Ministry and Politics

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In our official work within churches, we who are ministers must be non-partisan in our political rhetoric and engagement to protect the non-profit status of our churches and respect the agreement within our religious communities that our churches will be non-partisan (note: a church could decide it wants to be partisan, but it would need to forfeit its non-profit status to do so). However, being non-partisan does not mean we must be non-political in our official capacity as ministers. Within the Christian tradition for example, the work of Jesus in the world was profoundly political. That is most likely why he was executed by political authorities on political charges. Following Jesus is a political act.

Bringing good news to the poor and oppressed and liberation to those who are held captive by systems of domination requires us to engage in political work as ministers and even openly criticize and resist the actions of governmental authorities if these actions are opposed to what it means to love and care for our neighbors, especially the most vulnerable. This can all be done in the prescribed non-partisan ways (not endorsing a candidate or a political party or calling on our congregations to work against a candidate or political party). The decision by ministers to attempt not to engage in any political action in our official role as ministers in our churches is actually itself a profoundly political action in a context in which our social, political, and economic systems are oppressing the vulnerable ones with whom Jesus calls us all to be in mission and harming the community of all creation.

Ministers, like all persons, do not only act in our official capacities of our employment; we are also members and active participants within the broader human community and have responsibilities to be politically engaged and are free to do so in partisan ways if we so choose. Once again, when we who are ministers choose not to engage in political action as citizens outside of our official capacity within our churches, this is a profoundly political choice as well.

In a context in which harm is being done to our neighbors who are refugees and immigrants, women are being mocked for speaking out about sexual assaults, persons who are LGBTQIA are experiencing discrimination, our incarceration rate is the highest on the planet and our criminal justice system shows clear bias against persons of color, inequality between the rich and the poor is increasing, millions of persons do not have adequate access to the healing made possible by affordable healthcare, the flames of fear and hatred of persons who relate to religion differently are being openly fanned, and the very earth itself is being ravaged by human activity; trying to be non-political is not only a political choice, it is also an irresponsible and immoral choice as well.

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About Mark Y. A. Davies

Mark Davies is the Wimberly Professor of Social and Ecological Ethics and Director of the World House Institute for Social and Ecological Responsibility at Oklahoma City University. He is the Executive Director of the Leadership, Education, and Development (LEaD) Hub North America of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry of the United Methodist Church and an Oklahoma Humanities State Scholar. Mark has published in the areas of Boston personalism, process philosophy and ethics, and ecological ethics. Dr. Davies serves on the United Methodist University Senate, which is “an elected body of professionals in higher education created by the General Conference to determine which schools, colleges, universities, and theological schools meet the criteria for listing as institutions affiliated with The United Methodist Church.” He and his wife Kristin live in Edmond, OK in the United States, and they have two daughters. The views expressed by the author in this blog do not necessarily represent the views of Oklahoma City University or the United Methodist Church.
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One Response to Ministry and Politics

  1. Kirt Moelling says:

    Of course, churches ARE ALWAYS free to engage spiritual/social/political ISSUES and, unfortunately, churches think prohibitions regarding candidates prohibit such actions of advocacy AS the church. IT DOES NOT. Too often churches lay down on that responsbility. What you say regarding clergy ministers also applies equally to laity.

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