Role of faith
Prophetic preaching vs. campaigning
Jesus Christ was considered by many to be a prophet because he taught the people a new way of understanding their Jewish faith by admonishing them on how to live their lives. And like the prophets of the Old Testament, Jesus’ voice called the leaders of his time to account for their misplaced priorities.
Closer to our own time, Martin Luther King Jr. has been labeled as a prophetic voice, speaking against racial injustice and demanding not just a change in thought, but a change in political structures of power. Martin Luther King Jr. was a pastor whose pulpit was enlarged to the world stage and whose life was taken because his message angered those not open to shared power.
One of the roles of a pastor is to be a prophetic voice: translating God’s word in the context of today’s world. Many pastors take this role quite seriously, while others believe it is more “pastoral” to encourage personal “right living” without calling society at-large into account.
Thursday morning, I was a part of a “zoom-room” meeting (with everyone in their own home or office “meeting” through a video conference on our personal computers) to discuss responding to a desire by one of the churches in our presbytery region to include in our official documents wording against campaigning in the church. This particular congregation grew concerned during the last presidential campaign, when candidate, now president, Donald Trump called for a repeal of the Johnson Amendment, which precludes 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations from endorsing or opposing political candidates. No denomination can influence the actions of another religious group, but this particular local church wanted the Prebyterian Church (USA) to be very clear that we would not allow campaigning in our congregations whether the Johnson Amendment is repealed or not.
It is clear that a pastor telling the congregation who to vote for or against is campaigning. But is it also campaigning when the lectionary passage for a Sunday is on Exodus (22:31 and 23:9)? Telling of God’s injunction to not wrong or oppress a resident alien because his people were once aliens in Egypt, while one candidate is promising to remove resident aliens and build a wall to refuse them future entry?
There is no dividing line between prophetic preaching and speaking against leaders when those in leadership positions are in conflict with God’s word. But speaking against the position of potential political leaders — meaning candidates, by name — can cross that line. And this is true whether one considers oneself a Democrat or Republican. God’s commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” has been used by anti-war demonstrators as well as prolife advocates, who are generally members of differing political parties.
I don’t write this article to solve the problem of the natural theological-political tie that has existed at least since Moses was a baby in the bulrushes. I write to put my thoughts to paper and encourage others also to think and express their thoughts about the role of people of faith and the role of our faith institutions, in relationship to and with our elected leaders and the positions of political parties.
Happy pondering … and I’d love to engage in dialogue!