Politics hard to keep off pulpit
SUMMIT COUNTY – Religious perspectives and politics will inevitably intersect at times, but in recent years the division between the two seems increasingly fuzzy.Pacifist churches stand against war, Lutheran churches advocate for the poor and those with little or no political power, and the Catholic church has taken a strong stand against abortion and gay marriage. In some ways politics and religions will always be tied together since people’s values and morals translate into laws, area pastors said. And while one pastor said politics is an avenue to carry out biblical justice, another said the relationship is a bit of a paradox.”There is a clear boundary, and it’s been violated at times,” said the Rev. Nathan Woodliff-Stanley, of the High County Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, who also writes a monthly column for the Summit Daily News.
The problem is when politics comes before religion, instead of the other way around, and serving the needs of the congregation should be the church’s primary purpose, Woodliff-Stanley said.But, “if I couldn’t preach about justice, human rights … there’s a whole segment of our tradition that I couldn’t address,” he said. “It flows naturally that we care about the world we live in. We couldn’t be who we are and not speak out on issues of justice.”The Unitarian Universalist Association strongly supports gay and lesbian rights and strongly opposes the current war. Woodliff-Stanley has participated in peace rallies and the fellowship has taken positions on ballot initiatives. But there is a difference between speaking out on an issue and formal candidate endorsements or party contributions, he said.”We have a very politically active congregation, but they do it as individuals,” Woodliff-Stanley said.From inside the pulpit, political campaigning activity is banned and lobbying is limited. Legal restrictions about political involvement exist because of churches’ nonprofit status, Woodliff-Stanley said, adding that he likes the rules the way they are.”I don’t want to change that rule. … I don’t want candidates asking for the church’s endorsement,” he said.Woodliff-Stanley has seen abuses of the system and too much alliance, particularly with the “religious right,” he said. “Some states’ party structure and religious body can’t be distinguished. … Jesus was concerned about the poor and the needs of the weakest,” he said. “It’s a real scandal to ally itself (religion) with the wealthy and the powerful.”
The question about the role of politics in the church reminded the Rev. Mike Atkinson, of Agape Outpost Chapel, of a quote, “If you mix ice cream with manure, the manure isn’t improved any and the ice cream is ruined.”
“Religion doesn’t help politics much and the politics messes up the religion,” he said. “It’s a paradox for me. We need to be involved in politics, but the only way to change our nation is to change the hearts of our people. … We can’t change people’s hearts through politics.”As individuals, faith plays a role in politics because people will support and vote for those who are in the same “moral ballpark,” Atkinson said.Also, Christians should live as good, moral citizens “not because the government requires it, but because God requires it.” “If you live in love like God requires, than politics becomes much less a control issue and legislate everything to death issue,” he said.Citizens should worry about loving each other and living for a greater good, Atkinson said. “If we don’t do that, than all the laws in the world won’t make it a better place,” Atkinson said.
The Rev. Kari Reiquam, of Lord of the Mountains church in Dillon, said speaking for the poor and those who are unable to speak for themselves is a way the Lutheran church is politically involved. An Advocacy Ministry is at the state Legislature to represent them and encourage public policies which protect human rights.”To be part of the church is to be interested in justice,” Reiquam said, adding that working for biblical justice in today’s world generally takes a path through the political world.Part of the church’s role is “developing and supporting things that are good, that give everyone a chance,” Reiquam said. Also, a life of faith means having hope to change the world, she added.Reiquam encourages the congregation to educate themselves on issues, listen to each other and carefully consider all sides, she said. Basically, the church helps guide and offers council without giving the members an agenda or siding with a political party. “We don’t get up and say vote this way or that,” Reiquam added.One example of an issue the congregation discussed is hospitality. Afterward, they wrote a statement of hospitality saying they welcome all people, including gays and lesbians who often times do not feel welcome in a church, Reiquam said.
All authority on earth has been allowed by God, said Scott Wilson, a coach for Summit House Church Network and leader of the locally well-known Big Red Bus crew.”We should elect officials that we believe are going to represent our belief system, but that’s not Christian, that’s anybody,” Wilson said. As Christians, people need to vote their conscience and be able to discuss issues in open debate without attacking each other, he added.”Let’s don’t let politics separate us,” Wilson said. “I believe what I would teach as far as politics is concerned is that … we need to support and pray for our nation’s leaders whether we agree with them or not. … It is un-Christian to badmouth. We need to not be hypocritical and take a look at how we make choices and treat others. I believe that is truly what Jesus did. We never see him getting involved in political affairs.”Still, that doesn’t mean the church should be neutral, because values spill into laws, Wilson said. The church should be careful about how they position themselves, which should always be in a genuine, loving way. “Should we send people to Washington? Should we force people to believe what we believe? Heavens no,” he said. “I don’t want a nation that says everyone has to be Christian.”