A member of a congregation I once served accused me of being too political, saying I was focusing too much on topics that didn’t matter to her. She wanted to come to church to feel comfortable, and hearing about social justice topics took her out of her comfort zone. It’s an interesting criticism and reflects one of the tensions frequently found in theology: what is the relationship between the church and state? What is our role as religious people in the current political climate?
My congregant was taking a hardline approach to the question: they should be entirely separate. This is how many religious people have answered, whether in belief or practice. It breeds indifferent complacency and privileged religiosity that sees striving for other more “spiritual” dimensions of existence as more important than creating Beloved Community in the hear and now.
I’ve never been able to get behind this theology. In the words of Elie Wiesel, “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.” When people of faith are silent about issues that matter, we communicate that the plight of the poor and oppressed is not a religious issue, that there are more important things than making this world a better place.
From a Christian perspective, Jesus, in the Gospel of Luke, quotes the words of the Jewish prophet Isaiah to declare that God “has anointed Me to preach the Gospel to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” That sounds political to me!
So, yes, I am a very political minister. I believe my values call me to witness to the plight of the marginalized in our society, to work to build the Kingdom of God on this Earth, a place where all people will find community, hope, and liberation, where all their needs will be met. I’m not alone in this: religious people throughout history have thrown their lot in with the poor, from Franciscans, Anabaptists, and Quakers to liberation theologians, Reform Jews, Humanists, and Engaged Buddhists, religious people have long recognized their call to make the world a better place.
There’s also a danger of confusing the partisan with the political: too often, rather than seeking to make the world a better place, religious people have thrown their lots in with politicians and political parties. As a result, those loyalties have become idols as people place the goal of creating the kingdom lower than partisan allegiance. Instead of building Beloved Community, they continue to divide the world into us versus them. It’s the temptation to see winning elections as more important than building a world in line with our deepest held convictions.
My faith informs my values and actions, which speak to my political loyalties. While I am not neutral (I think some candidates would be better than others), I refuse to sacrifice the goal of Beloved Community for the short-term comfort of partisan loyalty. I will vote on March 3, and on November 3, and my faith will inform me. But I will wake up the next day and continue fighting for liberation for all God’s creatures, regardless of who wins the election.
And I will continue to be too political for some because I am not called to comfort the comfortable, but to call them to account for the brokenness of our world.
Rev. Chris Rothbauer (they/them/their) is minister of Auburn Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. A native of Southern Indiana, they live in Auburn with their partner, a senior rescue beagle, and a spoiled rotten cat. All opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position of Auburn Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.