“For many years I have had a Spiritual and Political need to be involved in the Gun Safety Movement…” Herman
“To believe and proclaim, “Jesus is Lord,” is both a spiritual and political act.” Gary
These were two of the comments from my last blog where I asked the question about the line between what is spiritual and what is political. This has been an area of interest for me ever since I changed my college major from political science to religion over four decades ago.
I entered college with the intent to study political science with the hope of serving our country in some elected position. I loved the studies, but after taking a couple of religion courses I discovered that something seemed to be missing for me in my political science classes. There was an added element present in the religion courses that intrigued me—an ideology based on a universal Sacred presence (something we call theology).
The interesting thing was that I discovered that political science and religion essentially dealt with the same basic human questions. Political science is rooted in the concept of the “polis” which is the Greek word for the city/state. Political science is the arena where one develops an ideology or philosophy about how society should be ordered, what behaviors are approved and barred, and what values govern the people of the polis.
Religion comes from the Latin word “religio” which translates “to tie or to bind.” In other words, religion deals with the values that connect us to each other, to nature and to a Sacred reality that we Christians refer to as God. Both political science and religion have to do with how we relate to each other and the world.
I never lost my love for political science. In fact, over the years I have become deeply involved in city planning co-chairing a 30-year vision initiative for Portland, sitting on the City Charter Council, and being an alternate county commissioner. I did this while also serving as a pastor. For me it was not like splitting my time between two different worlds; it was doing the same work in two different settings.
I do believe that every church has to decide how involved they want to be in issues that clearly cross into the political realm. I don’t believe that every church has to do it the same way or to the same degree. But I also believe that one cannot separate spirituality from politics. Spirituality without politics is like love without commitment.
I do believe that there is a place where one can retreat from the chaotic world of politics—on retreat, in meditation, snowshoeing in the mountains, getting lost in music, and enjoying a soulful sunset. But in a tradition that prides itself on the “Preaching of the Word” it is impossible to have a sermon that is purely spiritual.
If a pastor preaches a general sermon about “Loving your neighbor as yourself” it is generally seen as spiritual. As soon as that same pastor gets specific—LGBTQIA, Muslim, tattooed, homeless, BIPOC—it suddenly sounds political and over the line to some.
My friends, politics and religion are like kissing cousins. Both address the most basic questions of how we relate to each other, how we behave toward each other, and the values that connect us.
The only way to be spiritual without also being political is to become a hermit. And that, in itself, is a political act.
By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades
You wrote, “Spirituality without politics is like love without commitment.” What about the reverse – is there such a thing as commitment without love? – In which case, wouldn’t there also be politics without spirituality? If so, I wonder if that may be crux of one of our contemporary societal ailments. What do you think?
Yes, that is why I made the shift from political science to religion. I found that political science could be too utilitarian for my taste. I guess my view is that spirituality without politics can lead to the sort of “feel good” mentalities that don’t get into the trenches of life. But that politics without spirituality can lead to ideologies rooted in greed, power, and authoritarianism. Which, as you, may be the crux of contemporary social ailments. Hmmmm….