Role of faith

Prophetic preach­ing vs. cam­paign­ing

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - RELIGION - LESLIE BELDEN The Rev. Leslie Belden is a min­is­ter of the Pres­by­te­rian Church (U.S.A.), cur­rently serv­ing as the tem­po­rary stated clerk of the Pres­bytery of Ar­kan­sas. Con­tact her at Les­lieBeld@aol.com.

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!

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