People of faith, politics

The Standard March 4, 2020

If your household is like ours you could wallpaper a small bathroom with the campaign ads that arrived in advance of Super Tuesday. One which particularly caught my eye was from a woman running for U.S. Senate with experience as a state senator, teacher, engineer and ordained minister. She currently serves as an associate servant in her church.

In January 2015 the Pew Research Center reported, “Seven ordained ministers hold seats in the new Congress – one more than the number in the very first U.S. Congress (1789-1791). But because Congress was a much smaller body in the late 18th century than it is now – there were 91 members in the first Congress, compared with 535 voting members today- clergy accounted for a far greater percentage of the total membership (nearly 7% in the first Congress vs. 1% in the 114th Congress.)” John Witherspoon, a Presbyterian minister who became the president of what is now called Princeton University, was the only active clergyman to sign the Declaration of Independence. Two or three other signers were former full-time ministers.

Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. spent 13 terms in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1945-1971 while he was the pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City. Closer to home, in November 2017 Diane Moffett, senior pastor of St. James Presbyterian Church, ran for mayor of Greensboro, NC but was defeated.

Mike Huckabee, Al Sharpton, Jerry Falwell, Martin Luther King, Jr., Pat Robertson and Jesse Jackson are just a few ministers who have used their voices in the realm of legislation and public policy to stand up for what they believed to be right.

There is a wide array of opinions on the subject of people of faith and politics. Some find it perfectly acceptable for an active ordained minister to run for public office while others think it would be best if the minister were not serving a church at the time or stayed out of politics altogether. On one end of the continuum is the belief that all people of faith should stay far away from political discussions and activity and the other is that these individuals are the very ones who should be involved deeply in the political process, elected or otherwise. There are a myriad of views between these two. Some see it as an obligation for believers to stand up for what is good and right in any context which presents itself. Others place limitations. Of course, the Internal Revenue Code place restrictions on all non-profit or 501(c)(3) organizations from participating in any political campaign or supporting or opposing in writing or in spoken word any candidate for public office. Voter education guides, voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives may be allowed as long as they are conducted in a non-partisan manner with no bias for one candidate or party over another.

In certain congregations topics like immigration, abortion, gun control and the definition of marriage are addressed from the pulpit because they are viewed as moral issues. In other churches these are considered political and are not preached. There is a lot of gray area here. Scripture tells us to pray for those in authority, to pay taxes, to uphold the dignity of each human being and to work for justice. As Christians we must decide exactly how we are called individually to respond to the political process.

“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and humankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.”(1 Timothy 2:1-6)

Some Pharisees and Herodians were trying to trap Jesus when they asked, “Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?” (Mark 12:14b-15) “Then Jesus said to them, ‘Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.’” (Mark 12: 17)

“This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.” (Romans 13:6-7)

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