Guest commentary: Politics and the pulpit don’t mix? Quite the contrary

A cross and a rainbow

As a progressive minister, nothing is more frustrating than hearing someone restate the culturally ubiquitous phrase “Keep politics out of the pulpit.” Users of this phrase are mostly always well-meaning and cite this tired cliche as if it is not only a gospel truth but also a legally binding principle — which it is not.

Most of the time when this is said, it’s in a context where I have no chance to refute. But I am here today to say, if it weren’t for politics, I wouldn’t be in the pulpit.

Christianity has an inherently political origin. The fact that our culture has seemed to isolate the political from the spiritual is evidence of how far our society has strayed from a true understanding of the Christian story. As a Christian, I strive to live as a disciple of a man who was publicly executed by the government of the world’s most powerful empire. Jesus was so political, it cost him his life.

As an adolescent, my family, school and community expected that I would pursue life in the political arena. And while I would never totally rule out a political detour at some point, in my view, ministry is not too far off.

My very presence in the pulpit is political. For most of Christian history, queer people were denied the ability to serve in ministry, until my denomination — United Church of Christ — ordained its first openly queer person in 1972. It is impossible to keep politics out of the pulpit when my body and my rights have been voted on, legislated and regulated.

In 2019, I openly decried child separation under then-President Trump’s immigration policies because my faith in Jesus Christ compelled me to do so. Before that, I openly opposed the nomination of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court because my faith says a thing or two about believing women. It would be spiritually abusive and irresponsible of me to not speak words of liberation from La Jolla’s oldest pulpit.

Recently I was asked if I had understood the risk I was taking when I posted “Black Lives Matter” signs on my church last year. The answer is, I absolutely did. I didn’t go into ministry to make everyone comfortable. I did it to afflict the comfortable and to comfort the afflicted.

Religion and politics cannot be separated. But the church and state can be. Let’s not use “Keep politics out of the pulpit” as a lazy excuse for avoiding the essential yet uncomfortable topics of our day. The separation of church and state is sacred and I will always defend it. Meanwhile, I will continue to preach history’s most political message: the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Rev. Tim Seery is senior pastor of Congregational Church of La Jolla.