As I travel around and meet with clergy and speak at congregations around the state, I am often confronted with this question, or rather, often not a question but a statement: “We (i.e. the clergy or the congregation) can’t get involved in politics, that’s not our role.” My response is always “On the contrary, that is exactly where we need to be involved!”
So often when we talk about ‘politics’, people get stuck on the nitty-gritty of partisan politics, the unfortunate mud-slinging our candidates these days seem to engage in so often as ‘business as usual’. In this I agree, the faith community cannot and should not take part in these activities; it is not legal to do so, in terms of our tax status as non-profits, nor is it appropriate for congregations and their leadership to weigh in on candidates.
However, when we are talking about issues of social justice and public policy, these are very much matters of great concern to our communities and it is very much our place, and our responsibility, to raise up our prophetic voices.
When the dominant voices that are raised in the public square focus on fear-mongering and religious hatred, it is not partisan politics to speak out for civility. It is very much our place to remind people that our country was founded on religious freedom and that we are stronger when we welcome new immigrants and celebrate diversity of all kinds. When the social safety net is frayed almost to the breaking point and voter rights are threatened, our religious teachings impel us to speak out on behalf of the poor and disenfranchised. When a handful of wealthy donors and big corporations wield so much influence over the political process, who better than the religious community to stand up to protect our democracy from becoming an oligarchy? And when income inequality is at an all-time high, public education is threatened, and access to health care continues to be a political football, people of faith must speak out as the moral voice exhorting our elected leaders to do the right thing for those they represent.
Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice will continue in 2016 to be a voice for moral choices in our federal, state, and local legislatures, to keep our members informed, and to provide opportunities for each of us to take part in the public debate.