A Pastoral Statement on Politics & the Pulpit

Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

They say not to discuss religion or politics in polite company, but today, we’re doing exactly that.

I recognize that right now, some of us are having uncomfortable conversations: about police and protests, about use of force, about the role and limits of organized protests. And I recognize that I’ve been relatively outspoken this week about matters that touch on the politics of this country.

So right now, as deacons, pastors, bishops, and lay church leaders make a vocal stand about racism and the resulting police brutality against our black and brown neighbors, as protests and the police response rock the nation, and as elected officials make it a defining political issue of our day, you might be wondering: what gives church leaders the right? How dare they be political?

I would suggest that we don’t have an option.

What do we mean by political? It is not merely a matter of electioneering and partisan alliance. Politics pertains to how we organize the polis – the Greek word for the city-state. Even non-partisan non-profits are political insofar as they are part of the structure of our society.

What, then, is a political action? It’s not limited to what we do at the voting booth or the campaigns we support. It’s how we approach the organization of our society: the structures we build and defend, the stands we’re willing to take.

The pursuit of justice and peace is inherently political.

And to that extent, even silence is a political action. To say nothing is to implicitly support the status quo.

If the system is fundamentally unjust, Christians cannot reman silent without being complicit.

In Baptism, we renounce the forces that defy God and, including “the powers of this world that rebel against God.” We talk of how the Sacrament entrusts us with responsibilities: to “care for others and the world God made, and work for justice and peace.” Which is to say, political action is an inherent part of the Christian life.

And from the earliest days of the Church, our faith has brought us into conflict with political powers. The claim that Jesus is the Messiah and Lord threatens Herod’s kinship and Caesar’s rule. That Jesus is the only Son of God means that Caesar cannot be a son of god. The claim that Jesus’ life is Good News directly challenges the “good news” of Roman military victories. When Peter and Paul preached in Rome, they challenged the imperial religion dedicated to the emperor.

The stories of our martyrs were those arrested and killed because the Gospel challenges the political structures of this age.

And this long theological tradition continues on to this day.

The Gospel rightly preached is inherently political. It is divisive; Christ warned that his message would divide, even family member against family member.

When you called me to be the pastor of Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, as a Minister of Word and Sacrament serving a congregation in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, you called me to preach on political issues. The ELCA’s constitution – and our congregation’s constitution – state that as a Pastor, I shall: “witness to the Kingdom of God in the community, in the nation, and abroad; and speak publicly to the world in solidarity with the poor and oppressed, calling for justice and proclaiming God’s love for the world.” Not that I may, if I feel like it, or that I should, if I want to, but shall.

I don’t have a choice in the matter; this is my duty by virtue of the call you issued me. Indeed, it’s even in the Letter of Call issued by this congregation: “We call you to exercise among us the Ministry of Word and Sacrament which God has established and which the Holy Spirit empowers:…to speak for justice on behalf of the poor and oppressed.”

This does not mean that I, or any other pastor, can instruct the congregation on which tax plan is best, how towns should be zoned, or which referendum should be passed. You did not call me to tell you how to vote or to electioneer among you. But it does mean that the entire Church, and especially those of us called to stand in the pulpit, shall highlight issues of justice and racism, to call for accountability among the powerful, to call sinners to repentance regardless of their elected office, and to denounce actions that defy the will of God.

Publicly. In the pulpit. On social media. In the streets.

So today, I say: Black lives matter.

Together, by the grace of God, here we stand. We can do no other. May God help us.


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