Election season is upon us here in the United States, and this year seems to be a bit more contentious. Even throughout the primary season, friends who are usually on the same political side have verbally sparred with us over which party candidate is the best. As the general election looms on the horizon, we see how even more divisive conversations in our communities will be.
It’s going to get messy, and many of us will want to say something when an unkind remark is said about our candidate on a Sunday morning. Instead, we retreat upon our usual stance when it comes to the harsh political comments surrounding us: we bite our tongues.
Of course, in churches, we are absolutely unable to endorse candidates or parties from the pulpit. And while this is a tax issue, in many ways, not being allowed to support a specific candidate from the pulpit may help keep the unity in our pews. Most of our churches are not fully progressive or conservative, and a variety of views are held by the people in our sanctuaries.
Many of us will err on the side of biting our tongues when others in our congregation say something positive about the candidate who we disagree with the most. To us, safety abides when we keep our mouths firmly closed.
But even if we are limited by what we say from the pulpit, this does not mean we are to bury our prophetic voices completely. For one thing, in our personal lives, we can get involved with the campaigns of those with whom we agree and whose efforts we support. We can assemble on the steps of courthouses with others as we stand for issues.
When we hear something extremely frustrating coming from the mouth of a candidate, we don’t need to fully bite our tongue. Our call is to be creative in how we address the hate and injustice floating around our communities and in society.
From the pulpit, we can talk about the harm of sexism and back it up with the stories of Vashti and Tamar. We can address racism and reflect upon the story of the Syrophoenecian woman in Mark 7. We can talk about the plight of the single parent and mention Hagar’s struggle as she tries to survive with Ishmael. We can preach on the need for health care and speak on Jeremiah 8:22 and Jesus’ healing narratives. We can talk about our care for the incarcerated as we preach on Matthew 25 and Isaiah 61. We do not have to mention candidates or parties to promote justice and love from our churches.
Additionally, we can organize information sessions and dialogues within our congregations. For every justice issue there are scripture verses to support righteousness in our world, and we are called to continue the conversations in our pursuit to make the world more just. Our call as church leaders is to ensure that we don’t stop talking about issues.
Furthermore, what we always should remember is that Jesus never bit his tongue. He managed to be prophetic and, in doing so, alienating people along the way. When he saw how people were selling items at unfair rates in the temple, he managed to throw over the tables in protest of the unjust practices. He healed the sick on the Sabbath and touched the unclean. Jesus was not one to ever shy away from edgy issues and actions.
If we work to attain the faith of Jesus, being prophetic is part of who we are, and that takes great courage. Repeatedly, God affirms our need to be “strong and courageous” as we see various call stories, including Joshua’s after the death of Moses. God affirms Paul’s risky work God says to him in Acts 18:9 “Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent.” Even when we are called to be prophetic, what is the most crucial is our tone. Conversations must be full of civility and God’s love, making sure to listen to what our dialogue companions are saying and respond with respect.
May the power of the Holy Spirit bestow upon us courage as we develop our prophetic voices, and may the metaphorical biting of our tongues eventually cease as we find the strength of God within us.
For guidelines on how to engage in politics throughout this election year, please see “Our Faith, Our Vote, Our Voice” from the United Church of Christ. To see how to promote civil dialogue, please see “Being a Civil Voice in Uncivil Times.”
The Rev. Michelle L. Torigian is the Pastor of St. Paul United Church of Christ, Old Blue Rock Road in Cincinnati. Her essay “Always a Pastor, Never the Bride” was in the RevGalBlogPals book There’s a Woman in the Pulpit. Torigian blogs at www.michelletorigian.com.