Churchstate [image: caveman 92223]

I hope this post finds you well and thankful as we enter this weekend of remembrance.  It seems appropriate on this Fourth of July weekend to reflect a bit on
how, if and when we as Presbyterians engage in politics and public square.

Beginning on Monday, July 6, I will have the privilege of representing the Presbyterian Church (USA) at a series of meetings in Washington DC.  And while I believe most of our denomination supports a presence in public square discourse, I realize that for some, even the existence our Washington Office* and our presence in political arena raises some strong objections.  So feel free to push back – like any of you need permission – on our relationship with politics, but I am going and am honored to do so.

I will begin four days of congressional visits in DC by continuing conversations with folks from our Washington Office and other PC(USA) partners to get up to speed on a breadth of General Assembly policies but primarily four issues: Cuba, Philippines, Jubilee and the Employee Free Choice Act.   After that I will have the opportunity to meet both individually and as part of delegations with various agencies and public servants. These are all issues that I have great concern about as a local pastor, but I will be there to represent the PC(USA) and our policies and statements.

One important part of this trip will also be to participate in the Faith Leader Summit on Health Care to be held on Capitol Hill and at the White House.  Gradye was originally supposed to be our rep, but will be participating in the funeral services of Bill Forbes.  This will be a time for us to have a PC(USA) presence as part of an interfaith delegation that will do a great deal of listening to and speaking with members of congress and President Obama's Health Care Reform Team.

Needless to say I am humbled by the opportunity and access given via the office of moderator and do not take that lightly.  At the same time, I am also personally very excited to meet some folks who have the opportunity to impact policy change in positive ways.

As I spend the next week in DC, I would love to "bring you along" in a way, so you can choose your poison as they say and decide at which level you want to come along.

  • on this blog = Low Level (Maybe one in-depth recap, 1/day) 
  • on Facebook = Mid Level (Periodic status updates, 5/day)
  • on Twitter = High Level (Almost like you're there ;-), 10-20/day)

As I begin these DC conversations, please know that I do understand that there exists in our denomination a breadth of opinion about the very nature of the relationship between church, state and the politics of our society, and will, as able, express the wide diversity of thought that exists within any community.

And just to spark some good conversation, here are some thoughts that I think are right on in response to a recent FB Status update of mine on being "political" . . .

Richard Hong . . . be political but never partisan. I will state moral
principles (e.g. a mandate to care for the environment) without
preaching in favor of any particular solution (e.g. cap and trade). I
believe Christian morality establishes the goals for public policy, but
that it is "above our pay grade" to preach how lawmakers should achieve
those goals.

 Amy Carlozo . . .Faith is and can be political – in that we are a community coming
together to grapple with what it means to be faithful spirit-filled
Christians. Unfortunately now we have this clarification that faith is
different from "politics" meaning political parties. Political from the
Greek work meaning state or city – usually described as a way people organize
themselves…. Faith AS political is being an activist for the cause of
… loving neighbor as self. Living out what we are called to be and do
as Christ – loving people

Jed Hawkes Koballnot being political is being political; however, people are not
typically called political unless their politics differ from the one
calling you political.

In short I think, left, right, republican, democrat, libertarian, independent, green, etc. are all irrelevant in light of our calling to seek, discern and act upon the mind of Christ and will of God for our individual and collective lives.  I honestly have a difficult time seeing how we can NOT be engaged in the life of the public square and political discourse.  No, we dare not become partisan, but nor should we become isolationists in our lives as a the body of Christ.

What we must be wary of is becoming partisan in our understanding of the relationship between the church and government.  While some may disagree, depending on one's perspective and persuasion, the PC(USA) does not claim a political party.   I firmly believe that, as we engage with the work of our government, our public policy voice will find both places of joyful intersection as well as deep disagreement.  This does and should take place in our ongoing relationships with all parties and regardless of administrations.   These places of agreement and tensions will ebb and flow as does the mind and heart of our country and the men and women we call to public service need the church to be present to offer a voice that may help navigating these turbulent waters that are grounded in our calling to be the church in the world.  Again, sometimes this will take the shape of thanksgiving for policies well developed and implemented while at other times challenging those decisions that we feel are not part of God's intentions for humanity.

In the end, while I do know that avoiding the whole church/state topic might just be easier, I think we need to continue to hash this stuff out in order to actually live out the idea that we best discern the mind and Christ and the will of God together.

So lets keep on talking and I'll see you in DC.

* Obviously I think our Washington office does amazing work on our behalf and I am excited to see how that work will shift and change with a new administration as we work with, challenge and support our government in fulfilling what we would see as God's hopes for the world.  If you would like to find out more and get updates and ongoing info about their work, be sure to visit The Presbyterian Washington Office and sign up for the alerts and other communications.

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