As we are on the eve of a very important election day, I thought I’d write a brief word about the church and politics! I know pretty much everyone is ready for this election to be over while at the same time very anxious about the results. I pray that whatever the outcome, we will come together and respect those results. I’m actually more thankful than ever for the division of powers in our government and the many checks and balances that are in place.
It seems like a good moment to ask the question, “How should the church be involved in
politics?” Some would say an emphatic, “no” to any involvement. Yet, we don’t want to be so “heavenly minded that we are no earthly good” and relegate our faith to a purely spiritual realm. Others say an emphatic “yes” to involvement and these pastors often call me to account because at SLC we don’t overtly and directly take on pressing social issues from the pulpit. “Why don’t you talk about abortion pastor?” “Why don’t you talk about the erosion of our religious liberty?” comes the critique from the right. “How come you don’t call your people to vote for more gun control laws and to reform immigration policy?” “Why don’t you as a group sign petitions to increase the minimum wage or support gay marriage?” comes the critique from the left. Both sides claim Jesus and the New Testament for their positions and both sides say that this isn’t politics but basic Christian morality. What to do?
One retired pastor in our Synod who wants congregations and the ELCA to be very politically active, said this to me: “Bill, I grew up in a Lutheran church in the south, and my congregation never did anything when it comes to the civil rights movement and I don’t want to be a part of a church today that is silent in the face of injustice.” I get it. I don’t want my church to be “silent” about social issues either but my question is: How do we know the church was silent just because it didn’t as a whole take a particular action? Were those members just in their dealings with people of color? How did they vote on local and national elections? We of course don’t know but I’d like to think that many of those Lutheran Christians exercised their citizenship by voting informed by their faith. How does this apply to us today?
The way I believe the church today should be involved in politics specifically in the United States, is to call every Christian to vote. If we didn’t have this right and power, my view of how we should be involved would be different. In many countries people don’t have this power. The Church should and must preach Biblical principles as a response to the Gospel but it also should then let people respond as they feel called when it comes to politics and most especially to how they vote. When the church takes a particular stand, it excludes those who believe differently. I believe in a Church that is inclusive of people of many political affiliations and as tempting as it would be to preach a particular response, which our national church often does, I believe God has called me rather to exhort all of my congregation to be good citizens and vote – not what to vote – but to vote and trust that the Holy Spirit is guiding them.
What will the voter turn out be this year? I don’t know, but I believe the voter turn out at SLC should be 100% – I expect nothing less.