A blog by Rev. Dr. James C. Howell,
senior pastor of Myers Park United Methodist Church
in Charlotte, North Carolina
Friday, August 26, 2016
How Politics & Religion Mix - 'Tis the Season #13
Miss Manners taught that there are two subjects to avoid in polite
conversation: religion and politics. How
might we dare to talk about both, and how they intersect?
When we say religion has no
business talking about politics, we overlook two important truths. If we say Christianity should have nothing to
say about politics, isn’t that a way of saying we support the way things are right
now? To say nothing is to give tacit
approval to policies and politics as they are.
But the status quo needs some fixing – and we might prefer some
Christian voice in the fixing.
Secondly, if we say Christianity
has nothing to say about politics, we are suggesting God doesn’t care, or God
has nothing to say. But God has strong
opinions; God has much to say.
God actually has spoken. If we read the Bible at all seriously, we see
political stuff everywhere. Jim Wallis
once gave out Bibles and scissors to his students, and asked them to cut out
everything that speaks to issues we label political: poverty, immigration, the
right to life, weapons, race, social justice, capital punishment, peace and
war, rulers and governments. What they
had left was what he jokingly called “the Holey Bible” – the Old Testament
laws, all the prophets, the Psalms, Jesus’ teachings, the book of Acts and many
of Paul’s letters left in ribboned shreds.
Since God created and cares deeply for everything in the world, we would
expect God to have vested interests, and holy authority, in what happens in
Tony Campolo wondered what it
would be like if we had a new political movement – called Red Letter Christians,
those who take their cues,
not from the politicians or pundits, but from the words of Jesus, those
old-timey Bibles highlighted with red letters.
Who tells us what to think?
Jesus. Red Letter Christians can
be Republican or Democrat – and hopefully both.
They can and should be the “leaven” in the world; they “should be the
ultimate swing vote, holding both sides accountable to a broader moral vision.”
So there most surely is a Christian angle on the issues we face, and
more clarity than you might imagine. If
you’ll stick with me, I’ll explore some of these. We may as people of faith disagree about the
best way to implement what God has pressed for; but we can’t support anything
contrary to God’s way, and we can’t ignore what God has insisted we be involved
in. Stanley Hauerwas is right: “The
Church is not simply a ‘voluntary association’ that may be of some use to the
wider public, but rather is the community constituted by practices by which all
other politics are to be judged.”
In our next email, I’ll ask about which ‘side’ we should lean toward,
which ‘side’ God is on – and then in the next installment we’ll explore what
the Separation of Church and State really means, and what it doesn’t mean, and
what it could be. After that, we will
examine some big issues, and dare to ask what God is asking us to do as
Christians who are engaged citizens.
FYI: Earlier installments in this
series are archivedhere.
I’m pastor of Myers Park United Methodist Church in Charlotte, NC, and I also teach preaching and ministry at Duke Divinity School as an adjunct. I write regular inspirational/ educational pieces you’ll find here, reviews of books pertinent to faith today and ministry, and I love to be part of conversations about life with God and in the world among Christians and clergy.