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The first thing we need to recognize is that religion is political. It has always has been political. It is political now, and it will be political into the foreseeable future. The issue is not whether religion is or should be political, the question is what kind of politics will it be?

organizing at church

When I say political I'm not talking about politicians or parties. I'm speaking about addressing the issues we confront around the world, from poverty to war and every kind of injustice. These are the concerns of spiritually aware people.

Religion is not merely about our personal salvation and spiritual development. It's about the salvation of the world. We are to be concerned about others, and this leads us to be concerned about the public policies and government actions that affect people.

This does not mean that churches should be involved in promoting candidates for public office. That is a question of whether churches want to maintain their tax status. IRS rules prohibit charities from promoting individual candidates for political office.

The free exercise and establishment clauses, on the other hand, prohibit only the State. Governments may not prohibit the free exercise of, or respect the establishment of, religion. Churches, on the other hand, are free to involve themselves in a wide array of social causes.

From abolition to the civil rights movement, liberation theology to the poor people’s campaign, religious and spiritual people have worked for social justice throughout history.

Some may say they focus on charity or do their work separate from their religious activities, but none of this outweighs the fact that as spiritual and religious people we are ethically called to take issue with the actions of our governments and be concerned about the effects of our nation’s domestic and foreign policy. To accept responsibility and to take action is what it means to be a spiritually mature person.

When people think of Christians, they often think of evangelicals, but there is also a liberal tradition in the church. From abolition to the civil rights movement, liberation theology to the poor people’s campaign, religious and spiritual people have worked for social justice throughout history. This is central to our calling as religious and spiritual people and it is also the mission of the church so that it makes sense that the church is involved.

Evangelicals seem ignorant of the basic biblical message of the gospel, to care for the poor, bring down the powerful, and lift up the lowly. That’s why I believe this struggle is winnable. Everyone already knows the Bible commands us to provide for the needy, to welcome the stranger, and to love our neighbors. Conservative evangelicals should be hard-pressed to push their agenda when confronted with the true message of the gospel, of Jesus’ ministry, and the Bible.

So we are talking about “ethics,” particularly Christian ethics but also spiritual ethics and social ethics. What are we as human beings, as spiritual people, or as Christians morally obligated or called to do? Are we to be concerned about the welfare of others, to love our neighbors, and what does that mean when applied to our collective activities as a community, a people, or a nation?

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Being spiritual is not about personal morality, purity, or experience without concern for the larger community. Being a spiritual person or being a Christian means loving one another. There’s plenty of biblical support this, and the golden rule is a fundamental ethical principle of many religions.

organizing at church

Isaiah describes the heavens as belonging to God, and the earth as God’s footstool. According to the Bible, God created the nations, even setting their boundaries. God promised to make Israel a blessing to all the nations of the world, to be “a light to the nations” so that God’s “salvation might “reach the ends of the earth." As such, God called the nation of Israel to be a model nation for people to look to for what it means to be ruled by God.

Some of the worst and most horrendous atrocities in the world occur at the hands of governments and other corporate entities. The things we human beings do to each other in the name of God, or nation, or ideology, or profit are the demonic results of our collective political acts and failures to act. We are responsible not only for the things we do, but also for the things others do in our name and on our behalf.

The Bible is an ancient sacred blood-soaked book that is dangerous in the wrong hands. We must wrest it from those who misuse it. Progressive Christians can provide a counter-narrative to the conservative evangelicalism.

The Church has a checkered history, but it’s not alone in its penchant for blood. History is full of bloodshed. Blood has also been shed over ideology, money, and power. The state is the biggest perpetrator of violence in the world.

The question is not “when will religion, and all such foolishness, go away?” The question is to what use will we put our faith? To what use will we put the Church? To what use will we put God?

The Church has a role to play, but it is not a social service agency. It doesn’t have beds, social workers, and doctors. Instead, churches have pulpits and pews.

The Church is an organizing institution charged to bring salvation to the ends of the earth. Like the state, religion isn’t evil, but it can be corrupted and put to evil ends. It’s up to us to resist its tendency toward evil and to lead it toward what is right.

RichProcida

Rich Procida

Rich Procida is an attorney and author who writes about religion, politics and the supernatural at Modernlectionaries.blogspot.com. He also produces"Bible Study for Progressives," a podcast where moderates, liberals and leftist of all faiths and ideologies come together to discuss scripture, spirituality and politics.