The polling place vs. the pulpit
Breaking the ice by attending her first-ever fundraising event for a political candidate, a pastor ponders why it took her so long to get off the sidelines in a town as politically charged as Washington, D.C.
By Amy Butler
In general, it’s probably not a great idea for the preacher to get too political in his or her day-to-day life.
For one thing, waxing poetic on one’s own personal positions can be mistaken for public endorsement of a particular candidate on behalf of a religious institution, something we’d all like the pastor to avoid. For another thing, there’s sure to be somebody at church with an opposite view whose world is turned upside down upon learning the pastor has an opinion different from their own.
For these and other reasons, I generally stay away from public political engagement. Lately, though, I’m finding that staying out of political discourse in Washington, D.C., in the rapidly waning weeks of a presidential campaign is not so easy.
Last week I finally gave in to the pressure by attending my first-ever political fundraiser. Once I decided to attend, I realized I didn’t know quite what to expect: Hobnobbing with bigwigs? Nibbling on caviar? Engaging in deep and meaningful exchanges about critical national issues with like-minded intellectuals?
Not so much. The fundraiser I attended was more like a really crowded outdoor church potluck with a very loud and crackly sound system, except that the long-winded person with the microphone, for once, wasn’t the pastor.
The mingling included a lot of slapping at mosquitoes while catching up with folks I vaguely remembered from a long time ago when I still felt guilty enough to attend school PTA meetings.
Nobody, as far as I could tell, was discussing issues of urgent national or international concern. There was no caviar. It wasn’t at all glamorous, but it was a public expression of my own political convictions.
Afterward I wondered why I had waited so long to get my feet wet in the pond of political action. Have I been so deeply indoctrinated as a Baptist that the prospect of even possibly breaching a church/state separation terrifies me?
Maybe, but probably not. My Baptist education trained me well. I know the lines of separation, and I don’t have any trouble following them.
Was I concerned about the impression that I represent the church instead of just myself? Everyone at that fundraiser knew what I do for a living. It’s hard to drop the pastor stigma. But I always say pastors are people, too. Anyway, who wants a pastor with no personal convictions?
No, I think the question really bothering me was: Am I worried that someone in my congregation will disagree with me?
I think, as it turns out, I may have been hiding behind the guise of “staying above the political fray,” as an excuse to avoid confrontation with those who hold other opinions. In my congregation, as in most, there are people of very differing political viewpoints. And since pastors are pleasers and at our core we like to make people happy, getting publicly political might invite conflict. Avoiding a public position allows us to rise above it all – or at least to avoid confrontation with those who disagree.
In the end, even without the caviar, I was glad I made the decision to attend that political fundraiser. We raised a lot of money for the candidate, someone I feel will provide strong and compassionate leadership. I represented myself, not my church. I acted with conviction. I was publicly political, and it felt good.
On the way out of the fundraiser there was a table laden with all the political paraphernalia one could wish for: bumper stickers, buttons, yard signs, flyers. As I passed the table I thought briefly about pasting a bumper sticker to the back of my car.
I immediately dismissed the thought with a shudder. I might have taken a step into public political life, but there are still limits. Political advertising in the pastor’s parking spot? I don’t think so! After all, someone might disagree.
OPINION: Views expressed in ABPnews columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.