Congratulations if you have decided to read this post. Having the words church and politics in the same sentence once is enough to drive most self-respecting people far away.

However, as I reflect on Northwest Washington synod assembly 2010 (an annual gathering of local ELCA Lutheran leaders to determine shared agenda/budget/representation and share about the good work going on), two things need to be said about the two words together.

First: Assembly was an excellent demonstration that church politics are not always bad. We decided on four resolutions ranging from sexuality to taxes to funding campaigns with no public attacks or hurt feelings. What’s more, the assembly was able to express some issues they were finished dealing with because they had already been debated in previous years and refer an issue on which we didn’t have enough information to decide to another body that would.

To put it simply, the opening declaration “I declare this assembly to be in session in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” became reality.

I think I can say that it was an upbuilding experience for the majority of those in attendance as, instead of bickering and fighting, we tried to see other’s viewpoints. Our theme and keynote speaking by Amy Oden of Wesley Seminary on Welcome didn’t hurt. I and those I have talked to left feeling like God is at work NOW in and through the Lutheran church and our ecumenical partners in amazing ways.

As Ruben Duran of the national office quipped, “God the chef has finally found the Lutherans [the frozen chosen] in the freezer and we’re getting out of there!”

Second:One of the resolutions we considered highlighted the issue of the church’s proper role (if any) in politics. At issue was whether our synod should publicly support a state income tax measure currently trying to qualify for the ballot.While Washington has not had an income tax, the initiative’s proponents argue that creating an income tax that affects only the top 3% of earners can help address both the state budget woes and the disparity of tax burdens between rich and poor (right now, the bottom 20% pay about six times the percentage of their income in state taxes that the top 3% do).

The major question became “what kind of a role should a church body have in the political process?” Thankfully, ELCA Lutherans have three excellent sources to turn to which all agree on this matter.

First and most importantly, we have the Bible. The prophets I think spoke fairly clearly on this that poverty – including that of those outside “our” community, like resident aliens or foreigners – is a faith issue.

Second, Martin Luther was not shy about making political arguments and involving the church in politics. He wrote about peasant revolt, among other things. No, he didn’t speak on taxes the way we think of them, because the system was completely different. But yes, he was for the church supporting economic justice in a variety of ways, including both giving directly to alleviate poverty and advocating on behalf of the impoverished.

Third, and connected to the first two, the ELCA has a denominational social statement on economic life. If you haven’t read it (or haven’t read it recently), you should take the next 15 minutes to do so. I could quote almost the entire statement here, but in terms of the issue of our participation as a church in the political debate, here is a core summary:

Through human decisions and actions, God is at work in economic life. Economic life is
intended to be a means through which God’s purposes for humankind and creation are
to be served. When this does not occur, as a church we cannot remain silent because of
who and whose we are. -p. 3, ELCA Social Statement on Economic Life.

So, to speak concisely:

  1. Church Politics does not have to be a bad word, but can be powerful, uplifting, and mission oriented.
  2. Churches have an important and legal role in politics based on the divine imperative and their purpose as carriers of the whole gospel, not just of eternal salvation, but of God’s plans to prosper all of creation, and
  3. Washington state residents should get educated and sign/vote for the income tax initiative for our November ballot.