Presbyterians and Politics

This has been an historic week, politically speaking. As I write this on Thursday morning, the Iowa vote tally from Tuesday’s caucuses is still incomplete, and anxiety pervades the democratic process.

Yesterday, the Senate voted not to remove President Trump from office at the end of a long season of impeachment hearings and trial. Utah Senator Mitt Romney, who broke with his Republican counterparts to find the president guilty on one article of impeachment, is being hailed as a “profile in courage” by some and a traitor by others. Personally, in this season of divisive gridlock in Washington, I was deeply moved by his speech that invoked his faith in God and his reckoning with his conscience on the toughest decision of his political career.

A lot of folks misunderstand our historic tenet of the separation of church and state and think that religion and politics don’t mix. The First Amendment of the Constitution assures that the government will protect our freedom of religious faith and practice, but the practice of our religion does not prohibit our political engagement. To the contrary, Presbyterians are heirs to a theological tradition that impels us to practice our faith in the public square.

The Declaration of Faith articulates this calling from a biblical and theological perspective saying:

The church lives within political communities.
Throughout its history the church has struggled
to be faithful to God in different political situations:
under persecution,
as an established arm of the state,
or in separation from it.
We believe God rules over both state and church.
We must confuse neither with the Kingdom of God.
We hold Christians are to be law-abiding citizens
unless the state commands them to disobey God.
We should not expect the state
to impose Christian faith by legislation,
or to give the church a privileged position.
The church must be free to speak to the state,
neither claiming expert knowledge it does not have,
nor remaining silent when God’s Word is clear.

I find myself praying for clarity these days in figuring out how I, as an individual and as the pastor of this congregation, will practice my faith in the political process. Recognizing that I serve a church where there is a broad spectrum of political perspectives, I hope our congregation can model civility in this time of crude incivility. We will disagree on how to engage our faith in the political process, but we still gather around the same gospel that compels us to work for the common good, to strive for justice for all people, to exercise compassion, to work for peace, to turn away from evil and turn toward the way of Jesus Christ. These are all matters of faith, and these are all matters of political engagement. I hope you will join me in praying for clarity and consider bold action based on where your faith and conscience leads.

As the Declaration of Faith concludes:

The people of God have often misused God’s promises
as excuses for doing nothing about present evils.
But in Christ the new world has already broken in
and the old can no longer be tolerated.
We know we cannot bring in God’s kingdom.
But hope plunges us into the struggle
for victories over evil that are possible now
in the world, the church, and our individual lives.
It gives us courage and energy
to contend against all opposition,
however invincible it may seem,
for the new world and the new humanity
that are surely coming.