Over the past two days I have struggled to find words about the leaked Supreme Court decision over Roe v Wade, wondering how to properly address the incredibly sensitive subject of abortion and simultaneously addressing the not sensitive but incredibly charged issues of clear violations of precedent and threats to other established rights and privacies. I do not have those words and changing my profile picture to other’s words would change nothing.
I noticed a post this morning, though, that sent me back to a past version of myself: reducing this decision, and the decisions that will certainly follow it, to nothing more than “political gamesmanship” and making jokes about the hysterical people getting angry and judgmental over “politics.”
First, I will say this: if this decision delights you, instead of making jokes and subtly denigrating the fears of others related to this decision without actually saying you agree with the decision, have the confidence to publicly state your agreement and accept that people will emotionally disagree with you. If you find great a great moral victory here, shout it from the rooftops instead of hiding in fear.
But, in thinking about the flippancy that some people treat the humanity of others and my lack of words to directly address the present situation, I found myself wondering about the term “political” and how it gets used (especially surrounding preaching and churches).
While thinking about this, I realized I need to define “political,” a task that necessitates evaluating common usages of the word.
I get advised not infrequently to “not be political” to ensure my success in ministry, and I find this a curious piece of advice given the nature of our faith. We proclaim that our God came to Earth almost specifically to get murdered for speaking against the political and religious establishment, publicly and loudly admonishing them for their treatment of the poor, the marginalized, the systemically outcast, and the sick. Clearly our God got involved in politics by way of speaking truth to political power and casting moral judgement on their actions.
Jesus was “political.” You cannot read the gospels and come to any other conclusion. Period.
When I receive this advice, though, people actually mean “partisan” when they say “political.” The advice really means, “Do not speak against my chosen political party,” (or “any political party” if we receive the advice more charitably than I usually do). And, if we believe in the united Body of Christ and that God weeps when we fracture ourselves for personal gain, then the advice rings true; we should abhor adversarial politics and artificial divisions. Christians (especially Christian leaders) should not speak against good-faith disagreements on how to achieve justice for all and should voice their disagreement from a personal position stance instead of a moral one.
These usages leave us with two definitions of “political”: the partisan difference of how to accomplish a goal and our alignment with a partisan group, and the demanding actions of our governments and speaking judgements toward our systems (and churches).
Whenever someone tells you to not be “political,” they are using the first definition of the word.
(Note: the “demands” of the second definition need not be morally upstanding; demanding the government act in a way that concentrates wealth upward is not partisan despite clearly being “political.” This just means you demand something of the system without regard to political party or power system.)
I could demand everyone in the world stop using the word “political” when they truly mean “partisan,” but I would get nowhere. Instead, then, whenever we use the word “political” or hear the word “political,” we need to name the usage so we can properly address it.
I regularly preach from a “political” standpoint in the sense that I demand justice for the least and lowest. I call for every Child of God to have the same right to life as any other and for us to fix the systems and attitudes that cause people of color to die more frequently and more violently than white people (nonetheless LGBTQ+ people, poor people, and people with mental illness). I call for us to love our neighbors in a sacrificial way, giving up our comforts to the needs of others (including safety). I call for Christians to give up their comforts for the needs of others. And I regularly call people to hold their chosen political leaders accountable to these basic scriptural ideals.
Not one thing I said above has any partisan bent to it. I literally just acknowledged statistics and applied scriptural teachings. Love your neighbor as yourself, admit when some of your neighbors do not receive the same love as you, and hold your leaders — the ones you voted for and align with — to that standard.
Now I must ask you to have some honesty with yourself. When you read all of that, did you read partisanship in it? Did you feel attacked, or did you read an attack on your political party?
That has nothing to do with me or what I wrote. I spoke basic gospel truths and basic practical truths. It certainly had “political” overtones to it because I demanded action of our system and of the Body of Christ, but it does not have a “political (partisan)” bent to it because I demanded it of all and admonish everyone (myself included) who fails to live up to the gospel call.
(And, again, I find adversarial politics abhorrent and contraindicated to scripture.)
You may find yourself tempted to list the ways what I wrote disagrees with your “political (partisan)” leaning, and you absolutely could find a multitude of ways that what I wrote admonishes your chosen political leaders (and you would not be the first). I will not pretend what I wrote will not offend “political (partisan)” sensibilities, but, if what I wrote offends your “political (partisan)” sensibilities, the gospel offends your “political (partisan)” sensibilities. Simply declaring yourself a Christian does not make your personal values inherently holy and absolve you from admonishment and questioning; for your values to be inherently Christian, they must align with the life and teachings of Christ attested to in scripture, not your personal comforts and feelings.
“I don’t like it!” coming from the mouth of Christians has no bearing on the holiness of the thing in question, especially politics. I like a lot of things contraindicated to scripture: judging people, self-righteousness, financial comfort, gluttony, and many others. My like of them does not make them holy, even as a clergy person, because they are contraindicated with scripture, specifically with the life and teachings of Jesus.
So, if you hear a call for justice — a demand to acknowledge the full humanity of every person; a demand to protect the physical life of every breathing person and work to create equality in safety; a demand to care for people after their birth and provide for their food, shelter, and health; a demand to allow women to make healthcare decisions about their body including but well beyond the present discussion — know those calls for justice are not “political (partisan)” despite being clearly and unapologetically “political” in their demands of the system.
Reasonable, faithful people can disagree with the nuance of a situation or the correct course of action to provide justice, but not the call for justice. If the call for justice rings as “political (partisan)” in your ears, ask yourself why. And if you want to denigrate the anger and fears of those denied justice as “political (partisan)” and hysterical, ask yourself why.
Jesus lifted those who were denied justice and spoke truth against those who denied it. Which group do you lift and support?