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Preaching and Politics

by Rev. Frank Schaefer

"I really believe that preaching and politics are synonymous.  Several years ago, Hard Copy interviewed me and asked this question.  “How can you preach on Sunday when on Monday you are at the City Council?"  My answer was: “Any individual who cannot say the same thing on Monday that they say on Sunday does not deserve either office.”

Vice-Mayor Rev. Henry Hearns, Lancaster, CA; also pastor of the First Missionary Baptist Church in Sun Village, CA

Preaching is probably never completely devoid of political undertones.  Even though preachers may avoid overt statements concerning hotly debated issues such as the Iraq crisis or the recent cloning issue, as soon as they draw comparisons between the Scriptures and current issues, political statements are inevitably made.  One important question religious leaders should ask themselves is whether they are aware of the political content and bias of their preaching.

There are a multitude of factors religious leaders should be aware of, ranging from their own political bias to the political landscape of their congregation and community. Foremost, there must be an awareness that when religious leaders speak they represent the voice of a congregation, a community, a denomination, a tradition, and--in the minds of many people--they even represent the voice of God. Once religious leaders have become aware of the political content and bias of their preaching, they might benefit from adopting a conscious approach to preaching and politics.

Three Approaches to Preaching  Politics:

What approach to adopt with regard to preaching and politics is difficult to decide, not least because of the complexity of factors. How can a religious leader preach on political issues with personal and professional integrity while being true to Scripture, theology, traditions, as well as the various political sensitivities of their congregants? Here are three possible approaches to consider:

1) The Silence Approach -- Avoiding Political Preaching

As pointed out earlier, preaching is probably never completely devoid of political statements.  However, one may aim to avoid overt political statements and allusions as much as possible.  This approach has certain advantages, but also some weaknesses:


  • little to no risk for criticism from congregants, the public, or the government (what comes to mind is the recent IRS withdrawal of non-profit status from a congregation whose preacher encouraged congregants to vote a certain way).
  • encourages a comfortable separation between Religion and State; it largely eliminates the challenge to be an interpreter between the two worlds.
  • discourages discord or disputes over controversial issues within the congregation.


  • missed opportunities to address issues and concerns that may preoccupy people's minds.
  • deepens attitudes of elitism and isolationism (theological dichotomy between the physical and the spiritual, the world and the church, etc).
  • missed opportunity to challenge the status quo and work toward socio-economic/racial  justice.

2) The Liberation Theology Approach -- Preaching Politics in the Face of Socio-Economic/Political/Racial Injustice

This approach to preaching is most effective when there are dynamics at work in the local faith community that are oppressive, such as poverty, racial discrimination, government corruption, etc.  Preaching in this approach concentrates on clear social injustices which can be identified easily as evils by Scripture.  This approach works best when the congregation is largely affected by a concrete social wrong, but can also work well for a social-justice sensitive congregation that has declared solidarity with those victimized.

An example to this approach is the civil rights movement of the 1960s in North America which was strongly supported by organized Christianity--especially the black faith community.  Modern-day examples may include the fight against socio-economic injustice, political oppression, human rights violations (including discrimination against our homosexual brothers and sisters?).

3) The Democratic Duty Approach--Preaching Politics in Non-Partisan Terms

"Non-partisan" preaching on political issues should not endorse or vilify specific political parties or candidates. It should concentrate on the issues (like every good political campaign should do as well).  This approach aims at promoting an active involvement in the democratic process of the community on the part of the local church and its religious leaders.  One of its most important objectives is to get people away from mindlessly following partisan lines and to think about and act upon political issues from a theological perspective.

Religious leaders must be careful to maintain a credible voice.  Here are a few suggestions that may be helpful in this regard:

  • Put yourself in the shoes of your congregants that have a political position that differs from your own; remember that you must be a spiritual guide for them too.
  • Start with the interpretation of the scriptures instead of looking for scriptural support for personal views on political issues.
  • Religious leaders speaking on political issues need to speak from a well informed position.  Reading articles on an issue from various sources helps look at an issue from different angles.
  • Speak on political issues from a spiritual care perspective rather than from that of a  political or economic analyst (this is advisable, too, for religious leaders who also hold a political office).  For instance, speak about how cloning human beings could raise very difficult spiritual questions for those cloned, such as: do I share a soul with my DNA counterpart?  Am I created by God?   Am I a person in God's image? etc.
  • Use language that encourages people to think on their own, to study the scriptures and to engage in dialogue.  Raising questions is a great tool to accomplish this.

Select Quotes on this Topic:

  • "Voices of clergy speaking from beemas, pulpits, lecterns, and altars in houses of worship have influenced significantly the direction of politics in this nation since its inception. Indeed, a lively dialogue between the pulpit and politicians has pervaded many of the most critical periods in our national history. Some historians contend that no other form of discourse has held the place of importance in this nation's life than that of preaching . . . By all means, address important issues of the day, but don't cross the line into partisanship." Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, The Interfaith Alliance Foundation
  • Religious Expression at Election Time: "The Becket Fund stands firmly for the proposition that the First Amendment should protect the freedom of any religious minister (whether rabbi or reverend, imam or shaman) to preach about anything at all (including politics of the left, right or center) without the threat of fines or other government sanctions.  In our view, such penalties would represent both a grave offense to the free expression of religious and political views, and an impermissible government preference for politically docile religious groups over politically outspoken ones." Kevin J. Hasson, Esq, The Becket Fund (read the entire open letter to religious leaders)

  • Christian Education versus Humanism: "And what of the Church during this time [of proliferation of humanistic ideas]? There were a limited number of Protestant and Catholic voices fighting the war, but generally the Church droned on mechanically with its disconnected Biblical or catechistic studies as the humanist juggernaut rolled forward." John Loeffler, Worldview Wars in Paradigms, Preaching and Politics