I was preaching Sunday (I’ll post a link to the sermon soon), and after the second service a woman I know came up offering feedback. Her concern was a humorous political line I had used. Her comment was that we come to church to be united, and in offering a political comment I had divided us. It disturbed her so much it took her several minutes to get over it and tune in again to the sermon
I thought she had a point so I dropped the line from the third service. But I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
Let me make clear that my comment was not partisan. I despise it when the church becomes (on the conservative side) the Republican party at prayer, or (on the liberal side) the ACLU at prayer. I’ve seen both.
I think the issue is that we are so polarized and emotionalized about politics that the mere mention of political issues sets us abuzz and disturbs our ability to attend to matters of the spirit. I acknowledge truth in this, but at the same time I wonder: do we have to adopt a gnostic paradigm? Can’t we learn to be political people and even discuss political matters (which certainly have biblical dimensions) even in church? By shying away from difficult emotions, do we cut off the full range of discipleship?
My sermon discussed the biblical idea of kingship. I had briefly described Samuel’s reaction when the Israelite elders asked for a king (1 Samuel 8): “Do you know what a king will do? He will tax you. He will establish a draft. He will take your sons into the military and make them fight his wars. He will take your daughters into his palace as servants. He will take your land. You will be slaves to the king.” And then I added, “Samuel sounds like Republicans complaining about Obamacare.”
I went on to say that history proved Samuel was mostly right: the centralization of power leads to abuse.
The line about Obamacare wasn’t a significant part of my sermon, but it brought an ancient text into a modern context so that people could make the linkage with contemporary issues. As my critic contended, however, for some people it was undoubtedly a jarring note, because they are not used to any mention of politics in church. It brought a “profane” subject into worship and made some people feel profane.
I’m really of two minds about it. Is there a way to acknowledge our politics in church without becoming divided and partisan? Do we need to work at getting over these feelings? Or should we carefully excise all political talk?