Thoughts for the Soul

Faith & Politics? Not Gonna Touch It . . . .

Posted on: Oct 8, 2020

Politics, sex, and money. Once upon a time, young preachers were advised to avoid all three in their sermons—and most new men of the cloth (they were mostly men) abided by that mantra.

Not true anymore. Most pastors find the topics are not verboten—as long as they’re careful about what they say and how they say it. EXCEPT for politics.

Conversations among clergy make clear how American politics has become the third rail of preaching—this, in spite of the fact that our current political culture is causing unspeakable pain and destruction in our families and our communities. Pastors who care deeply about everyone in their congregations genuinely suffer as they strive in our current civic mood to be the ministers they feel God has created them to be.

By way of background, let’s remember two facts. First, there has always been a diversity of religiosity in our nation that was reflected in our politics. Our presidents themselves exemplify the variety.

An essay posted by the library at Mount Vernon notes that “no literary text is referenced more frequently” in George Washington’s writings than the Bible. Abraham Lincoln never joined a church, but one can’t read his speeches without hearing almost continuous allusions to the King James Version of the Bible.

Thomas Jefferson was so skeptical that he took a razor to the New Testament and cut out all the miracles. He glued the remaining “pure principles” of Jesus into a new book that he described as, “the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man.” (The Smithsonian sells a fascinating facsimile edition for $35.)

Secondly, our current political culture isn’t new either. It is well rooted in the decades following World War II. Many even argue that our present political dynamics are embodied in how our Federal government was structured in the United States Constitution. (That’s a complex subject, but let me know if you want to talk about it.)

If political turmoil is not new in our nation, why do we now feel so distressed and disoriented? At the risk of oversimplifying, we can say that our comfortable bubbles have been burst by information technology. We can’t hide from how IT makes everything so immediate—there seems to be no rest for the weary.

IT has also created echo chambers that enable us—that is, every little sub-sub-group of opinion and ideology—to interact only with others who see, feel and act like ourselves. We are forgetting how to “play well with others.”

So what can we do if we want to be faithful to the God we claim as the God of love?

If we are young enough and healthy enough, we can join with and support a wide variety of ministries and nonprofits whose missions reflect our faith in the God of love. It’s important to participate in a community that shares our values and priorities. (I will also be pleased to talk with you about your personal interests and concerns.)

The starting point of action, is how we experience our relationship with God and approach our relationships with others. To that end, I give a nod to UCC pastor and church consultant Rev. Paul Nickerson. He recommends the following ways (among others) to manage ourselves as we strive to live with God’s love in our lives during turbulent times.

Love yourself. It’s true that we love our neighbors as ourselves. Want to be a better neighbor? Start by refusing to judge or berate yourself. Then practice unconditional self-respect, self-love, and self-acceptance. Let that kind of love radiate out to those around us. Start by smiling at yourself in the mirror.

Practice heaven. Make friends with someone you are afraid of or someone who angers you. Don’t try to fix or change them. Instead, find the best in them as they are right now. This will be a good practice for heaven! Start by silently sending them love. Even if you don’t feel it.

Get the backstory. People’s theologies, politics and life choices make a lot more sense when we know the backstory. Why they think the way they do. Why they feel the way they do. Why they do what they do. Share your stories with each other. Practice listening with your head and your heart. Lay aside questions and debate. Don’t plan any response. See your new friend as a child of God also.

Don’t cater to fear. Our political culture is dramatically disruptive. People’s fears have been crystallized. Anger and attack have become the go-to responses. It creates an us-versus-them mentality. Don’t cater to fear. Instead, let the gospel of love and courage, faith and self-sacrifice, action and empowerment be your guide.

Remember to ask. If God is for us, then who can be against us? We are all “us.” Resolutions are a way of setting our intentions. Intentions are powerful corollaries to faith and prayer. They allow us to co-create with God. All good things are waiting for us, but we must be open vessels to receive them. Set our intentions, and then take actions consistent with these intentions to watch our words come to life.

—Pastor Fogal

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