We in the United States are less than two weeks away from nation-wide elections in the middle of an economic crash wrapped in a COVID pandemic and fried in “science sucks” with a side of a high-stakes Supreme Court nomination.
We will soon know what kind of United States of America people have voted for, what kind of leaders we have chosen.
We will also decide what kind of nation we will become.
We have become a nation that has:
- Denied science in matters of medicine, environment, and economics
- Separated migrant children from their families, hundreds with no way to be returned
- Perpetuated white supremacy structures and economic oppression for BIPOC people
- Kept repealing, but never replacing, Obamacare health care for all
- Rolled back protections and full inclusion for those who are LGBTQIA
- Left our prominent role on the world stage
- 221,000+ COVID-19 deaths and the accompanying long-term illnesses, grief, economic crash, food insecurity
- Lied with impunity
When we voted, apparently, most of us have voted for the people who brought us that.
We clergy are voters and pastors of voters. Some — most? all? — of us voted for that. Our parishioners come to church not understanding why the “pastoral is political.” What’s a pastor to do if not make a connection between, say, Jesus feeding 5,000 hungry people and the hungry people in our community? Yet how often do we Jesus-following, Bible-based clergy hear some variation of: “I don’t come here to hear about current events. Church should be a break from current events. Stay out of politics. Stay in your lane, pastor!”
Thoughtful pastors then wonder how to walk that line between the pastoral and the political. If we don’t preach justice, how will those in our congregation make the connection between their church life and the voting booth?
A modest proposal:
What if we gave our “we want to hear about God” parishioners even more of what they are asking for?
What if we more fully invited our congregations into that pastor/church lane?
Let’s begin with baptism — as we do!
Why baptism? Because baptism matters. That’s hard to argue with. Otherwise, why does our Christian life begin with baptism? (Not a rhetorical question. The answer matters. How would you answer? How can you equip your congregation to answer?)
Our baptism is the very first thing that we in church have in common. Before we came together at this address, with this pastor, each of us was baptized. How would it change our congregation — and each of us in it — if we identified less with the building or the pastor or church cliques? How can we maximize the unity found in the shared identity/experience of our baptism?
Baptism has unifying potential. Baptism also has clarifying potential. People need to know what baptism in our church signifies. Maybe it means that when you die, you will go to heaven. Or does baptism change life on this side of eternity? Do I affirm my congregation’s view of baptism? What difference does it make?
Theology matters. Baptism theology matters. As theology professionals, Christian theology is uniquely our clergy lane. We have the knowledge, the desire, and the authorization to place each baptism firmly in church/life context, to emphasize the promises, and to elicit authentic responses. More than a one-off photo-op day, baptism is a beginning of a radical new orientation to life. What do baptism promises say? How will they be hard to keep? Why should we? What church year days would be especially good for re-emphasizing baptism? What life passages? What lectionary texts? Perhaps each gathering?
Because traditions and methods and liturgy differ, each pastor has the opportunity to affirm the meaning found in their particular one. In our pastor lane, we can teach/affirm our own tradition and connect current situations with the promises made at baptism (or upon confirmation of baptism). How would a deeper understanding of their baptism enrich your congregants’ lives? Clarify congregation decision-making? Increase appreciation of vocation — in church and in the world?
Imagine a congregation whose members live as though baptism matters both inside and outside of church.
Imagine “what does my/our baptism say about that?” entering into decision making.
Imagine “what does my/our baptism have to do with that?” informing priorities.
Imagine “my/our vocation” out of the mouths of not-the-pastor.
The first election day choice is not who we are voting for but who we are voting as. Do we cast our vote from our baptized identity as “God’s own” — or vote from political party or family tradition?
Baptism begets political. Being baptized into the Jesus way leads to “liberation and justice for all,” good news preaching, and resistance actions. Because baptism, always find us in that lane.
Rev. Sharon M. Temple is a United Church of Christ pastor living in Austin, TX. She is a contributor to the RevGals book There’s a Woman in the Pulpit and blogs erratically at Tidings of Comfort and Joy.
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4 thoughts on “Pastoral is Political: “Pastor, Stay in Your Lane!””
I once had a man storm out of worship when I said, “ free the prisoner.” He said I should not preach defiance to the law. I told him I wasn’t preaching at that point, I was only reading the morning scripture which was Matthew 25.
Sometimes, you can’t help but be political.
“ Baptism has unifying potential. Baptism also has clarifying potential. ” That is so true and powerful. Wouldn’t it be a fun act of Holy Mischief to give our flock a way to remember their Baptism while they were in line to vote?
Good thoughts. It’s so easy to be sucked into the polarization that Jesus transcended to live the way of the Spirit. He fed people without getting political about it–transcending the delusion of win-lose.