When I first joined my current congregation — it was 1978 and Jimmy Carter had just helped to cobble together the Israel-Egyptian peace agreement — I had little idea about the political leanings of others in the church.
Eventually, mostly through passing comments, I came to believe that our members were Republican-leaning though clearly in the broad middle politically.
Today, mostly through passing comments, I conclude that we may — may — be a Democrat-leaning congregation. We’re still in the broad middle, though it’s clear the ground has shifted and what used to be known as the right has moved several octaves up the right scale.
I count my uncertainty about this as a sign of strength in our congregation. We gather not because of our politics but because God has called us out of the world to be equipped to demonstrate to the world — through proclamation and action — the coming kingdom, or reign, of God of which Jesus spoke.
For the most part, folks in my church don’t confuse politics with theology or patriotism with loyalty to the eternal God in Christ.
As the 2012 election approaches, my hope for all PC(USA) congregations is that they might demonstrate what it looks like to be a diverse group of people who may differ on politics but can still love one another.
God knows that our radically discordant nation could use a model like that. Our political rhetoric is not just needlessly divisive, it’s shameful. It reflects the reality that many people of faith in the U.S. either misunderstand that the great religions call people to be peacemakers or they do not take that call seriously.
As the fall approached, two former colleagues at The Kansas City Star wrote a thoughtful analysis about how the death of compromise has crippled political life in the U.S., especially in our federal government.
“Consequently,” they wrote, “Congress struggles to make even the simplest decisions. Critical problems are unaddressed. Confidence in government plummets. Politics are paralyzed and gripped by anger, resentment and fear …. ”
I find it impossible to read such a damning analysis without looking inward, asking how I might be contributing to this terrible division.
I try not to do these things, but each time you or I forward a cutting (and unverified) political email, each time we speak about people not as individuals but simply as “liberals” and “conservatives,” each time we fail to vote because “all politicians are crooks,” we violate lessons our faith seeks to teach us about love, about the uniqueness of every individual, about our own capacity for evil.
I have no idea how a presidential straw poll of my congregation might turn out — and, frankly, I don’t want to know. What I do want to know is that we can continue to treat each other with respect and love no matter how we might vote. And I want to know that we take our faith seriously enough to be advocates for people who cannot be heard in our flawed political system because they lack the financial and other means to get the attention of our elected officials.
BILL TAMMEUS is an elder at Second Church in Kansas City, Mo., and former Faith columnist for The Kansas City Star. Visit his “Faith Matters” blog at billtammeus.typepad.com. Read about his latest book. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org