Church and Politics

I recognize that, taken together, these two subjects are about as welcome as talking about sex and income, but the faithful life cannot be lived outside of politics.  Considering a recent academic study that revealed the third most common reason young people leave the church is because they “disagreed with the church’s position on political and social issues.”   The disagreement on social and political issues happens with both conservative and liberal young people.  Lest we think this is a modern phenomenon, consider two of the disciples of Jesus, Simon the Zealot and Matthew.  Simon’s extended name, “the zealot” indicates that he was actively involved in the Jewish movement to overthrow the Roman government.  Matthew, on the other hand, was a tax collector.  Although he was Jewish, he made his living in collusion with the Roman occupiers.  I seriously doubt if Matthew and Simon ever agreed on anything politically, but we do know that the labored tirelessly together to build the church. Does this mean that we should shy away from difficult or controversial teaching in the Bible?  Heavens no.  The Old Testament and much of the teaching of Jesus support the marginalized, the disenfranchised, the foreigner and the immigrant.  In some Roman Catholic teachings, this is referred to as “God’s preferential option for the poor.”  We are called to respect the freedom and dignity of every human being.  This includes the poor, the elderly, every race, every form of sexual identity and every form of political expression.  We are to respect everyone.   Conservatives often go crazy when confronted with the fact that Jesus commands us to love and respect people of all different types.  Some try to ignore it.  Others try to write it off as secondary or not as important as going to heaven.  Truth is, the teachings of Jesus about respect for others and about money and possessions are central to his message.  On the other hand, liberals don’t like to hear Jesus tell the woman to “get up and sin no more,” i.e. take some responsibility for yourself.  The lesson here is that it is impossible to study and discuss the Bible in an honest way without bringing in issues that can be politically sensitive.   So, what is the church to do?   Ignoring the potential for conflict is never helpful.  Nor is parading one’s liberal or conservative credentials around for all to see (and hear).  I think it is a classic, Anglican “both-and” proposition.  When we want to discuss a political position, we can do that in church, respectfully and honestly.  Rather than stopping with the political issue itself, why not see if you can get support for your position from the bible?  That would be helpful.  On the other hand, when the bible is being discussed and you know that it may cast light on a political issue, don’t avoid the politics.  Consider saying, “Now this issue about the treatment of foreigners in the Old Testament might touch on some sensitive political topics, but let’s forge ahead with it to understand what the bible is telling us.”    I am not advocating open warfare nor a head-in-the-sand approach.  We should be able to respectfully and lovingly encounter one another.  This kind of loving encounter among people of diverse political and theological perspectives should be attractive to young people who may have withdrawn from a too liberal or too conservative church.  Because true, brotherly love, among people happens when we understand each other and not necessarily when we agree with each other.