The Politics of Pastoring

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One of the most frequent questions that people ask me when they find out that I am a pastor (other than the classic “you look so young to be a pastor!”) is this:

Do you talk about politics when you preach???

The folks who ask this question are varied–they are young and old, rich and poor, but mostly, they are asking the question from outside the church.  They are genuinely curious–is preaching political?

In a recent blog post, Jan Edminston was reflecting on this question and on what it means for a pastor to be political, and for me at least she touched on something that I have noticed: when people ask this question, they are often assuming that the church as a “position” or a “side” to defend.  They assume that the pastor (that’s me) is out to convert the masses to a liberal or conservative interpretation of the bible.  But, as Jan reminds us, “the bible is an equal opportunity offender.”

What does that mean?  Well, for me it means that the Bible defies our own political categories.  I certainly *could* waste precious preaching time defending the platform of the Green Party, or the Libertarian Party, or any other political movement of the moment. But at the end of the day, the bible has a God Platform, and it doesn’t match up with any of the political identities that we have created.

“My thoughts are not your thoughts, and my ways are not your ways,” preaches Isaiah in the fifty-fifth chapter, reminding us that God has priorities and values that often do not line up with our personal and communal motivations.  Which means that part of following God is learning the platform.  Part of following Jesus is paying attention, not just to what God says, but to what God does.

When I pay attention to Jesus (who, let it be said, paid a heck of a lot of attention to the Hebrew Scriptures), what I see is a rabbi who preached resistance to the political and religious empires of the world.  I see someone who was deeply concerned about the wholeness of the community, which meant that the well-being of the marginalized–the poor, the orphan, the widow, the sick, the outsider–could not be ignored.  I see someone who spent more time preaching about the Kingdom of God and money than he ever wasted on worrying about sex or any of the many varied social issues that so often trip our churches up these days.  And I see someone who was willing to walk straight into the jaws of death at the hands of the empire because he believed fiercely and completely that God was with him.

So am I political in the pulpit?  You bet I am.  But not in the way that most people have grown accustomed to interpreting that phrase.  I don’t waste my time telling people who to vote for; instead, I spend my hours fretting over how to help people put down their own agendas so that they can pick up God’s.  To use a metaphor that a preaching professor once taught me, I spend my days examining Scriptures like a jeweler would a diamond, wondering–what sort light is God bending into the world through this text?  What are we called to see that is unexpected, refracted through the lens of time, culture, and the experience of the holy?  What endures, and what has passed away?  What is God’s agenda here?

To use the words of Jesus: “not my will, but Yours.”

 

 

 

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