There is a story told in church of an elderly woman from the hills, who walked several miles to church every Sunday. Fire and brimstone was served up weekly and that was just the way she liked it. “Amen!” she shouted when the preacher was talking about the dangers of card playing. “Amen!” she cried out when he preached on the evils of dancing. “Amen!’ she roared when he talked about the demon of moonshine.
And then he started preaching about corncob pipes. And not only did she not say anything, she started to get angry. As the preacher greeted every member as they left the church, she gave it to him good. You see, she smoked a corncob pipe, and it was precisely at that point he, “stopped preachin’ and started in on meddlin.’”
I’ve been at this for awhile, and I dare say there has been a few times where I crossed the line from preaching to meddling. I might even confess that there were a few times that I did that on purpose, although the older I get the more I come to realize that there are very few hills worth dying on. Most of the time, however, I really don’t try to meddle even though I have been perceived to do precisely that. I suppose it has a great deal to do with who smokes corncob pipes. Most of the times I have been accused of meddling, it has had something to do with politics.
You may have heard this, but it’s leap year and there is a national election. And just as surely as there was a Feb. 29 on the calendar, the topic of religion and politics has come to the surface once again. Like corncob pipes, there are those who say “amen” when religion and politics mix, and those who get angry, and those who try to change the subject because they fear nothing good can come out of the conversation.
I am not an expert on constitutional law, but from my reading of the non-establishment clause of the First Amendment, it is a one-way street. “The Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion.” Thomas Jefferson described it as a “wall of separation between church and state.”
But it also seems to me that to assume our faith — or our lack of it for that matter — does not inform the choices we make in a representative government is unrealistic. The problem in a free society is that it gets messy. Some dance, some play cards, some drink and some smoke corncob pipes. Like it or not, faith and politics are inextricably connected. The word politics comes from the Greek word for city; an assembly of the people, and the biblical narrative is always about that assembly.
The biblical narrative is also about the choices people make, some good and some terribly flawed, and it has a distinctively political bent. Jesus regularly challenged the institutions of both government and religion to become more intentionally humane and to become instruments of creation and liberation rather than domination and captivity. Just like democracy, that gets a little messy; always has, always will. You and I do not see things through the same lenses, and how your faith is expressed in your choices may be different than mine. There just is not one authentic theology surrounded by imposters. Perhaps that is why the Psalmist writes, “it is better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in princes.”
So when you prepare to vote this year, take a little time to think it through carefully. The choice you make matters. I think I will light up my corncob pipe and do the same.
• Steve Hammer is the pastor at Esperanza Lutheran Church in Ahwatukee Foothills.