Everybody knows the two topics to avoid at the dinner table: Religion and Politics.
Because I’m a minister, it’s hard to avoid religion. The moment someone asks what I do (or sees me in a clergy collar), religion is on the table. The reactions are many: some are warm and interested; others look for the nearest exit sign; most scan our conversation up until that point for bad words or supposedly taboo topics; nearly all share some version of: You don’t look like any minister I’ve ever seen!
Because I’m in the D.C. area, it’s even harder to avoid politics. Most people you meet are connected to the government some way, somehow—working for politicians, in government agencies, as military personnel, as government contractors or lobbyists or advocates….And even those not directly working in the political sphere are affected by the rhythm of the political climate. Moods, jobs, moves, livelihoods are on the line based on what’s going on in the United States government.
For better or worse, politics is in the air. It’s hard for dinnertime to be free and clear of the latest headline.
As a minister in D.C., I get asked, a lot: How can we keep religion from being political? It’s a genuine, fair, insightful question. And I think underneath it is: how can we make sure Republicans, Democrats, and Independents all have a place at the table? How can we keep ourselves from aligning with one political party, as if our hope and meaning lies in an American institution rather than a radically loving God?
How can we keep religion from being political?
My answer to this good question is: we don’t.
The root word of political is polis, from the ideal Greek city-state. Basically, being political is caring about the welfare of the city. And the country. And the people, creatures, and land it contains. If political means we are interested in the common good of the community, then religion is necessarily political.
Jesus cared about the common good of the community: That people have enough to eat; that those who are sick have access to care and aren’t stigmatized; that women and foreigners are seen as full persons and beloved children of God; that those who don’t have a seat at the dinner table are welcomed into a feast; that peace triumphs over violence; and and and….
What religion shouldn’t be is partisan—our hope is never in a political party. And a faith community shouldn’t be a place where people are excluded because of their political party affiliation. But insofar as we are called to advocate for those Jesus advocated for, welcome those Jesus welcomed, turn over the tables of power that keep some living in scarcity while others have abundance—we are political. When caring for who Jesus cared for intersects with how politics are run, how and what policies are decided, we have to take a stand. We have to get political. Consider this fair warning before you invite me to dinner….
By Kate Floyd