The word, “political,” comes from the Greek, polis, which means “citizens,” including residents. And, “theology,” involves the study of God. So, political theology means that voters and residents speak publicly about their understanding of God and justice. All faith traditions have protection from the First Amendment to participate in political debate. The foundation of American democracy requires us to help shape policy and law. After all, “We [are] the People.” We have a duty to create as just a society possible.
Therefore, political (or public) theology can be described as having 2 traits. The first trait involves speaking about important faith matters in public space. And, the second trait requires us to reach as wide an audience as possible for our faith-based political messages.
The First Amendment of the US Constitution. It protects when we do political theology. We have the right of free exercise, or practice, of our religion. We can speak freely in public. The press has protection to report on elected representatives and issues of the day. As important, Americans and residents can gather to peacefully to petition or ask the government to change laws and policies.
The Anti-Establishment Clause. Congress cannot form a supreme federal religion. Americans call this “the separation of church and state.” However, we cannot achieve a strictly separate church and matters of state, or politics. Life does not work that way. As a result, all aspects of our lives have overlapping interests. This includes our faith practice and society’s political realities. For instance, when we sit in the pew, where is our voter self? It sits there within us. When we go to the voting booth, where is our worshiper self? Again, we carry it with us into the booth to make our election choices.
This concept of the separation of church and state is an ideal. Before our constitution, nothing like our First Amendment existed in the history of the world. Allowing free exercise of religion and other freedoms has another name, “the American Experiment.” Consequently, experiments succeed, and experiments fail. Trial and error accompany any new venture. Striking a balance almost always involves resolving tension between the separation of church and state and free exercise of religion.
I am not advocating for establishing any religion. I advocate for all people of faith, not just Christians, to join in the public debate to find just and inclusive solutions to our social crises.
Confusion exists about how charities can be active in politics. Marcia Ledford helps congregations to understand what charities and individuals can do in legally in exercising their constitutional rights. The aim of political theology is not to establish a supreme religion. Its aim is to participate as one of hopefully many different voices of faith who work for a more just society. Click here to learn more about her Seminars and Services.
Why do we need Political Theology?
Progressive Christians remain relatively quiet in the public square, even though the federal constitution protects our speech. Compared to more traditional corners of Christ’s vineyard, we fail to respond and assert our theology. The reasons for this are varied, yet we need to express our theology clearly and proactively whenever and wherever possible.
Christ calls us to work for social justice, just as he did. We interpret the Gospel as inclusive and compassionate. As a result, we must respect others especially when they differ from us or need our help. Our theology of radical hospitality welcomes and respects all people. Therefore, we have a duty, if we call ourselves Christians, to spread the Good News of love, peace, and compassion. Political Theology is essential today, perhaps now more than other. It cuts through the divisiveness with a message of love and hope.
Unfortunately, we usually react to an opposing theological understanding. Instead, we must frame our theological discussions. For example, Jesus told Peter to “Feed my sheep, feed my lambs, feed my sheep,” after Jesus rose from the grave. What does feeding Christ’s lambs and sheep look like today? Caging children and infants fails to feed or nourish them. Detaining refugees indefinitely does not constitute caring for them. Consequently, when we engage in political theology, we offer the public another viewpoint to consider. It is not about getting into big arguments with opponents, because the foundation of a democracy is a free exchange of ideas.