Pastors and Politics

Pastors and Politics September 2, 2012

From Rob Merola, a former student, a friend, and an Episcopalian priest — outside of DC:

OK, I admit it. Sometimes I hate being a pastor.


Because sometimes I just can’t say the things I want to say.

There are times, for instance, when I’d love to jump into the political foray.  But here’s the thing. America right now is a deeply divided nation. About half of us lean liberal, and half of us lean conservative. So if I come down on one side or the other, I give about half the people in the country an excuse to stop listening. That’s the mistake the Episcopal Church has made. In the end, our staggering decline may be as simple as over indentifying with a political position. For a church that prides itself on being welcoming, that sure leaves a lot of people out.

I believe the larger message of the Gospel—that we need to love God and each other and treat all people right—is too important for that. In other words, if I am to exercise the kind of love Jesus commends to his followers, then I need to consider how my words and actions will effect others—especially those who are different from me. If those words are hurtful for the purpose of furthering my own cause, getting attention, somehow boosting my own ego, or allaying my own insecurities, then I need to value my brothers and sisters highly enough to find a better way ahead.

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  • Bryan

    Great post, and I do agree that the gospel message is infinitely greater than our politics (though not without relevance). The only point I’ll quibble with in this post is the idea that the American public is deeply divided. There’s a ton of evidence in political science that rejects this claim, and that even includes “controversial” social issues.*

    *I’ve been lurking and really enjoying the discourse on this blog for a few months, and as a political science professor I finally feel there’s a topic I am comfortable commenting on!

  • I often complain to my (episcopal priest) husband that his job has stolen my ability to write a letter to the editor about politics…. Living in Wisconsin, that has been especially painful this year. But he has done a tremendous job of raising the discourse in our very politically diverse congregation to a much higher level than standard politics. Being moved to ‘lift up my eyes’ has helped me to care less about my own opinions. It has been a huge growing edge for me and very formative.

  • metanoia

    Many, many moons ago, when I had just started in the ministry, a sage of an experienced pastor took me aside and said, “Every Sunday you have to make up your mind which people you’re going to keep.”

    At first I thought it was rather cynical of him to say something so crass until he explained what he meant. Here is my summary of what he said as best as I can remember. “As a pastor, every message you preach will probably offend somebody. Your goal is to discern truth, and preach with conviction, and compassion. If you alter the message to try to accommodate the crowd, you will in essence be making up your mind which people you are going to keep. But make no bones about it, you will also be making up your mind which people you are willing to lose. By preaching the truth with conviction and compassion, you put the truth in their court and allow them make up their minds if they will leave or stay.”

    I thought it was good advice.

    body will get offended at one point or another over something that you say.

  • Kenny Johnson

    But isn’t being offended by the Gospel different than being offended by some political rant? And whose “truth” is that political rant anyway?

  • Aside from the topic, I’m disappointed to read that Rev. Merola thinks the “larger message of the gospel” is to love God and people and to treat people right. Jesus lived, died, and lives again for a far greater purpose. The gospel in seven words: God is transforming all things through Jesus. I’m not knocking loving God and people and treating people right. But they are only expressions of the transforming work of God in the world, not the goal itself.

  • Revruthucc

    The Gospel is by its very nature political. Proclaiming the Gospel truth means proclaiming positions that are inherently more appealing to one coalition than the other, whether it’s economic justice, compassion for strangers, or gender equality. The advice give to the young pastor above is sage: when we proclaim faithfully, people are left to wrestle with the implications of their political choices on their faith and vice versa.

  • Joseph K. McCall

    Sort of ignoring the topic of the post, but I agree with Mark E. Smith- the Gospel that the writer defines is WEAK- the Gospel is MUCH bigger.