Date: July 3, 2016
Title: “All Religion is Political”
Preaching: The Rev. Donna M.L. Pritchard
Scripture: Galatians 6:7-10
Okay, so you strolled into worship this morning happy, relaxed, calm, even feeling quite “Zen-like”. And then, you opened the bulletin and looked at the sermon title – All Religion is Political – and you immediately began looking for the emergency exits! Religion and politics…oh my!
Well, before we go any further, let me remind you, you asked for it! Maybe not you individually, but several of you collectively asked for a sermon considering the role of faith in world affairs, and the connection of our spiritual lives with our civic lives. So here goes…
Mahatma Gandhi once said those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion is. I suspect they just might be a little confused about politics as well! I looked up the definition of politics. The word itself comes from a Greek word politikos, which means “of, for, or relating to citizens.” That seems pretty harmless, right? Otto von Bismarck, the first Chancellor of Germany, defined politics as the art of the possible, the attainable, or the art of the next best. At its core, politics is simply about finding common ground for the common good.
Finding common ground for the common good –is certainly a central part of our life of faith as well. The letter to the Galatians exhorts us:
Let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time if we do not give up. Whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all…
Let us find common ground for the common good. Theologian and social activist Jim Wallis puts it this way:
Christian conversion involves more than just the destiny of the soul; it involves the way we live in the world…Faith must be lived out in our public life for the common good.
There is an intimate connection between religion and politics which goes beyond particular candidates or particular political parties. It is a connection beyond present circumstances and even beyond past practices. There is a connection between our faith and the world which goes all the way back to the Hebrew prophets calling for justice and mercy and righteousness. Rabbi Dennis Ross, in his All Politics is Religious tells us:
To those who say that religion belongs in the house of worship or in the heart, I want to say, see how the Hebrew Bible was the original publicist and the Bible’s figures were religious lobbyists. Religious voices have always filled the public square, with the Hebrew Bible being the original “messaging tool”, “talking points” and “spin” included.
When Moses went to Pharaoh with his demand “Let my people go!”, he was engaging in the political drama of his day. When Jeremiah bought a field, paying good money for a desolate land from which the people had already been drive into exile, he was lobbying for a future filled with hope. When Micah spells out for us what we already know, that God wants us to “Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God”, and when the apostle Pal exhorts us to care for others and to be actively engaged in the common good by “Rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep, living in harmony with one another and always taking thought for what is noble in the sight of all”… we see that the Rabbi is right. We understand his point that Advocacy is a long-standing religious tradition, and there is a crying need for new and strong religious voices in our day.
The question, then, is not “if” but “how” we will participate. The choice is not between silence and speech, but it is a choice between self-interest and common interest. Abraham Lincoln gave perhaps the greatest insight of all time into the relationship between politics and religion when he said:
My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side.
We ought not spend time and energy trying to convince others that God is on our side. We need to spend considerable time and energy figuring out if we are on God’s side. Again, in Jim Wallis’ words:
Trying to be on God’s side requires much more humility and grace. It means submitting our claim of national supremacy, our economic values and practices, our tribe’s special place, and even our faith’s religious domination to moral scrutiny. It means seeing God’s purposes ahead of our own self-interest. It means loving our neighbors, even when they are in a group different from ours, and even when they are our enemies.
Now I know it is difficult to consistently let go of what we perceive as our own self-interest. We can become so attached to it that we don’t even recognize the selfishness in it. It is easy enough to deceive ourselves into thinking we are only doing what is best, and never ask the question, “best for whom?” And then along comes this Galatian passage…Let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, only if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all…
United Methodist pastor Adam Hamilton suggests:
The most serious threat to America’s future is not radical Islam; it is the fact that we cannot talk to each other about issues that matter to us. No one can doubt that we are deeply divided in this nation. Consider these statistics if you will…
In 1984, when asked how they felt about people of the opposite political party, 17% of Republicans viewed Democrats unfavorably, while 16% of Democrats thought poorly of Republicans. (Not of their politics or their policies, but of who they are as individuals)
Today, when asked the same question, 43% of Republicans and 38% of Democrats have unfavorable views of their opponents.
People are more concerned today if their child marries someone of a different political party than they are if that same child marries someone of a different religion!
Most of us here today would agree with Hamilton’s assertion that our political system is in some ways broken. We have entered a difficult and even a deadly time of selfishness in civic life, where winning has apparently become more important than serving, and posturing has become more prevalent than problem solving.
Which is why, we must remember who we are. We are ambassadors of Christ, called to be agents of change and purveyors of hope. We are the ones who are supposed to remember what Jesus taught, that the sum of all the ethics and all the religious laws can be captured in one short phrase…Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. We are the ones who are to teach the world about the interconnectedness of loving God and loving our neighbors, because Jesus taught us that you cannot do one without the other.
On this July 4th weekend, we give thanks for the hope and the freedom of being an American. But we would do well to remember that freedom is not free, any more than faith is a solitary consideration. Bill Maher put it this way:
It shouldn’t be a bragging point that “Oh, I don’t get involved in politics”, as if that makes you somehow cleaner. No – that makes you derelict of duty in a republic.
Likewise, it cannot be a point of pride to say that “Oh, my church is not political”, as if that would make us somehow more spiritual. No, that would only make us deaf to the call of God and blind to the Kin-dom Jesus has already ushered in. The truth is, my friends, that whether you like it or not, whether you are comfortable with it or not, we are called to be people of faith living in this world. And in the final analysis, that means that All Religion is Political. Thanks be to God! Amen.