For Religious People, One’s Personal Faith Is Political

For Religious People, One’s Personal Faith Is Political

A year ago today (as I write this on Wednesday), I woke up to a level of dread I could barely bear. In what is still inexplicable to me, the  unforeseen upset had occurred; Trump had won the election.

A friend had called me about 10 pm the night before, as we watched election returns from different states, and as the electoral college slipped from the possibility of a Clinton win. We commiserated over the phone while we our stomachs and hopes crashed. At the end of the call, she said, “How could we have done this to our children?”

As the months have dragged on slowly and miserably, I keep hearing the echo of that question, but it’s become, “How could we do this to our nation?” A German friend offers another version, “How could the U.S. have done this to the world?”

Wednesday this week we woke up to some promising, good news, better election results: dissatisfaction with Trump is translating into the victories for opponents of his agenda, positions and behavior. It feels like a bit of hope — maybe this Presidency is just a short-term bout of madness, a detour after the nation’s horribly mistaken wrong turn (rather than an irreversible descent into authoritarian nationalism that could spell the end of our republic)?

Wait, you might wonder after these first four paragraphs, isn’t the E-pistle a religious — not a partisan political — reflection? Yes, and that’s what I want to challenge you to this week. If the personal is political, can faith be anything less than political too? Because there is nothing more personal than one’s faith in God or self-understanding before God.

We tend to be a congregation of people who mostly identify as Democrats, progressive ones at that. So much of the legislative agenda around which the Republican-dominated Congress is hanging on to Trump, as well as the policy actions of his administration, are anathema to us.

But, more deeply, or pointedly, are we who we find ourselves to be politically because of what we believe about God? Do you trace your political positions back to your faith? Do you make your religious beliefs your most basic truth? If so, do you make the connections between what you believe because of Jesus Christ and what he’s teaching you about discipleship and faithfulness AND where you come out on political issues?

Thursday I was part of a conversation of pastors in Norristown about how the Conference’s Justice and Witness Ministry Team can prompt congregations and individuals to act effectively for justice. The assumption in the United Church of Christ is that doing justice is a primary form of service: it strengthens the church, gives form to individual’s faith and transforms the world.

Does our faith inform or form or supercharge our politics?

Beloved, we confess as “Lord and Savior” a rural peasant who became an itinerant Jewish preacher — with no claim on the power or privilege of his day. He was an outsider on so many levels. His already internally-displaced family had had to seek asylum in another nation in the face of threats by an insecure, but murderous despot. He was never of the Jerusalem elite; and he spoke and acted against the interests of the religious and political establishment of his day.

He taught his followers to love and pray for their enemies, for God’s sake! He held his disciples responsible for feeding the hungry crowd. He warned that when we fail at our duties to the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick, the outcast, the prisoner — when we fail any of these people, we fail him, leaving him to suffer.

Jesus found room at his Table for those who the society of his day said had no business there. He welcomed tax collectors, but his embrace caused them to repent of their service to the Empire. He welcomed women with no apparent husband and those with too many husbands. He was described as the Great Physician for his success at healing..His first disciples, in faithfulness, walked away from their families and livelihoods and eventually gave up private property and held all things in common, especially so the most needy might be cared for.

81% of our conservative, white co-religionists supported President Trump in the last election. It’s an unlikely political alliance, if the whole of their Christian faith is what’s behind their votes. It’s curious, how their candidate doesn’t really fit a typical conservative church profile! He really is sort of an odd crusader for their causes: he a bragging womanizer, a self-professed sexual predator, a gambling mogul with a penchant for pathological lying who got himself elected on a campaign of unbridled hate, fear-mongering, bigotry, racism and more lying…

Their support often, it seems to me, comes down to one possibility and two issues: his Christian supporters assumption that Trump is the candidate who could populate the Supreme Court to strike down women’s right to abortion and to reverse the equal rights of queer folk.

Of course, alongside of those two hot-button issues, there was added endless rejection of Trump’s African-American predecessor and some vehement claims to protecting our borders, our products and our workers.

But if our politics as Christians is supposed to come from our faith:

How can followers of Jesus support taking away the health care of millions of people?

How can the followers of Jesus support tax breaks for the rich — at the expense of the middle class and poor and programs that serve them?

How can followers of Jesus support scapegoating Mexicans and Muslims?

How can followers of Jesus stand by while refugee asylum is curtailed, children raised in the US or their parents are deported, and foreign grandparents are no longer eligible for family reunion under immigration?

How can followers of Jesus stand by while the federal legislation and policies enacted to protect the environment are dismantled and the US is the only nation that isn’t part of the Paris Accords?

How can followers of Jesus support actions of the Justice Department that at best has become irregular if not outrightly political in when and how to prosecute justice?

Ok, I am wrong to be focusing on what look to me like contradictions between the faith and politics of our conservative co-religionists. My point is to ask us to examine ourselves. To suggest we begin with our faith… what we say is most true, good and real. And from there, draw our political positions… from who we believe God is, what we discern God wants and what we hear God asking of us.

Beloved, basic to our faith is the understanding that God’s saving grace in Jesus Christ is offered to us for free. But in thanksgiving for such a gift, we’re called to a radical sort of life, in which self-denial, inclusivity, generosity, mercy, compassion, humility are what we offer others, in our own, limited ways trying to be a little bit like God.

See you in Church,
Michael