The New York Times recently published a terrific piece that details the rising cadre of religious leaders who are diving headfirst into our political morass in an effort to reframe which values our culture views as “biblical.” The article is astute in its observation that, for the past couple decades, political engagement by clergy has largely been the domain of the religious right. This imbalance of Christian voices in the public square has had grievous consequences. When I ask my non-churchgoing peers to define “Christian values,” they are quick to point to hot-button, reactionary stances like staunch pro-life views on womens’ reproductive choices, or vitriolic backlash against gay marriage. These positions don’t describe my own beliefs, nor the convictions of most Christians I know, and yet they have come to define—for many—the essence of Christianity. And then we sit and wonder why more young people aren’t drawn to the Church.
I understand why many clergy are loathe to venture into the fray. Our politics have become so toxic that civic exhortations from the pulpit, or religious demonstrations in the street, can often engender animosity from members in the congregation who disagree; others are made uncomfortable by the close proximity of church and state. However, if we continue to remain silent on the moral crises that currently plague our government, we ought not be surprised if church attendance continues to dwindle. An aversion to political engagement isn’t just a public relations issue, though, it cuts to the core of what it means to be a Christian.
Politics is the vehicle by which our values become reality. If we pray on Sunday that the hungry might have food to eat, but remain silent in the face of proposed cuts to meals on wheels or food stamps programs, our prayers are impotent. If we ask God to heal the sick but do not decry efforts to eliminate health coverage for millions, we reveal our words as empty. If we sing of swords made to plowshares but turn a blind eye to our nation’s ever-increasing militarism, then Isaiah’s dream will remain an idle one. Welcoming the stranger, providing aid to the poor, healing the sick, safeguarding our planet, struggling to end violence: these are Christian values. It’s time to fight for them.
Ben Perry is the Assistant Director of Communication and Marketing at Union Theological Seminary in New York City and a member of the Bedford Presbyterian Church.