Rules of Engagement, Part 1

A recent article in the local newspaper highlighted a protest at the Maine State House—clergy protesting the separation of families at the border. I recognized a couple of the clergy who were present. My first response was to wonder why I hadn’t known about the protest.  Perhaps I would have joined them.

But, then I remembered that, although I haven’t completely sworn off protests, I have become much more circumspect about participating in them, especially as a member of the clergy. The reason why I’ve been struggling with the notion of clergy engaging in political protests and political issues is this:

Image result for catholic priests pro-life rally

While I don’t like or celebrate abortion, I believe it is a woman’s right to have access to safe and affordable abortion. Watching clergy people, with their clerical collars and other clearly clerical garb, trying to influence those in political office, or those seeking political office, as well as the courts has made me more than uneasy for years.

Clergy are certainly welcome to take any stand they like and share that stand, and its theological reasons, to their congregation, flock or denomination. But, during the long years of watching conservative clergy seeking to influence public policy, especially in the case of abortion, has made me rather angry. And even more so as most of those members of the clergy are men who appear to have little or no respect for women, or the reality of the lives of women, or the notion that women ought be allowed to make such a profoundly personal decision that is so often profoundly complicated.

Now that we have a President who has somehow managed to convince a whole lot of Christians, especially evangelical and conservative ones, that he has their interests at heart, yet also appears to trample certain Christian concepts, particularly those that are close to the heart of more liberal Christians, I’ve found myself in a rather odd position. On the one hand, I want to get out there and protest, to raise my voice as a Christian and declare that many of the policies of this President don’t line up at all with basic tenets of any sort of Christianity—at least in my perception of the basics of Christian theology. On the other hand, though, I keep seeing those abortion-protesting clergy in my head.

What are the rules of engagement? Should clergy people—as clergy— get involved at all in trying to influence public policy and, if so, how?

I’m sure most of those members of the clergy who protest against abortion rights believe fully that they are doing what is right in the eyes of God.  And, that they should do all that they can to influence public policy, trying to make public policy acceptable to the God they worship.

I don’t agree with them, or with what they are doing. How does that disagreement then inform my own engagement with policy issues outside my church community?

While I hold very similar views as those clergy people who took to the Maine State House to protest the loathsome practice of separating families at the border (and I believe there is plenty of biblical back up for this position), I wonder:  is it appropriate for clergy to demonstrate in such a manner—to declare a position, to raise their voices, specifically as clergy, in order to influence public officials?

I’m not sure, and so I continue to wrestle. Next time, I’ll share a bit more of this struggle.

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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1 Response to Rules of Engagement, Part 1

  1. Darla Chafin says:

    Oh, Sue, thank you for sharing this (and I’m looking forward to Part II). You are right that these people protesting truly believe in what they are doing. Maybe the secret is finding a way to express our true beliefs in a way that can be effective without doing harm or bringing shame, possibly inadvertantly, on others. Even close friends can leave me feeling speechless and clumsy when they suddenly share a burden I had never suspected.

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