<BTW: all of these quotes are paraphrases, not verbatim, and cobbled together from a few like emails>
“We personally like you,” the email said, “but we leave church services more frustrated than anything, and so we’d rather just stay home.”
It was sent after I offered an email saying that I hadn’t seen them in a while, and after hearing bits and pieces of them “being unhappy.”
I mean, it’s OK, people get unhappy with their pastors sometimes. That’s part of the deal of leadership.
But why were they frustrated?
Because they heard political undertones in my preaching. Which is strange to me, because I meant them to be political overtones…
Not partisan, mind you. Partisan tells you what party to vote for; I don’t care what party you affiliate with, if any. And although I might struggle with your vote, I’m not going to tell you who to vote for…I struggle with my vote, too. I wasn’t partisan in my preaching. I am not, to this day, partisan in my preaching.
But political? Well, yes. That was there. Because the Gospel is political.
The Gospel is about God and people, and people in community are political. So if you’re upset, blame the politician, not the pastor…I didn’t make those laws. I didn’t say those de-humanizing things.￼
Because this was all going on during the so-called “Muslim ban” (which nations are being added to as I write this). The ban continues. You forgot about it? Huh. Guess who hasn’t: Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, as they try to fight this ban tooth and nail.
And this was all going on as talk of wall construction continued to be shouted about, even as children were being separated at the border, and some dying. You forgot about it? Guess who hasn’t: the families affected by this mean-spirited legislation, perpetrated under administrations of both major parties.
And this was all going on as the nastiest, meanest, overtly racist rhetoric (remember Charlottesville?) was being spewed from our nation’s top office. You forgot about it? No…who could forget white yuppies with tiki-torches marching without masks through the streets of a Southern city, newly emboldened in their racism because the fish rots from the head.
And if you are a pastor in those waters, and you’re not talking about any that, shame on you.
Do you think Isaiah wanted to say the things he said about the powers that held sway at his time? No. But he had to.
Do you think Amos wanted to call from the fringes of society to point to the underclass and the rural poor, showing how they suffered under the foot of the powerful?
No…but he had to.
Do you think Jesus wanted to point out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, call his local ruler a “fox” (or, a “sly liar”), or run toward the danger of Jerusalem rather than live safely, quietly, in Galilee?
No, but he had to. You have to, pastor.
“Never trust a pastor who tells you how to vote,” the email went on to say, “or a politician who tells you how to pray.”
I think it was an attempt at levity, but all I could do was scratch my head and wonder what was happening in our society. I’ve heard many politicians, especially recently, tell people how to pray (just Google “prayer in schools” legislation recently brought up in the courts. Again.).
Remember the age of women’s suffrage. Remember the era of Civil Rights (did we ever leave that era?). Remember, pastor, and speak.
Pulpits cannot be partisan. And pastors have a responsibility to bring people along as much as possible when it comes to difficult and divisive issues, listening and leaning in.
You can be partisan on your bumper with that bumper sticker, but not on your stole. The stole is reserved for God’s mark, alone.
But pastors, remember also, in our baptismal rite, have a responsibility to “work for peace and justice” throughout all the world, as do all baptized persons. And part of that work is calling out oppression and danger, especially when it is aimed at those who are already disenfranchised.
The email was right: no pastor should tell someone what party to vote for. I never did and never will from the Office.
But the pastor must tell people the truth: votes have consequences, some you may not like, some that go against the ideals of a God who is love.
And if that’s the case, preach. From the Office, from the pulpit, preach.
That’s the problem with pulpits today: people will leave over them. And that’s OK.
It’s sad, but it’s a sign of our times, and you have to preach anyway.