Politics from the pulpit

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That’s my parish. St. Anthony’s Church in Milwaukee.

Was baptized there. Been attending this beautiful place ever since.

During my lifetime at St. Anthony’s I’ve seen numerous pastors come and go. One of them not all that long ago was a boisterous lecturer, a Franciscan Friar who didn’t mince words.

One Sunday he was in one of those moods with a sharp, stern delivery on a political topic I simply can’t remember. Standing in the back of church (I’m a weekly usher) I winced thinking some folks just aren’t going to be thrilled.

Sure enough, three individuals, staunch regulars, stood up and walked out mid-sermon. Some choir members also exited, never to return again.

I put myself in their shoes. Suppose the priest had been discussing capital punishment. I happen to support the death penalty for many reasons knowing full well it goes against Catholic teachings. Most assuredly I would have experienced raised eyebrows at such a homily.

On another occasion a different priest instructed us to turn the other cheek when it came to illegal immigrants, even if they had committed unspeakable crimes.

I was appalled. But my love for my church kept me from storming out.

Pope Francis made news recently for once again taking a soft stance. The pontiff, through a set of  guidelines for new seminarians, is urging future priests to be “highly sensitive” to the “emerging planetary crisis” and to be active promoters of environmental concern in their future ministry.

The guidelines say that “it will be necessary for future priests to be highly sensitive to this theme and  help to acknowledge the appeal, immensity and urgency of the challenge we face. This must then be applied to their future priestly ministry, making them promoters of an appropriate care for everything connected to the protection of creation.”

Back in September the Pope stated that human-induced global warming, as well as a loss of biodiversity are “sins” against God, which must be atoned for by planting trees, avoiding the use of plastic and paper and “separating refuse.”

I can assure you I don’t want future men of the cloth doing their Al Gore impersonations.

Catholic scholar Dr. Jeffrey Mirus writes, “to push priests in a particular direction on this” carries “grave dangers,”  such as “the failure to prioritize the spiritual mission of the priest in favor of popular causes” and the risk of confusing “Christian virtue with popular movements.”

Here’s another perspective from Dr. Michael Brown, the host of the nationally syndicated Line of Fire radio program. Brown also preaches at church service one day and teaches in a Bible school.

From a Brown column published today:

After all, slavery was the paramount hot-button, deeply-divisive, political and social issue of the 19th century, yet it would have been very wrong for Christian leaders to remain silent on this, just as it’s very wrong for Christian leaders to remain silent on issues like abortion and homosexual activism today.

I can’t tell you how many times readers and listeners and viewers have talked with me after hearing me speak – again, often with tears in their eyes – thanking me for addressing the divisive cultural issues of the day. These are issues they live with every day – in their homes, in their schools, in their places of business, and they are frustrated when their pastors and teachers fail to give them spiritual guidance to help navigate these troubled waters.

Of course, we can get involved in politics in a partisan way, becoming appendages of a particular political party, which is a real mistake. And we can easily get caught up in a divisive, immature political spirit, which is quite destructive, or we can become obsessed with politics, which would distract us from our larger calling.

But there’s nothing stopping us from walking in the Spirit, maintaining an eternal perspective, and constructively addressing the political realm. In fact, it behooves us to do so, as long as we don’t neglect our primary calling of preaching and teaching the Scriptures. The Church needs us to do it and the society needs us to do it.

I’m confident that I am not alone in sensing that it pleases God and helps His people when we, as ministry leaders, bring the Word of God to bear on every area of life, politics included.

At the risk of oversimplification, it sounds like Brown is saying it’s ok to preach politics, just don’t do it that often.

I’d prefer it be done as minimally as possible because as Jeffrey Mirus writes, “Church leaders in our time very often confuse Catholic social teaching with the policies of liberal-secularist political parties.”

3 thoughts on “Politics from the pulpit

  1. Pingback: My Most Popular Blogs (12/19/16) | This Just In… From Franklin, WI

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