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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Ask the Matriarch — The politics of politics

Hard to believe July is almost over, isn't it? Just one more week, and August rears its head, which mean school and church year beginnings aren't far behind. But guess what else is right around the corner: the 2008 presidential election. Someone new to the call asks a question that may serve as an important reminder to all of us:
Given this is the Presidential Election year here in the US, the conversations can become quite emotional concerning political perspectives. Can you suggest a way of communicating in a Christ-centered way for these inevitable eruptions? It seems that the parishioners need to know for whom their pastor will be voting and they even try to hear our politics in our sermons. It also seems that to whomever I speak, they believe that surely I must share their political perspective.

Is it advisable to specifically say "my vote is private"? Or go the other route and put all those Obama stickers on my vehicle? Oh, by the way I am currently interning and will be entering the call process this coming year.

Well, there's no easy way to say this, but therein lies that "church/state" thing that the state is expressly forbidden to cross and, say our matriarchs, probably best that we don't either, at least not officially and absolutely not from the pulpit.

It's very important to learn what's considered personal, and not. But that's not to say you can't address _issues_ from the pulpit. As Peripatetic Polar Bear says:

Pastors should not publicly engage in partisan politics within the confines of their roles as clergy.


You can preach on how important it is to serve the poor--with our time, our talents and our votes. You can preach on how important it is to wage peace--with our prayers, our lifestyles and our votes. But as soon as you say "I"m voting for X," you have, I believe, misused your pastoral authority because even if you don't mean to, people can and will conflate your opinion with your church's theology. And where their opinions and yours are at polar opposites, it can change their relationship with you (people DO take their politics that seriously)---and your job is to foster those relationships.

And yes, things are going to be intense around the church---they are going to be intense everywhere. There are programmatic things you can do about that--but the first step is to talk to your governing group, and see how they feel.

So go ahead and support your candidate on your own time, but leave the partisan politics outside of your role.

Ann also notes that the congregation doesn't need her to spell out who she's voting for anyway:

I try to stay out of declaring my politics in regard to specific candidates or ballot issues; the congregation can usually tell my values by my preaching, so I am sure they guess.

A pastor does need to be careful not to preach who to vote for from the pulpit. I think stickers on the car are borderline okay. A discussion of the issues is appropriate for adult ed, but not when the discussion tells people how to vote.

The Episcopal Church's National Executive Council (the elected body that oversees things in between our national conventions) passed this resolution:

The Executive Council of The Episcopal Church* *resolved in 2004: "The Church recognizes that a faithful commitment to voting is an extension of our baptismal covenant to 'strive for justice and peace and the dignity of every human being' and asks all Episcopalians to actively engage in advocating for voter rights, encouraging voter registration, getting out the vote, and volunteering to assist voters at the polls."

I think back a few years to a voting day that my car had broken down, and a priest friend came and picked me up so that I could go vote, driving me the 30 miles and back to my polling location from my office. That's a great service to provide!

There are official guidelines you should probably consult; here's an important resource that all clergy may find indispensable during election seasons: Politics and the Pulpit from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life:

During every election cycle, many religious congregations find themselves wondering what role, if any, they can play in the political process. Can a minister, rabbi, imam or other member of the clergy endorse a candidate from the pulpit or speak on political issues of interest to voters? Is a church or other house of worship legally permitted to register voters or distribute voter guides? Answers to these and many other questions are contained here.

You can get more information and download the full report from the Pew Site here.

Ann also has some resources from the Episcopal Church, including the Episcopal Public Policy Network's resource page and the Interfaith Alliance's "One Nation, Many Faiths" election guide (PDF download).

Various denominations have their own guides, and I'm sure some of our readers will be happy to share their links and insights as well.


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  2. We in Canada are not quite in an election, but they come sooner, or later. we all have similar problems when in ministry.

    It is best to keep your own opinions to yourself of the Party, or person you may endorse, because as was spoken in the Post: your living, preaching the ways of love of all people, supporting the downtrodden, etc, it will already shine
    Vote as you see fit, as I would all do, with Christ in the centre.

    We all have filters.. of education, up-bringing, experiences, feelings, and so on that all things are filtered through inside ourselves. That's why we can see the same thing so differently.

    But in the Centre of our life is is this:

    We belong to God..first and foremost.

    Jesus death was both political and religious. Politics left it to the Religious so Rome could look unattached, but they were attached to it all.

    People in power fear those who give strength to the people.

    I always look for compassion in a person that has a political agenda.

    Seeking justice, loving mercy, becomes a humble walking with God. That may be a good point to speak about when in the thick of an election of any kind.

    As for stickers on cars that may be harder if there are family members.

    I think it's very important to remind myself to that being 'right' has the more important meaning of being 'whole', rather than correct.

    Secret ballots for any vote are because our vote is to be
    confidential....unless we choose to reveal it ourselves.

  3. I am always careful not to preach pro or con on candidates or specific ballot proposals. Even if I were tempted to do so, there is that whole "losing your IRS tax exempt status" thing.

    I did have one occasion when an elder chose to use the offertory to rant about a particular political issue and one member thought she'd need to leave the church because she was of the "wrong" political party. My sermon the following week said clearly that party and politics have no place in worship, and that neither party is the "right" one for our members.

    I do strongly encourage them to vote, for whatever candidate or proposition they believe is in keeping with their Christian beliefs. And I don't tell them how I intend to vote, although I suspect they can figure it out easily enough.


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