Faith and Politics: When Preaching Gets to Meddling

Faith and Politics: When Preaching Gets to Meddling

By Andrew Kukla, MDiv ’03

Today a friend made an off-hand comment that went something like, “Andrew is one of the most political pastors I know.” He didn’t mean it negatively. It was just an off-hand comment in a conversation about non-profit work. But the comment stuck with me. Am I really that political? I don’t self-identify as such, and yet I don’t have a problem with that identity. Because you know what? I think faith is political. In fact it kind of drives me crazy that people think they are two things that should remain separated.

Clarifying terms for a minute: I am not talking about the separation of Church and State. Keeping those two institutional structures separated is a value I highly prize. But faith and politics? Those aren’t institutions or structures. They are, in a nutshell, worldviews, and they cannot possibly remain separated if you are at all serious or committed to either one of them.

When a Buddhist maintains that all life is inter-connected and thus compassion should be the default engagement with all other life (alongside non-attachment) this is setting up a way of relating to the world that will necessarily alter their political choices. Their politics and the choices they make about what would be “right” orientation to societal problems would have to flow out of their core faith values. You don’t find a whole lot of militant Buddhists because it’s hard to have a core value that claims one’s life is no more important that the life of the tree, the sparrow, or those other people over there, and then defends a political choice to go to war.

In the three and half years I have been in my current call I have been mostly blessed with few people who really complain about my preaching. I presume they are listening but maybe that’s the key. 😉 But three instances that immediately come to mind were all when my sermon touched on political issues. One such time I was told outright I was to talk about scripture not politics right after I preached Ezekiel 34, a chapter that is a prophet addressing the political leaders of Israel with rebuke for not doing their job protecting the weak and feeding the people, so that the scattered people became food for wild animals. Now mind you, what Ezekiel says is about shepherds and sheep. So maybe there is some reason for confusion, but shepherds in the Old Testament are kings and the people are the sheep. And the Old Testament is time and time again… political.

So my argument then, and my argument now is this: I cannot preach scripture without getting political. If I am to do my job, as given to me by the very person complaining about my “getting political” that job would be to “get political.” Because God is all about politics. God has a political vision for the ordering of creation and human society within that creation.

Now, maybe someone is waiting to say, “But Jesus…”

I come from a confessional tradition. We have creeds and catechisms that teach the faith. The earliest two we use in our Book of Confessions are the Nicene Creed and Apostles’ Creed. But they aren’t really the first confessions of the Church. The first two creeds go farther back than that. The first two (unofficial) creeds of the emerging Christian Church were:

Jesus Christ is Lord.

And,

Jesus Christ is Messiah.

The latter statement is a faith statement. I believe Jesus is the long-awaited anointed one of God come to save God’s people (all people; all creation). It moves from Jesus is the Son of God to Jesus is God. It is a bold claim of faith. It lacks proof – it’s a faith statement, a statement Paul likens to the foolishness of the cross. But it sets our worldview as formed by the worldview of Jesus, which is why I always identify myself as “a follower of the way of Jesus Christ.” So Jesus is Messiah is my faith statement.

But the other “first” creed, Jesus is Lord? It is a political statement. In a world where Caesar was Lord it stands as a contradiction – an opposing political party if you will. It means Caesar isn’t Lord. The way of Caesar and Empire are not the worldviews we choose. Jesus is the way. You cannot follow both Jesus and Caesar. Their “ways” are too disparate. So to become a Jesus follower is to necessarily make a political statement – one that cost many of those early followers their lives.

Someone look Peter or Paul in the eye and tell them faith isn’t political.

There is an old phrase that goes something like, “now your preaching has gone to meddlin’.”

I love the phrase. I love it because preaching is ALWAYS meddling. God is an imposition on our lives. My life would be easy without Jesus. Less meaningful for me? Yes. Better? Not as I measure it now. But it would surely be easier because when I try to make Jesus’ politics my politics it forces me to meddle in the world in ways the world doesn’t appreciate. Sometimes in ways even our own families and friends don’t appreciate.

Can we seriously call ourselves followers of faith (any faith, mine just happens to be in the way of Jesus) without allowing the truths that faith claims for us to pervade all our decision making, particularly our politics?

I will always try hard not to give answers. I don’t it see it as my role. I believe my role is provoke with good questions and train people with the tools for coming up with answers. I hope to help people learn to connect the dots for themselves and to raise moral awareness of their choices and the consequences.

I will never say who you should vote for or even judge your choices (that one gets harder for me, I’m fallible and it isn’t easy.) But please, never tell me our faith isn’t political.

