Last week, Baptist News Global ran an opinion piece, “In praise of political preaching,” that sought to advocate for political preaching from the pulpits of moderate and progressive congregations. The piece, written by Alan Bean, comes in the wake of President Donald Trump’s loosening of the Johnson Amendment — a law prohibiting non-profit organizations, including churches, from endorsing political candidates.
I found Bean’s opinion to contain many good insights and observations, but I was uncomfortable with one of his underlying assumptions. He explained towards the end of this piece on political preaching that the “phrase ‘partisan politics’ is redundant; politics is always partisan.”
I question the assumption that politics is always partisan because such an assumption suggests that political actions are beholden to partisanship. The idea that all politics is partisan limits the imaginative scope of what constitutes the “political.”
Rev. William Barber II, the senior lecturer for Repairers of the Breach, recently delivered Pullen Memorial Baptist Church’s Finlater Lecture at the 30th Annual Gathering of the Alliance of Baptists. He advocated for churches and ministers to approach the political arena with a non-partisan, moral language. Utilizing the partisan language of either party has the affect of further solidifying the staunch division currently observed in this country between Republicans and Democrats. Moral language, he argued, has the ability to cut through partisan conflict.
Relying on a moral vernacular rather than a partisan vernacular also ensures, he explained, that focus remains on the problem. While certainly people of faith should cry out from their congregations that the recent American Health Care Act needed a moral intervention, people of faith should also cry out from their congregations that the Affordable Care Act also had problems that needed moral intervention. There is little moral imagination in preaching partisanship. The options are clearly defined.
Neither the partisanship of the Republicans nor Democrats serve as suitable ground upon which Christians can stand. Partisanship from the pulpit directs individuals to put their faith in political parties that will inevitably not live up the standard of Jesus.
I do not believe that we need preachers to start preaching political sermons; I believe that we need preachers to recognize that the act of preaching is inherently political. The proclamation that “Jesus is Lord” implicitly proclaims that Caesar is not. Preaching has political implications whether one wants them or not.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” made very clear that white moderates were engaged in the politics of segregation and Jim Crow despite their attempts to remove themselves from this political struggle. Sermons are political not only because of what is said, but also because of what is unsaid. The silence of these white, moderate ministers had the ramifications of endorsing the politics of Jim Crow.
Ministers should not respond to President Trump’s executive order on the Johnson Amendment by endorsing Republican or Democratic or Libertarian or Independent or any other political candidates. A golden donkey and a golden elephant are no different than a golden calf.
Rather ministers should take this opportunity to remind themselves that their sermons are political documents. The preaching moment offers ministers the opportunity to instruct their congregation in a moral discourse that cuts across the partisan divide and shows the limits of partisanship. We need preachers to challenge the political establishment regardless of partisan perspective in order “to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, [and] to set free those who are oppressed.” Otherwise, preachers are merely endorsing the political establishment and blaspheming the name of Jesus Christ.