Last week I met up in Brownsville, Texas, with youth from our high school program and several members of our church. Our mission was two-fold: help the small Brownsville church with some necessary repairs and cleanup, and support a rally near the border protesting the wall being built between Mexico and the United States. The rally was held on the University of Texas at Brownsville campus, and if all goes according to “plan,” the campus, along with countless private farms and communities along the frontier, will be bisected by the wall!
Not by plan, I arrived just as the cleanup operation at the Brownsville All Souls Unitarian Church was ending. I was so proud of the work our youth did: power-sanding doors, pulling up ancient linoleum, filling a dumpster with debris. Someone told me that the church hadn’t looked that good in years. It was also a delight sharing worship with the small congregation on Sunday morning where I delivered the sermon and led the hymns on guitar. I was even invited to sing my favorite Peter Mayer song, “Everything’s Holy Now,” for the offertory, something I’ve not done in a few years.
At the rally I also spoke, but it was a deliberate political speech and not a sermon. It made me think about the interview I had had earlier in the week with some young filmmakers working on a documentary about the separation of church and state. Isn’t speaking out on a political issue mixing the two? Should clergy get involved with politics?
A. Powell Davies, an outspoken leader on the separation of church and state, made a clear distinction between speaking out on social injustice as a community religious leader and bringing partisan politics into the church. As a prominent social activist for civil liberties, government accountability, civilian control of atomic energy, family planning, and desegregation, he was never shy about jumping into the moral issues of his time. But bringing partisan politics into the church threatens to erode the moral ground on which the church must stand. That’s why you’ll never hear me asking you to endorse a candidate or party, or even talking about my own opinions on such, from the pulpit.
It’s every citizen’s duty to watch for the issues that will move him or her to action, and in the coming months — as our church deepens its commitment to social justice through house meetings, actions, and community outreach — I encourage all of us to pick one or two actions that stir compassion in our hearts toward others. Social justice is not just an option for our religious life, it is essential to it so that all people may have a chance to live in safety and economic freedom.