For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.’ And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him.
-Mark 6:17-20 (NRSV)
Pastors have a long history of political involvement. That is in contrast to the popular sentiment in America that tosses out the separation of church and state oftentimes during election years and controversial debates on issues like Planned Parenthood, stem cell research and gay marriage. Regardless of the platform, pastors have a history of braving the foray of politics through political involvement.
Adam Clayton Powell stands out as a pastor who turned to a life of politics for many years. Prior to ever campaigning for a political office, Powell spent much of his time outside of the pulpit pressuring New York’s city hall for policy changes. Powell demonstrates one manner by which pastors stood out in the political spectrum.
Jerry Falwell was involved in politics. Falwell led an evangelical Christian movement to bring morality back into the mainstream of American life. The Moral Majority pushed and pulled on all sorts of matters in the political arena from indecency and pornography to issues like prayer in schools.
Today’s pastors find themselves under fire when congregants and others share that they only want to hear the gospel message from the pastor. Many will argue for pastors to stay in the pulpit and stay out of politics.
The case can be made for pastors to go beyond many of their predecessors, though. Look at the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street. There is an element of unrest in America today. Jesus could view a plasma TV screen today or an iPad and look on compassionately, seeing plenty of sheep without a shepherd in this plentiful harvest.
The fact is that we need more pastors involved in politics through advocacy and activism. We need them to stand in the midst of the mayhem like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. took a nonviolent stance for civil rights and the poor. We need them to push the agenda with local and national politicians. We need them to testify the depths of disparity that exist on the streets and in our communities that extend beyond the homeless to the working poor and shrinking middle class of America.
In essence, we need more pastors who can deliver stirring words outside of the pulpit as much as we need them to handle the Word of God within the pulpit.
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