An Interesting Time to Be Church

It’s an interesting time to be church. With immigration and refugee policies in the news, we can explore and talk about what it means to be neighbor, how the Judeo-Christian tenet of “love thy neighbor as thyself” influences, or not, how we think of “neighbor.” The rolling back of protections for transgender students ought to bring up what it means to look after the vulnerable in society. After all, the Bible has quite a lot to say about helping those who are at risk for ill treatment.

And, yet, behold another fascinating topic: the ditching, or “destroying,” of the amendment that requires churches and pastors to refrain from supporting, or opposing, particular candidates from the pulpit.

I might like this development.

During my entire career, I’ve learned to dance carefully and cautiously around politics from the pulpit. Occasionally, I’ve danced a little too close and every time, there’s been a “helpful” parishioner who has informed me, in one way or another, of the Johnson Amendment (they don’t usually know what it’s called, but they know, sort of, what it says). We don’t want to risk the church’s status with the IRS . . .

And, now that may all be done away with.

Although I can’t recall any time when Jesus preached about a political candidate, he was plenty political, and mostly in ways that made the powerful feel awfully uncomfortable.

In his decision to undo this long tradition of keeping pulpits from declaring support for or opposition to particular political candidates, President Trump likely has in mind the unleashing of those conservative Christians who supported him through election season.

But, he might just unleash a whole lot more than he intends.

It’s an interesting time to be church.

While I’m not sure that I would want to use the pulpit to support or oppose particular candidates, as I think church folk ought to be able to think for themselves and that pastors ought to be conscientious regarding the power they have when speaking from the pulpit, I’m intrigued by the notion of churches engaging in more outwardly political ways. People of faith certainly have different approaches to the lessons of the scriptures. It would be interesting indeed to introduce a new realm of conversation—not just about issues, but about candidates as well.

Of course, that conversation already exists, at least to some extent, but I can’t help but wonder what might come of conversation when a preacher speaks of a particular candidate from the pulpit, and how particular candidates might be held accountable to people of faith.  This is already happening in significant ways among conservatives and evangelicals. What if it starts happening among liberals and progressives?

Despite the stereotype, not all churches are conservative. The more liberal and progressive churches may be smaller, but I suspect that our voices could become louder and more forceful. There are legitimate and significant discussions to be had regarding church, politics and society. And, there are important debates regarding how the the holy scriptures informs how we live together.

It’s an interesting time to be church. And an important time to be church too.

About smaxreisert

I'm a United Church of Christ pastor serving the small, faithful Old South Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, in Hallowell, Maine. I was ordained in Massachusetts in 1995, moved to Maine in 1997 and have served the Hallowell church since 2005.
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