The night of the election, my best friends all gathered to watch what America had predicted would be the decimation of a bully who sorely had it coming. Millennial Democrats and Millennials who complain that Democrats aren’t liberal enough all stuffing popcorn waiting to tell America, “I told you so.”
Then the room got quiet and we left in silent disbelief.
The day after the election I was a mess. I woke up and had a panic attack. The first panic attack I have had in years. I felt like I had gotten on a roller coaster and it had permanently stopped upside down.
But of all things it was going to work at my church made up of equal parts Republicans, Democrats, and Independents that gave me hope.
And before I go into how and why our church is one of the few politically diverse congregations in our increasingly divided country, I want to assure you that my finding hope there is not because I don’t care about politics.
I’m a VERY politically engaged pastor.
I protest on freeways, I rant on Facebook
I call and tweet at my Senators, I wear a feminist hat to church everyday…
But one thing I never do is preach about political issues from the pulpit. Now many of my politically engaged pastor friends have called me out on this—that I have the luxury of white straight privilege to avoid having to address political issues. That deep down I just want to save my job.
And I have thought long and hard about why I don’t preach about political issues.
But I really believe that it comes from having sat in the pews through A LOT of political speeches from the pulpit.
I grew up in a suburban Evangelical church. A church where ‘liberal’ and ‘democrat’ were low level swear words. Where being pro-life was the measure of a person’s moral compass. After 9/11 my pastor give a 40 minute sermon on how Saddam Hussein was the new Nebuchadnezzar – and for all you non-Bible nerds that’s the guy who threw those 3 young godly men into the fiery furnace. And in my time at that church I never met a self-proclaimed Christian Democrat or a Christian Progressive. I didn’t even know such thing existed.
Then I studied Marxist philosophy and read about the Social Gospel of Martin Luther King Jr. and became convinced that if the pulpit had any meaning at all in the 21st Century it was only to decry injustice at every turn. I joined a small liberal congregation where being pro-choice was the measure of a person’s moral compass. And I head my pastor give a long sermon on how housing policies in our city had driven homeless people to seek refuge in our church, “and it was our Christian calling to stand up against these policies!” I preached political sermons until one person who pulled me aside to sheepishly admit feeling judged for being the lone Republican at church.
I have become convinced that when you preach political issues from the pulpit it has a way of making those statements feel anointed. As if they are platforms from God. And within three years the pastor will be asked to leave, or nearly everyone who disagrees with the pastor will leave.
I have seen it time and time again.
Hearts and minds were not changed, but relationships were broken and people stopped talking. And that church will become one more place where politics have divided our country.
And even as I type this I hear Martin Luther King Jr.’s words from the Birmingham Jail in my ear. The white pastors in Birmingham saying “Wait, wait! We aren’t ready to talk about freedom for African Americans!” as MLK and his friends sit in jail.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I talk about politics with my congregants. A LOT.
Several times a month, I call up some of my congregants to talk about a local or national political issue. And they pick up the phone excited to go back and forth with me.
I like to get a circle of people around the coffee pot at church and tear into the latest new story. There are a few choir members who wait for me at 8 pm to roll over the day’s. And we talk until the janitor tells us he needs to lock up.
I write articles and many of my conservative and progressive congregants read these articles.
And the people I talk to the most about politics are the people I disagree with most.
I love to talk with our amazing 2nd grade Sunday School teacher who is a lifelong Republican and a fierce advocate of our After School program for at-risk children, most of whom are children of color.
I get great insights on how things used to be from the older couple who are committed to mentoring inmates at the prison. They are compassionate people who believe that people in generational poverty need a mentor and a social safety net.
I talk to a former cop who criticizes Black Lives Matter – knowing full well that I protest with BLM. We disagree on the effectiveness of protesting but agree that there is a real race relations problem.
The morning after the election I had a conversation with an excited Trump supporter who helped me see that even as an excited Trump voter he thought that he was a morally suspect person, which he reminded me was something that Democrats said a lot about Bill Clinton in the 90’s.
If you ask people at my church they will tell you I am pretty much always up for a discussion about political issues.
But I am not up for a sermon about it. That is an hour for our church to focus on loving God and loving their neighbor. I preach on Kingdom values. Like blessed are the poor. But I leave it to our congregants to decide how our government can best help us in blessing the poor. I leave that discussion for the coffee hour.
Because I have learned that if I preach a political platform – pretty soon there won’t be anyone I disagree with to talk to in the coffee hour.
And my conservative friends give me hope in a time when I really need some hope. They help me re-frame my liberal rants into something conservative people could hear. They engage with my ideas and don’t make it personal in a time where its so easy to get personal. And our faith is not on the line. We don’t accuse one another of being bad Christians.
I’m not willing to trade these relationships that mean so much to me for a 12 minute political rant. Especially when the best part of talking about politics with my congregation is hearing from them.