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Our neighbor George was recently talking with a friend about how they both observed Thanksgiving Day. His friend said that before he and his sister left for grandmother’s house their mother gave them some explicit instructions. He vividly remembered four. First, do not argue or cause irritation — we “will” have a happy time! Second, greet grandmother with a hug and kiss and tell her how glad you are to see her! Third, eat everything (I mean everything!) on your plate! Fourth, never, under any circumstances talk about religion or politics — they don’t go together especially on Thanksgiving!

George said he agreed with most of the Thanksgiving commands except the one that religion and politics don’t mix. Religion is, or should be, about everyday life. Jesus was more interested in getting heaven into people on Earth than getting them into heaven. The phrase I keep going back to is found in a prayer of Jesus where he says “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” At the same time politics is also about everyday life with its problems and concerns and how we are called to work together to find solutions. Both concern human issues and both invite us to find answers. I find that my religious faith helps me to tackle issues, especially serious ones, better than putting my faith on a back burner.

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“Politics,” he admits, is a multifaceted word that is really about daily life and the issues that we face. Being “political,” on the other hand, means you recognize the problems and issues that we face and you resolve to do something about them. “Partisan politics” is another animal because you now take sides on the best way to solve or not solve the issues that face us. George’s friend said he disagreed with the definitions that George had expressed (above) to which George responded that this was his column and he would define the words as he chose.

Our religious faith should help guide us in the “politics” stage to identify current issues that are critical to life today and also to our Creator. Some of the issues we face are: jobs and job security, a divided-divisive country (maybe even world), health care, affordable housing, family planning, immigration, terrorism, name-calling, political unrest and the list goes on.

The “political” stage is a little tougher. We take our priority list and then go to work finding solutions. In this case it means we need to work together which is becoming more and more difficult. The final stage “Partisan Politics” (something like “partisan religion”) is at an almost impossible stage in our society today because “compromise” is a bad word — people talk but do not listen and too often those we disagree with become our enemy. How can religious faith that seeks (or should seek) the common good help us to build bridges of understanding and tear down the walls of separation?

Is it possible that the church or any religious institution can “sell its soul” in order to get the political things that they want? A pastor of a large congregation (I believe from Texas) is a supporter of the president both for his nomination, election and now his defense. Apparently he commented that we knew he wasn’t a moral man before his election but God can use immoral people like David in the Old Testament to further God’s will and added that he honestly believes God chose him as president for this time. As evangelicals there were a number of things we wanted and if elected he promised to come through for us. In response we promised to be his base through thick and thin. Things like Supreme Court judges who would vote the way we do, the overturn of Roe v. Wade and the day when all abortions would be banned, stopping illegals who are ruining our great nation and the freedom of religion to practice what we believe in daily life. He closed by saying that is why the president should be re-elected.

In response we asked, but what about other important issues, like the growing division between the rich and the poor, or white supremacy groups, or better racial relations or the plight of the cities or the attack on women’s rights or the changing weather patterns based on climate change? The response was, yes, there are other issues like you mentioned but they are not the most important ones for us.

It does frighten me when religious people become more identified with their political beliefs which tend to be very partisan in our culture today rather than the faith they say they hold. It is not healthy when we bend our religious beliefs (and Biblical interpretations) so they will correspond to the party line of a particular party. Our faith should judge our political beliefs rather than the other way around.

Since religious faith and politics must mix and since both deal with life issues how do we find a way that is not divisive? Some time ago, after city riots, we lifted up as part of morning prayer the city, residents, prayers for city congregations and the hope for stability. A comment came back that the prayer was too political. For some, religion and politics will never mix. For some, religion is about life in heaven and politics is about real life on Earth. In rejecting that opinion we find that it is meaningful to pray and work for certain issues not as Republicans or Democrats or liberals or conservatives but as followers of the teachings of Jesus. What does the message of Jesus have to say to you about the critical issues of today?

Is it religion and politics or politics or religion? George and I urge “let the dialogue continue.” We only ask that you think on these things.

The Rev. Dr. Wm. Louis “Lou” Piel is pastor of Mount Zion United Methodist Church in Finksburg and can be reached at julo1@verizon.net.

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