Monday, April 30, 2012

Political Speech in Sacred Spaces

It’s a presidential election year…let the robocalls begin!  Election Day is still over six months away and much of the country is already thoroughly sick of campaign politics.  If you live in a swing state like Virginia, it’s sure to get a whole lot worse before it ever gets better.  Our eyes and ears are going to be repeatedly assaulted by people who will stop at nothing to further the cause of their chosen candidate: lies, half-truths, carefully selected omissions designed to deliberately mislead… nothing seems to be out-of-bounds in our current political climate.  We live in the age of the Photoshopped Candidate.  Seeing is no longer believing. 

While politics has long been viewed as a dirty business, the problem has worsened in recent years as the country has become ever more polarized.  The differences between the two parties seem more sharply drawn and more bitterly contested than they were when I was young.  There is less room for compromise and consensus building.  Civility has fled the public square.  The country today may be more deeply divided than at any time since the Civil War.  Today Republicans and Democrats are waging the Uncivil War. 

Dirty and politics are not the only words with long association.  So have church and sanctuary.  The sanctuary is a place dedicated to the worship of God.  It is sacred space.  It is also seen as a place of refuge; a safe and quiet place far removed from the dangers and unpleasantness of the outside world.  That’s an appealing and timely image. 

In an earlier era people were taught that politics and religion were two subjects best avoided in polite society.  The passions these topics triggered were regarded as unseemly.  Obviously in church it is both appropriate and expected that we talk about religion.  But is it too much to ask that when we gather for worship we check our campaign buttons at the door?  The church is not a political convention and the Sunday school class is not a party caucus room.  We have every right to our political opinions.  In fact, in a democratic republic such as ours, it is not just our right; it is our duty as responsible citizens to be politically engaged.  But conversations appropriate for the golf course or the break room at work may not be appropriate for church.  We are to be a church for people from all political persuasions.  We are Republicans, Democrats, and Independents.  We are liberals and conservatives and moderates.  And while some of us are quite forthcoming about where our political allegiances lie, not all of us wear our party affiliations on our lapels.  Partisan comments made in passing at church may not be welcome by everybody within earshot.  This is bad enough if the hearer is another church member.  But it could have tragic and eternal consequences if the hearer is an unbeliever who came to church seeking answers to spiritual questions but instead went away feeling that his or her political views were under attack. 

So if you wish to offer an impassioned opinion next week in Sunday school class, make it something non-controversial—like your views on Calvinism.