Religion and politics

Yesterday I went to the polls to vote. I’ve been waiting months to take that tangible step of punching my straight [********] party ticket. I love how at the end of the electronic ballot a bright red flashing button lights up that says “Vote!” Of course, I voted for [********] in the presidential race.

[And of course, I’ve taken out proper nouns to protect our status as a non-partisan religious institution—and to keep you guessing!]

While we aren’t partisan in our politics as a church, it is our duty to take stands on important ethical issues of our times. We do take political stands. We are interested in reproductive rights, immigrant issues, and challenging oppressive economic policy. Our first principle calls us to support equal marriage rights, just as we challenged “don’t ask, don’t tell” which is now a thing of the past. Some Unitarian churches have spoken out against particular military conflicts, others on gun control or drug policies. These issues are inherently political, just not partisan.

One great sadness in our nineteenth-century Unitarian heritage is how most of our Boston ministers and churches did not speak out against slavery. One notable exception was Theodore Parker, who kept a gun in his desk in case he needed to defend an escaped slave. Boston’s elite Unitarian churches, whose financial resources were bound up in the slave trade, turned their backs on him—but Parker stood by our tradition of a free pulpit and spoke out on the most important and difficult political issue of his day.

To this day the freedom of our pulpit is absolute. Our covenental letter of call guarantees as a basic premise “that the pulpit is free and untrammeled. The Minister is expected to express his or her values, views, and commitments without fear or favor.” This freedom extends to those who take up the pulpit when the minister is away. Likewise in our tradition, what is said from the pulpit is not an official statement of a church position—only the view of the speaker.

In a few weeks, after the election, I will be preaching a “Dear Mr. President” sermon to lift up some of my hopes for the next four years, whoever might be occupying the Oval Office. Preaching that today would probably wind up partisan. In a few weeks, it will be a call for justice.

We need not believe alike to love alike, the old saying goes, and I hope that as we engage the hot political issues of our day we continue not to shy away from those which speak to our values. I hope that, for all of us, this process of wrestling with tough issues (political and ethical) affirms our commitment to our third principle: “Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations.” There will be times when we do not agree with a trend in the church or something being said, but we support and encourage each other by sharing our views and religious journeys. I value each and every viewpoint and person in this church, even when I do not agree with a position, even when I do not agree with a person. We value, we love, we grow. May we continue to be together in faith, reason, and community.

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