized political debates. And not because I want us to follow those in the religious community who have wedded themselves to one political party or another. No, I have titled this blog “Finding Our Political Voice” just as a reminder that religious questions and religious values almost always have political ramifications. Politics and religion have always been first cousins and it is impossible to completely separate them from each other.

border fenceWe cannot proclaim from the pulpit that we have a Christian obligation to “welcome the stranger” and not also at the same time make a statement about what is happening to the “strangers” on our southern border.

We cannot teach that our religion calls for us to “love kindness”(Micah 6: 8)  and at the same time not hear it as a word of judgment on those who use cruel and derisive comments to dehumanize others and manipulate them.

We cannot reinforce that our most essential ministries are to reach out “to the least of these” (Matt. 25) and at the same time have nothing to say about policies that discriminate against women, LGBTQIA persons, minorities, and the economically vulnerable.

Quite honestly I could have titled this blog, “Finding Our Religious Voice” and made the same point. The world of religion and politics ask almost the exact same questions. The only difference is the narrative that we point to get our answers.

But make no mistake. Religious statements have political implications by their very nature.

Jesus didn’t say, “Love the person sitting next to you in the pew.” He said, “Love your neighbor.”

And that is as much a political statement as a religious one.

 

Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades

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