COMMAnts from the Conference Minister | February 2015

Mixing Faith & Politics

shari prestemonThe world took note this week as Pope Francis declared Archbishop Oscar Romero as a martyr, opening up the possibility that he might eventually be named a saint.

Romero was assassinated in El Salvador in 1980 while he celebrated a Catholic Mass. Prior to his murder, he had become a fierce human rights advocate, speaking out against repression and on behalf of the poor in a Salvadoran context that would soon erupt in civil war. In a homily he delivered just one day before he was killed, he preached: “In the name of God, and in the name of this suffering people, whose laments rise to heaven each day more tumultuous, I beg you, I beseech you, I order you in the name of God: Stop the repression!”

The announcement from the Vatican this week declaring Romero a martyr came after over 3 decades of debate in the Catholic Church about whether Romero was killed because of his politics or his faith.  My question is this: aren’t faith and politics inextricably linked?

Like Romero, I am a student of what’s termed “liberation theology,” an understanding of faith and of God that tells me an authentic struggle for social justice – ‘liberation’ from all that binds and oppresses God’s people — is an absolute requirement of our scriptural texts and the teachings of Jesus.  More than having been drawn by my readings about liberation theology in seminary, I saw liberation theology at work when I served as mission personnel in the Philippines, when I worked on the frontlines with the poor in Mississippi, and in countless other places across the world and in the U.S.  In each place, the struggle for justice and liberation became an act of faith itself, an empowering resistance to injustice grounded in the belief that God desires fullness of life for ALL God’s children.

That’s why Archbishop Romero dared to challenge an oppressive government and stand with the poor.  That’s why Back Bay Mission consistently advocates for the homeless on the Gulf Coast when few others will.  That’s why so many today across our nation and here in Minnesota are joining the “Black Lives Matter” movement.  That’s why in the United Church of Christ we work so diligently on issues like racism and immigration and LGBT rights and poverty and global peace. Because our faith demands no less of us.

Is that mixing faith and politics?  Perhaps.  After all, sometimes seeking justice means having to challenge systems and change policies.  And that necessitates a certain level of political involvement.  But where conventional wisdom might counsel against mixing faith and politics, I say “so be it.”  Let your faith lead you.  Let justice roll.

Grace and peace,

Shari signature

Reverend Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister