Carlyle Fielding Stewart III

Writings on Democracy, Social Justice, and Religion

Politics, the Pulpit and the People, Part II

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Originally published by the Michigan Chronicle August 10-16, 2016

Whether the church should become involved in politics is still hotly debated, but the truth is many persons of diverse religious backgrounds have been called to leadership in politics. Countless examples of people filling their religious duties and civic obligations with outstanding records of public service shine ever so brightly among us.

As citizens of this nation, we are called to “live faithfully and to think critically” by holding government accountable, by voting for our candidates of choice and by supporting those policies and practices which promote life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

It also means challenging those practices and policies which hinder the pursuit and establishment of justice, equality, freedom and opportunity at all levels for all people in society.

The three great documents of freedom come to mind as we continue the second article on this subject; the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, which are foundations of our constitutional republic or American representative democracy.

Also important, are Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Economic Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Sentiments advocating the Rights of Women and the Emancipation Proclamation.

While these manifestos of freedom are primarily political in nature, they each have moral and religious components. Each points to a higher reality, a greater good and a larger vision of a better life for all Americans, and for non-Americans who come to these shores.

In the words of theologian Howard Thurman, the mind of God was experimenting with America by bringing together so many people of diverse racial, ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds. Few nations can claim such a wide assortment of citizens.

The American political experiment should contain religious and moral qualities. (Robert Bellah) From annual budgets to policy decisions to how political parties and elected officials conduct themselves in office reflect a larger concern for how they truly feel about all people. If budgets are basically moral documents, many religious beliefs contain political and moral mandates which should lead to a more equitable and just society for all. Contrary to some religious and political beliefs, such concerns are also ultimately pleasing to God.

These three great documents of freedom speak to the ultimate concerns of every citizen and call for the removal of those barricades preventing full citizenship, complete human rights and the fulfillment of each person’s God given potential in the world.

The gifts of freedom are not only to be hallmarks of the American political system but are trademarks of an all loving, wise and living God. As John F. Kennedy observed in his inaugural speech, “The rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God.”

While these great documents are also informed and inspired by the Judeo-Christian’s faith and freedom traditions, many Christians still struggle with whether they should become actively involved in politics.

Biblically and theologically speaking, the much quoted John 3:16-17 scripture “….God so loved the world that he sent his only son…..For God did not send his son to condemn the world but to save the world through him,” should be a touchstone for the church’s active engagement in the world.

In referencing this scripture as a pretext for Jesus ministry in the world, we often omit “the world,” part of this text, as if the world beyond this life is the only world which matters to Christians.

The words of the Lord’s Prayer “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” invokes God’s active presence in this world and the world beyond.

If God sent His son to save the world, the church as the earthly representative of Christ in the world should actively engage in life and soul saving acts that transform, and make whole not only individuals but the larger society in that world.


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