Can you think of a word more maligned than “politics”?
Some people believe it’s a dirty term affixed to a despicable craft. That’s because, for the most part, it’s practiced so poorly.
People watch politicians engage in politics, and they see division, retribution, intimidation, retaliation, stagnation, domination and corruption. They also see politics attached to practically every public issue that matters — from religious liberty, to policing, civil rights, climate change, voter access and how to overcome COVID. And they think talking about any of those issues is “political.”
Small wonder, then, when pastors address anything other than a narrow range of sins and salvation, parishioners say, “Preacher, I wish you wouldn’t be so political.” In other words: “Don’t address issues that impact our families, communities, nation and world, because we probably won’t agree. And the pundits say if we disagree, we have to be angry. So, don’t be ‘political.’” Or still: “We don’t know how to get along, so don’t address anything about which we might disagree. We won’t be able to get back together.”
Actually, politics should be vital rather than divisive. It’s necessary and need not be nasty. Politics should heal rather than harm, build rather than break, strengthen rather than strangle.
At its most basic, politics is the collaborative art of community decision-making. Congregations practice politics when they vote on painting the worship center as surely as Congress practices politics when members pass a federal budget.
To be sure, politics is toxic these days. But the poison in the pudding is not politics per se; it is partisanship.
Partisanship treats politics as a zero-sum, winner-take-all death match. Partisanship disdains the political craft of compromise. It disavows any quest for the common good. Partisanship treats those who disagree as the enemy who must be vanquished. Partisanship defaults to anger as the emotion of choice and shouting as the preferred tone.
“The poison in the pudding is not politics per se; it is partisanship.”
Problem is, partisanship is a death spiral. It offers no solutions. It provides no path forward. And even its “winners” eventually lose, because what partisanship destroys — benevolent will, public trust, the greater good — is vital for everyone.
Fellowship Southwest advocates for healthy politics — from congregational to global levels. We believe God inspires people of faith as well as people of no faith to collaborate with open minds, loving hearts and accepting spirits. We believe the way ahead is steep and rocky, but wide enough to accommodate all of us. In fact, we navigate it best when all of us climb together.
So, people may call Fellowship Southwest “political,” and we embrace the name. We strive never to be partisan, even when many erroneously call those who do not agree with them “partisan.” We will work openly, transparently, seeking the voices of all who see the world as God’s good creation and all humans as God’s very good creatures.
And here’s the key to understanding our approach: We will champion the cause of the powerless, the vulnerable and the disenfranchised. Jesus said the way we treat them is the way we treat him. We always want to return to Jesus — and to the creatures who bear his likeness — the love he has placed in our hearts.
Marv Knox is the founder of Fellowship Southwest, an interdenominational missions and advocacy group serving the Southwestern United States.
In praise of political preaching | Opinion by Alan Bean
Preaching is inherently political — but not partisan | Opinion by Andrew Gardner
In this election season, I am partisan to the gospel first and last | Opinion by George Mason