Monday, January 19, 2009

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Resources for Martin Luther King Day and Race Relations Sunday

During the services on Sunday, our associate pastor prayed for the out-going President Bush and the in-coming President-Elect Obama. And during the sermon the pastor talked about the fulfillment of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s vision, and the election of President-Elect Obama, within the context of the lectionary readings (being Known to God).

This was all perfectly nonpartisan, and the pastor acknowledged that we are a congregation of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents, a congregation of some who celebrate this inauguration as a long overdue course correction while others consider it a significant step in the wrong direction. Still, we acknowledged the significance of the impending inauguration of the nation's first African American president during the same week we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

And some in the congregation were visibly uncomfortable. One young man got up and left the sanctuary in anger. Later he approached both the pastor and the associate pastor. "There's a reason we have separation of church and state!" he said. "If you keep preaching about politics and government from the pulpit, I'm going to leave!"

"I am going to continue preaching about politics and government. It would be irresponsible not to do so," was one response given to the angry young man. (It's well worth noting here that our pastor's personal politics are unknown to me and certainly are not obvious from his sermons. There's a difference between not displaying partisan bias and not acknowledging that we are part of the United States of America.)

"We pray for our leaders," the other pastor responded. "We have a political arm to the denomination employing lobbyists to address our social justice concerns. This is all appropriate." (I'm paraphrasing badly here, and I'm sure that many of you know much more than I do about our denomination and its relationship with politics.)

I hope that we do get to a place in this country where we can talk about politics without it being divisive and partisan. It bothers me that we can't even pray for our president - or president-elect - without upsetting some in the pews.


Stushie said...

Don't let it bother you Sarahlynn.

Some people don't read their Bibles enough or the Constitution. Separation of Church and State isn't mentioned in the Constitituion - freedom of, and not from, religion is.

Jesus also died for the Pontius Pilates of the world, as well as the high priests. And the Bible that I read, is full of politics.

B-W said...

Separation from the State may not be mentioned in the Constitution, but that doesn't make it any less of an important principle of our government (the term is generally traced to the letters of Thomas Jefferson, although he didn't use exactly that phrase), and it would be wrong to dismiss the concept entirely.

That said, I don't see anything wrong with what the pastors said or did in your church, as you've described the incident here. I do agree with Stushie insofar as people don't seem to understand what the "separation" was supposed to be. That is to say, that the government isn't supposed to restrict one's freedom to practice religion however one believes it should be practiced (although there are some restrictions in actual practice. Polygamy, for example. Basically, the state has to have a very compelling interest if it's going to restrict religious practice). Nor is any religious body supposed to control the actions of government.

Speaking out on political issues, on the other hand, is not only fair game, but is absolutely unavoidable if one believes that one's faith is supposed to affect how we live in the world.

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It has been a long journey for improvements on civil rights and equality and with Obama being sworn in, the civil rights movement have come full circle since the "I have a dream speech". I hope Obama can concentrate on increasing jobs, advancing education, and the decreasing of our dependence on fossil fuels.