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Keep Politics Out of Religion

Jo is a long-time political junkie and has followed politics closely in the USA since Nixon. Politics is her favorite spectator sport.

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What Should Church Look Like?

I went to church on a recent Sunday like I do most Sundays at a well-cared for, long-loved, small Methodist church near my home. It was a particularly beautiful October day when the leaves were just beginning to turn. During service we knelt at the altar to take communion, offered prayers for a fellow member whose son had died, and ended the service with an old-time hymn, In the Sweet By and By.

Willie Does It Better

Living Blue in a Red State

As we drove out of the parking lot, a young man raised his hand in a friendly greeting. He was the son of a man who had been my playmate when I was a child, something I didn't know until his father died. He has a small son who attends church with him, and after I learned of his father's death, I found an old photo I had of of my old playmate and gave it to the young boy.

After the young man greeted us that day, he drove out of the parking lot in his pickup truck sporting a Confederate flag.

We are liberal Democrats living not just in a red state but a part of the red state that I call "blood red." Lots of Confederate flags around here. Yet we go to church and worship with these people every Sunday because, in church, we don't know what their politics are.

We occasionally hear a comment from someone or see a symbol like a Confederate flag that tells us where they stand politically, but we know that does not define everything about them. We don't know whether our pastor is a Republican or Democrat. We don't discuss politics in church.

The Other Side of the Fence

That is not true of all churches in this part of the country or in the country as a whole. A nice lady that we met through our bank here, a longtime Democrat, told us she just could not support President Obama because he was a Muslim.

She had learned that Obama was a Muslim from her pastor, so she was sure it was true. I always suspected that rejecting him because he was a Muslim was easier for her than admitting she might be rejecting him because of his race.

A cousin of mine also told me that her pastor frequently preached against President Obama from the pulpit. I suspect that both pastors now preach in support of President Trump.

You can turn on your radio to many stations in this part of the country and hear local preachers ranting against Democrats. Always Democrats in this part of the country. Never Republicans.

For years Billy Graham was pastor of all presidents, both Republican and Democrat. He was a pastor, not a politician. He didn't endorse candidates. He supported all of them. His son, Franklin Graham, conversely, is very political. And he always supports Republicans.

Politics and Religion

When I was growing up in this part of the country, my father was a pastor in the Methodist Church. The Methodist Church, he always said, believed that pastors should never let their parishioners know which political party they supported. They were to be pastors to Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. I knew what his politics were. (He was a Republican, by the way).

He was the pastor of a church very near where I now live, and in this part of the country at that time, most of the people were Democrats. An elderly woman once told me she could have counted the Republicans in this small town on one hand. And my father was pastor to all who attended his church.

In my family, we often were visitors in other churches in the area besides Methodist churches. We supported their activities and they supported ours. I never heard politics mentioned in any of these churches. I never heard a pastor telling his flock how to vote.

A More Inclusive Religion

One of the most influential pastors in the United Methodist Church today is Adam Hamilton. In addition to being the author of many books, he also pastors one of the largest, most influential congregations in the country. Located in Leawood, Kansas, it is a congregation of both Republicans and Democrats (more Republicans than Democrats, it is Kansas after all).

Even though Adam Hamilton is pastor of a congregation of some 20,000 people, an important leader in his denomination, author of over 20 books, and a gifted speaker, you will not find him endorsing or supporting political candidates.

He may lead his congregation when they study issues, listening to both sides and encouraging members to be in conversation, but he does not rant against candidates or tell parishioners how to vote from the pulpit.

In the following video, Hamilton explains how his church deals with one of the divisive issues in today's climate.

A Broader Church

I use the examples of pastors in the United Methodist church because that is the denomination I am most familiar with. But I know there are congregations all over this country who are quietly living their Christian faith without making it a political affair.

They are there to receive sustenance, provide support and encouragement to their fellow church members, and reach beyond the church to help eliminate some of the suffering in the world.

The most visible and vocal religious groups in this country, however, are often those who are on the right of the political debates. The issues they most often focus on are gay marriage and abortion. I will not debate those issues here but merely point out, from a Christian perspective, that they are usually referring to the sins of others.

My response to these folks about the issue of gay marriage is that if you believe gay marriage is a sin, don't marry someone of the same sex. The only sin we can really do anything about is our own, so maybe the religious right might consider focusing more on their own sins than pointing out those of others and making laws to forbid them.

Lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, anger, envy, and pride are all legal, by the way. That list should keep all of us Christians too busy to focus too much on the evil ways of others.

There is no doubt that the lessons I learned in these churches as I was growing up shape my present political views. The lessons about treating others as I would like to be treated led me to support civil rights and gay rights, even when those were unpopular positions.

Jesus told us to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, and care for the sick. I always thought he meant that, so that influences the way I live and the way I vote.

Even though my religion has influenced my politics, I still prefer to keep the two separate and keep politics out of religion. Surely the church should be a place where we can meet in communion with our fellow Christians without having to listen to pronouncements of a political nature that might divide rather than unite us.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2017 Jo Miller