Recently, on a balmy day just before 5.00 p.m., Pontheolla and I stopped at one of our favorite Spartanburg, SC, spots (a “Cheers” kind of place where everyone knows your name) for a glass of wine. For her, a luscious, full-bodied Malbec. A dry fruity Pinot Grigio for me.
Within short order, I was engaged in conversation with another patron with whom I previously had chatted casually. Speeding through talk of the weather and summer vacation plans, he began to offer his views of several of the already announced and presumptive presidential candidates. Given the volume, in word and sound, of his discourse (soliloquy?), I began to suspect that he expected for me only to listen and not to have an (any!) opinion. Testing my surmise, I, politely interrupting him, responded to one of his comments. Wide-eyed, he said, “I’m surprised at you, a minister, talking politics.” (Instantly, I recalled one of my mother’s frequent admonitions, her soft, yet stern voice ringing through my consciousness, “Religion and politics never are to be mixed!) Then he quickly changed the subject.
Contemplating our exchange (so spare in content and length that it barely rose to the level of brief), three things come to mind…
First, I am reminded (particularly now living in the South, though I think it applies nationwide) that the Black Church, both the laity and the clergy, has little difficulty blending (having less of a problem seeing a connection between) religion and politics, particularly at election time.
Second, now in retirement, as I reflect on my years of active ministry, I can recall a number of times encouraging the members of the congregations I served “to exercise their political franchise and vote” while, at the same time, being careful never to advocate for any given candidate.
Third, when I reference politics, I am not thinking primarily of government, even less the practices of currying favor and influence-peddling, and still less the machinations of manipulation. Rather politics, from the Greek politicos (of or relating to citizens) and from the root polis (city), has to do with the act, the art of human relationships. And religion is closely related to theology, that study of God and, even more, the exploration and experience of relationship with God.
And, as a Christian, in the words of the hymn, “when I survey the wondrous cross whereon the Prince of Glory died,” among the many ways I interpret this symbol, I behold in its vertical dimension God’s relationship with us in Jesus, in his incarnation coming among us, and, in its horizontal dimension, our relationship as followers of Jesus reaching out to all.
Hence, for me, it – politics and religion (theology) – is about relationships and, more specifically, the “what” of the “how” we are to relate to one another, that is, with unconditional love and justice toward all, always and in all ways.
Illustrations: Graphic by Cody Schumacher from The Sheaf, the University of Saskatchewan student newspaper. The cross by Lynda Smith-Bugge (Chapel of the Nazarene, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Capitol Hill, Washington, DC)
 Words by Isaac Watts (1674-1748)