Church, politics are old companions – Chicago Sun

By MARY MITCHELL

November 1, 2014 4:28PM





Needless to say, I got a lot of grief for suggesting preachers should keep politics out of the pulpit.

“Hypocrite! What about the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton?” they screamed.

Apparently, I didn’t make myself clear. It is one thing for an ordained minister to advocate on behalf of the poor and the disenfranchised, and another for a pastor to publicly endorse a political candidate.

Jackson is a veteran civil rights leader and Sharpton parlayed his civil rights activism into a TV gig. Neither of these men are pastors.

They haven’t brought politics into the pulpit as much as they have left the pulpit to engage in politics. And while Jackson’s efforts most often center on voter registration, Sharpton is usually involved in social justice issues.

If either of them were pastors, I wouldn’t want to be in their flock because politics is too tumultuous an endeavor.

Frankly, I look forward to the peace of Sunday morning.

Church is the one place that I expect to be on “one accord” with people whose only motive is increasing the faith.

After all, we might not agree on the merits of a particular political candidate, but we can agree on the role Jesus plays in helping us get through life’s obstacles.

In functioning churches, the inspiration and guidance needed for our faith to increase comes from the pastor.

But in the African-American community, people also look to ministers for political leadership, primarily because of the historic role the clergy played in the civil rights movement.

Still, in too many instances, their political activism could be bought for a price.

In “Black Churches and Local Politics: Clergy Influence, Organizational Partnerships and Civic Empowerment,” by R. Drew Smith and Fredrick C. Harris, various commentators trace the evolution of church-based politics.

Chicago’s church-based political structure was always rife with problems, as noted in a quote from the late Rev. A. Patterson Jackson, senior pastor of Liberty Baptist Church:

“The church made sure that I was freed from any wants, so I never had to ask any politician for anything… Give to Caesar what’s Caesar and to God what’s God[‘s]. We feel that if you accept a favor from a politician one day you will have to pay it back,” Jackson said.

In the 1983 race that pitted Jane Byrne against Richard M. Daley and Harold Washington, 150 black ministers endorsed Daley.

How in the world did that happen?

According to Harris, it happened because politicians nurtured ties with “activist clergy” by “providing funding for their social service programs, lobbying city and state agencies on the behalf of ministers, making direct financial contributions to the church or minister, appointing ministers to boards or commissions.”

That’s not to say all ministers were bought.

For instance, the Rev. Clay Evans, pastor emeritus of Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church, defied the Daley Machine and used his pulpit to mobilize support for Martin Luther King Jr. and the freedom movement.

“For Reverend Evans punishment for joining the movement went beyond building code violations… It took seven years for Reverend Evans and his congregation to finish building,” according to Harris.

This governor’s race feels even more contentious because black ministers are not just pushing a candidate — they are pushing the Republican Party to congregations that vote overwhelmingly Democratic.

The ministers might have good intentions. But instead of advocates, these messengers ended up looking like opportunists.

Last week, a reader sent me the following Scripture. It could apply to politics in the pulpit:

“No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” Luke 16:13

That says it all.

Email: marym@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MaryMitchellCST