My question relates to something you used to say often and perhaps still do – that is, “politics are merely the implementation of sincerely held religious belief”. I have probably butchered your exact quote, but the notion to me (a faith-filled Christian) that among my peers and in discussions with my pastor and other spiritual mentors, I can talk about faith and spiritual growth, but if the topic approaches the political arena, in this increasingly polarized society, I shouldn’t rock the boat too much!
I am seeing some deeper divisions ‘within the church’ between right and left political opinion, and feel that the only way to “right the ship” is if more Pastors spoke the truth boldly (but kindly) to their congregations, without fear of reprisals and controversy.
Perhaps you can encourage me (make me courageous) again, as you have done so often in the past.
Your memory of the quote is very accurate. The sentence we use is, “Politics is nothing more than the practical application of your most deeply held values.”
While for many years we served and led a synagogue in Southern California, we have both also attended many other synagogues. As part of our ministry, we have known many pastors and priests. Invariably, we prefer those who are courageous to those who are cowardly and those whose words change lives to those who prefer to have lofty theological discussions that make no difference in the beliefs or behaviors of those who listen.
We must point out that we do not necessarily agree with the conclusions of the leaders we like. Sometimes, for a variety of reasons, they vote differently than we do. However, the values that are propelling all our votes are the same.
Here is an example. We might all share a value and religious belief that we need to help the poor. That leads us, personally, to oppose raising the minimum wage. After studying the topic, we think that the result is exactly the opposite; raising the minimum wage harms those who have the most difficulty taking that first step onto the employment ladder. In fact, we might arrive at the decision that government ought not to be coming between two people who arrive at an employment agreement. Someone else may, perfectly sincerely, come to a different conclusion. We can engage in an honest and respectful conversation sharing our sources and trying to come to an agreement on what should be done to help the poor.
A sincere Bible-based argument can be made that ‘society’ or government shouldn’t be doing anything at all to ‘help the poor’. Instead this is to be done only by willing individuals. Of course this question has political overtones but surely it ought also to be discussed by Bible-believers not only by secular fundamentalists.
In our day and age, as the political parties increasingly split on fundamental values, it is hard to see how you can discuss any meaningful topic without touching politics. In 1864 a preacher could have given a sermon on how many angels dance on the head of a pin, but we wouldn’t have returned to hear his next sermon. If a religious leader wouldn’t talk about slavery and secession, then he was irrelevant.
We don’t mean to say that teaching Scripture should be replaced with political diatribes. It should not. But God has much to say on marriage and money, on gender, compassion and justice. Avoiding these subjects or teaching in a way that allows everyone to come to his or her own conclusions isn’t true teaching.
Sometimes the forces of evil try to dissuade pastors from discussing controversial issues from a Biblical perspective by crying out ‘Separation of church and state!’ Other times they threaten a church’s tax exempt status. However, a religious leader who shirks the hard duty of telling me what God would want me to do is of very limited use to me.
A great rabbi of the 18th century advised a young rabbi at the start of his career, “If everyone in your congregation likes you, you aren’t a rabbi; if no one likes you, you aren’t a man.”
Even one of the greatest Hebrew leaders of all time, Mordechai, was liked only by “most” of his brethren, but not by “all” of them.
For Mordecai the Jew was viceroy to King Ahasuerus, and great among the Jews and accepted by most of his brethren; seeking the good of his people and speaking peace to all their seed.
We encourage you to find churches headed by brave and principled leaders.
Be strong and of good courage,
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin