This week we will continue to take a look at what UMC church policy will permit leadership and membership to do within the precepts of church policy. I reiterate that I focus on UMC policy not because I am against that denomination…I have many Christian brothers and sisters in that church that I have high regard for…but because it was a church leader who told me politics did not belong in the church. I am on my search for ‘since when’?
Are pastors allowed to preach about or share personal political views on social media?
The United Methodist Church has official positions on a wide variety of public policy issues. All clergy are expected and encouraged to preach and teach about the church’s statements and policies as part of their pastoral ministry. The scriptures themselves are also full of guidance from prophets, Jesus and the early church that have strong political, social and economic implications. Preaching what the scriptures say and how they apply to current situations is a significant part of what pastors are called to do. A pastor may not use the pulpit, church publications, website or social media or any other forum related to the church to declare their individual preferences for any political candidate or specific legislation. They may do so as private citizens using their own social media platforms. The IRS encourages religious leaders who speak or write in their individual capacity (https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p1828.pdf) to clearly indicate that their comments are personal and not intended to represent the views of their church. Pastors may critique certain actions or policy positions of specific candidates based on scripture or the official statements of The United Methodist Church. However, such critique must be about policy positions or actions, not whether that candidate should be elected. (Voter guides identify policy positions or actions by a variety of candidates, therefore should be acceptable in the Narthex of the church.)
Can a pastor be involved in local politics?
A pastor may be directly involved in local politics and even become a candidate for political office, as long as it is on the pastor’s own time and not as a representative of the church. The pastor cannot use their position in the church nor any church property or resources to promote their own political campaign. (What about the Democrat candidate in Georgia? I saw the ‘reverend’ on TV speaking about his political positions from his pulpit.)
Am I expected to respect elected leaders with whom I disagree?
Whether or no our preferred candidate is elected, United Methodists pray for all leaders (https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/prayer-for-those-who-lead-us) who serve the public and “support their efforts to afford justice and equal opportunity for all people” (https://www.umc.org/en/content/social-principles-the-political-community#civil-obedience). We recognize the difficult decisions elected leaders make on behalf of the people they serve and the enormity of the consequences of those decisions. However, we do not submit blindly to governing authorities. As the church, we strive to exercise a “strong ethical influence” upon the government, holding leaders accountable for policies which are just and opposing those which are unjust: Political Responsibility (https://www.umc.org/en/content/social-principles-the-political-community#responsibility). (It’s good to find that the church has not ‘divorced’ itself totally from the word ‘politics’.) We hold government responsible for protecting the rights of the people and oppose government oppression of its people. Citizens may exercise their right to vote to ensure leaders responsibly use their power. (Unfortunately this does not always happen.) When government enacts policies that are unjust or detrimental, the witness of scripture shows us that there may be times when “biblical faithfulness will necessitate civil disobedience to the ruling authorities (Acts 4:1-20)”. Church-Government Relations (https://www.umc.org/en/content/book of-resolutions-church-government-relations). As disciples of Jesus Christ working for the transformation of the world, we take seriously our responsibility to fully participate in building a more peaceful and just world.
How can I faithfully respond to an issue that concerns me?
United Methodists can work individually and collectively to effect change. Write to or meet with representatives (https://www.umcjustice.org/what-you-can-do/advocacy/take-action); submit a letter to the editor; join in prayer vigils; marches or social media campaigns; team up with like-minded people to learn more about how an issue affects those most directly impacted and work together for positive change. The Church and Society staff can help you develop a strategy to address the issues (https://www.umcjustice.org/what-you-can-do/grassroots-organizing) about which you are passionate. They can also help you connect with other teams in your area who are working on similar issues. Creating Change Together (https://www.umcjustice.org/news-and-stories/creating-change-together-801), a resource for local churches, offers tools to address public concerns.
How can I talk about political issues with others who disagree?
In this time of polarization around social and political issues, Christians may struggle to have positive dialogue with family, friends and congregation members. Political differences are sometimes experienced as unhealthy conflict, but can be experienced as grace-filled, charitable conversation. Begin with an attitude of compassion and curiosity. Practice active and respectful listening for understanding. Look for common ground as you clarify your values. Focus on what makes for the common good and not only your particular interests. Test what you say and how you say it alongside scripture, church Social Principles and Resolutions, and United Methodist tradition and history. Now we get into an area of discussion that I find I cannot agree with in church guidelines. Here goes…Guidelines for Holy Conferencing: What God Expects of us (https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/guidelines-for-holy-conferencing-what-god-expects-of-us). We are told through this reference that we are reminded that every person is a child of God. This is counter to the Bible…Romans 8:6-17. There are ‘creations’ of God and ‘children’ of God. People are defined , ultimately, by their relationship with God – not by the flaws we think we see in their views and actions. Just Peace Center for Mediation and Conflict Transformation offers tools and resources for having welcoming conversations (https://justpeaceumc.org/welcoming-conversations/). Courageous Conversations (https://discipleship-ministries.teachable.com/p/courageous-conversation) is a series designed to help local churches learn to move beyond impasses and discover how to listen well, learn from others, and respectfully disagree in love.
Thus I will end my three week discussion of UMC political policy. Whether it is practiced or not seems to be a matter of the church leadership and to what degree that leadership has the courage to bring up a subject that may offend some members. In some cases avoiding politics offends some members. If a church of any denomination allows politicians to run on their own without outside influence…the reason many politicians want to silence the church…I find that church to be failing in its obligation to society.
Next week we will get back into the UMC’s involvement with politics and three major issues that have impacted our society…abortion, marriage and divorce.
– Bob Munsey
“A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.” President John F. Kennedy