If you have made a political choice, I hope it reconciles with what you preach and pray and read and learn in your faith life. It isn’t a matter of should, it’s a matter of ought.

Because if you really think your faith isn’t political then my response would be… you aren’t a person of faith. I don’t mean that as a judgment of you, but a statement of what those terms really mean. And to clarify further, that doesn’t mean you aren’t a good person. I know lots of good people who self-identify as not being people of faith. But I have a stake in asking you not to claim what isn’t true. You cannot be a person of faith and keep that faith out of your politics because to be a person of faith means to passionately ascribe to a world view that has call on how we behave in the world. And that is the exact thing that politics is doing.

So, people of faith? Get political!

About Andrew Kukla: I am the proud father of four wonderful children, loving husband to Caroline, brother to three mostly wonderful sisters, and son of two parents that gifted me with a foundation of love and freedom.

I also am a Presbyterian pastor and former philosophy major with a love of too many words (written with many grammatical errors and parenthetic thoughts), Soren Kierkegaard, and reflections on living a life of discipleship that is open to all the challenges, ups and downs, brokenness and grace, of a chaotic and wonderful life founded upon the love of God for all of creation.

The opinions expressed within this post are only my own and not those of the places I serve. In fact unless you are reading this right when I post it – they may not even be my opinions anymore. Faith isn’t static, and certainly not my limited understanding of it – that is why I call my blog “Wrestling with Discipleship” and it has yielded me no few limps as well.

The Center for Lifelong Learning is currently planning: Talking Politics During Polarized Times. This program is for clergy and interested parties who want to think about how to deal with public political issues as a church during the run-up to the 2016 national elections. Look for more information as it develops at www.ctsnet.edu/lifelong-courses-and-events.

 

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3 thoughts on “Faith and Politics: When Preaching Gets to Meddling”

  1. Though I’m a Christian, I’m not a pastor (I did deliver a Sunday morning sermon one time when the pastor was ill; that was a neat experience), but I’ve been thinking a lot about the issue of faith and politics. I think your post is well reasoned.

    Even if I disagree with something in particular you say, I’d respect you for taking a position like “this is what the scripture says we should look for in our leaders” or “this candidate is the most like what the scripture says we should be looking for” or even “this candidate really isn’t what the scripture calls for.”

    Here’s an issue I have from a non Biblical standpoint, though: Power corrupts.

    Let’s say Candidate A comes to your church and speaks. As a human being, it’s really easy to be influenced by the importance you feel when a popular candidate comes to you and shows you personal respect. You then endorse Candidate A from the pulpit.

    Even if Candidate A is the most Biblical candidate, it seems to me like an unseemly conflict of interest has been created. Am I unreasonable to see a situation like this as kind of icky? (Not trying to say that you, the author, has done any such thing as I have no idea who you are or anything about you other than this post.)

    1. Andrew Kukla says:

      First, there are legal ramifications of being a church and having tax exempt status. I’m not an expert in these things and I would consult one who is if you are curious about what activity we are forbidden to do. I generally think of it as: no endorsement of a candidate in an election cycle or attempt to tell members how to vote on a particular piece of legislation from the pulpit or with church resources. I’m sure I’m a bit wrong about that but that’s how its in my head. Here is an IRS resource: https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p1828.pdf

      My post wasn’t intended to get to that so much as a need to understand that our faith is not meant to be compartmentalized and separated from our “real” life. Our faith is a recognition of God’s calling on my life… my WHOLE life. And my political opinions necessarily intersect with that and I should not, ought not, “check my faith at the door” when discerning my politics. So I’m not asking folk to share my politics (I truly want people to do that discernment for themselves)… I’m asking them to understand that our politics ought to flow out of our faith (so that in discerning our political responses and endorsements the tools we use to discern are faith tools as much as anything else).

      As for your scenario. I think every person of faith and community of faith is going to find the line between their voice as prophetic community of faith and their political activities in a slightly different spot. I’m not going to tell someone absolutely where that line is. I see my roll is giving voice to the questions scripture invites us to ask of ourselves and our community and connecting the dots, occassionally, to places in our lives where those questions have relevance. But I don’t provide the answers. So I would have a sense of ick to what you are talking about also. I’m not saying I would never do it – who can say such a thing, but if I did do it upon reflection I would be asking myself the same questions you are asking.

      I hope that is helpful.

      1. Manikka B says:

        I am a CTS Alumi, AME minister, and an elected official. The black church has operated at the intersection of the moral voice and political engagement for a very long time. Often times churches hide behind their 501 c3 status and sit on the sideline, but there are ways to be engaged with out violating the law. Reach out if you want to start a conversation.

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