Separation of Church & State

It has not been easy resisting the temptation to wear my Obama for President lapel pin to church this past couple of Sundays, but resist I have. It is not the right time or place to declare my leanings.

My church, All Souls Woodley Park, declares that all are welcome. Democrats, Republicans, Independents, even those who still dream of a Nader presidency. As an Episcopal congregation, we strongly believe that there is a place at the table for ALL God’s children – Liberals, Conservatives, Black, White, Gay, Straight and Transgender. It is unfortunate and contrary to the spirit of Christianity that there are people at both extremes who exclude their sisters and brothers just because they happen to disagree with their own political, social and religious ideas (yes, it is their thoughts not God’s mandates much as they’d like to fool themselves).

While All Souls’ membership appears mostly progressive, it actually has a good number of Republicans and conservatives. There is an economic adviser to John McCain’s presidential campaign, a former staffer on George H.W. Bush’s presidential campaign, an ex-publicist of a Republican senator, fiscal conservatives, libertarians and dyed in the wool, lifelong Republicans. There is even a hawkish Log Cabin Republican employed by the War Industry!

Yet somehow, everyone gets along, respecting differences which ordinarily seem irreconcilable and insurmountable. There is even a strong sense of community. There is genuine affection for one another. McCain’s economic adviser laughs, prays and serves alongside an LBJ Democrat and labor organizer.

At a discussion group this summer, a member voiced his desire to hear more “political” language at the pulpit. He believed that the minister ought to be explicit about how we are to respond to poverty, suffering and inequity. I suspect he hoped his priest would outrightly endorse liberal actions and openly take sides, his in particular.

Surprisingly, the more progressive folk were alarmed at the suggestion. I was one of them. I responded that while I feel strongly about social and economic justice issues, I do not think it is the minister’s job to proclaim which public policies and candidates are God’s. Rather it is the pastor’s job to articulate, and ours to learn, core Christian values. How we each choose to live them out is up to us and our conscience.

Recently, the neocon gay man expressed his relief at having found All Souls and not hearing political exhortations thinly veiled as sermons. It had been challenging for him to find a congregation within the District where he could take a break from toxic partisanship and where he would feel welcome in spite of his party affiliation. I suspect that it had been impossible for him to find a place among conservative parishes that not only agree with his politics but his sexual orientation as well.

There is enough division, partisanship and rancor in the world. We need the respite offered by places like All Souls. Difficult as it is, I’ll remove my lapel pin at the door.

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