It seems that some on the progressive secular front don't see what the church might have to offer, while, as always, many in the church don't want to be "engaged in politics."
One of the great gifts the progressive church could offer to the wider church and culture is some clarity on this relationship between church and politics, especially in this time of deep divisions in our nation’s political life. Perhaps we have something of value to offer in response to the questions that must press in on us given the church’s troubled history of disastrous romances with political power.
These pressing questions seem quite obvious: should the church be involved in politics at all and, if so, how? But in fact, the obvious questions call forth nothing short of rethinking both the church and politics.
We could simply turn away from the political arena altogether. There are some, particularly in more conservative evangelical congregations, who believe the church should focus exclusively on questions of salvation, and they define salvation in purely spiritual, largely individualistic terms.
Against that spirit, we have the image Karl Barth famously articulated of the faithful pastor being one who held the Bible in one hand and the morning paper in the other.
But even if we remain informed and faithful citizens – guided by a Biblical tradition as we respond to the news of the day – we could limit our scope of work to worship, weddings, funerals, Bible study, blanket drives for the homeless, food drives for the poor and clothing drives for the destitute. These are surely important parts of who we are as church, and some feel that such work marks the extent of our calling as church.
Against that vision of church, I would ask, if we are to care for families in their times of joy and of mourning, should we not also care for their situations in the broader community? And if we are to care for the homeless, should we not also care for the medical and economic and social conditions that lead to homelessness? If we care enough to feed the hungry, do we not care enough to work for an end to hunger? If we are called to care for the destitute of the city, are we not also called to care for the ordering of the city itself when that ordering leaves so many struggling on the city’s margins? If we are to be minister of reconciliation, should we not also be engaged in resolving conflicts, including international ones, in a manner consistent with the call of disciples of the prince of peace?
Obviously, if we do such work we will be deeply engaged in politics, and, within the current American political spectrum, we will be engaged in progressive politics.