Political Theology Today A Forum for inter-disciplinary and inter-religious dialogue among clergy, scholars, students, and activists

Standing in Witness

equality justice

Pastors are told all the time that we shouldn’t be political, or at least this pastor hears it. It is usually said by people who don’t agree with my politics, because the people who like my political views cheer me on with gusto.

Or it is said by people who believe the church should exist in a different realm, a more heavenly and peaceful realm, than the earthly one we experience every day, where people squabble and fight.

And I believe there are moments when pastors should not be political. When I am in the pulpit, I would never endorse a particular candidate or party. On one level, this is simply because I don’t presume a congregation should all vote the same way, or share my political affiliation.

But on a more important level, endorsing a candidate from the pulpit could conflate the Gospel message with the platform of a political party. This would grossly devalue the Gospel. You might even call it idolatry—mistaking the source of our salvation.  Why believe in an American political figure or party when you can put your faith in Almighty God?

Sadly, what counts as politics in our nation’s capitol today is really just partisan fighting and turf guarding. Congress seems to vote down the other side’s ideas, even if they agree with them, just because they don’t want their opponent to succeed. Or, as recently happened with gun control legislation, they refused to enact any kind of legislation, even as 90% of Americans were in favor of it. Are they so deeply in the pockets of lobbyists? Or has ‘compromise’ become an antiquated concept?

I’m not a fan of partisan bickering, posturing, and obstructionism. Such attitudes don’t serve the people. They don’t belong in either our faith or our civic life.

But I think we need to reclaim the good understanding of what it means to be political.  The word “politic” comes straight into English from Greek  politikos, “of, for, or relating to the citizens”. So anytime we advocate for or speak out about things that affect our lives together as citizens, we are being political.

And we need much more of that kind of politics in our faith life.

Because both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament instruct us to care for the poor, the widow, the orphan. We are called to speak for those who have no voice. It isn’t in spite of our faith that we should get involved. It is because of our faith.
The one prevailing political concept politicians want to rally around these days is the Tax Cut. This is touted as a sacred good that will increase business activity. It is also offered because people seem to distrust what the government would do with their money. And tax cuts feel good. Everyone likes more money in their pockets.

Here’s the problem. When taxes are cut too much, the ability of the government to function is compromised. We see that playing out in the sequester right now. Since congress has refused to approve a budget, cuts are being made almost across the board. People protested when air traffic controller cuts delayed their air travel. But why are we not standing in witness against the cuts to Head Start Preschool programs, job training programs, food distribution programs, medicaid, or other social services?

The state of North Carolina is considering an overhaul of their tax policy. Reducing income tax across the board and making almost all purchases and transactions subject to a sales tax. It would also remove a current provision that allows non-profit groups to get refunds on sales taxes they pay.

“That’s a fair approach for taxes because everyone pays something,” Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said in presenting the plan last week. “Everyone has control over how much you’re taxed. The more you spend, the more you pay. The less you spend, the less you pay.”

The question North Carolina will have to consider is if Sen. Berger is correct. Is it fair to increase the taxes poor North Carolinians will have to pay, as they buy groceries, go to the doctor, get their car repaired, etc as wealthy North Carolinians will get income tax breaks?

 

There are many people in North Carolina who do not believe the “equality” of the proposed tax changes is equivalent to justice. And so they are gathering at the capitol building to stand as witness.

The retired pastor in the video is being political, but not partisan. He’s calling for Moral Mondays, for people of faith to gather in witness against what he sees as unjust tax proposals.

He, and others, were arrested for their presence, for their witness, so there is no guarantee there won’t be consequences to being political. But there are clear consequences if we aren’t political too. People denied health care services, children going hungry, and injustice being codified into law. Which consequences concern us more?

Matthew 25:34-36 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

Where does your faith compel you to stand in witness? Gun violence? Marriage equality? Human rights? Social justice? Ecological concerns? Women’s rights? However you stand in witness, the time has come to stop apologizing for being political. Concern for each other is instructed by our Christian faith, and the plight of our fellow citizens is too dire right now to allow us to sit back, uninvolved.

Let’s stand together, in witness.

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