Politics and Religion

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January 6, 2019   Click on the left end of the black bar to play/pause

January 6, 2019
Matthew 2:1-12
Fr. George Smiga

Some people would say that you should never discuss political issues in church. Is this a rule we should accept or not? It depends on what we mean by political. If, by political, we mean promoting a particular political party or extolling or criticizing a particular politician, then this kind of dialogue is inappropriate to a church setting. But if what we mean by political is the way that certain moral values are either supported or diminished by our government policies, then that kind of political dialogue is not only acceptable but necessary when we come together to pray.

You see, Jesus did not come into this world simply to show us how to get to heaven. Jesus came into this world to show us how we are to live with one another in this world according to justice and to love. So when our government, or any government, adopts policies that are contrary to Jesus’ teaching, then we, as followers of Jesus, should not only know about it but discuss it. In this sense, being religious is always political.

This truth is on display in today’s gospel. Although we usually focus on the magi offering their gifts to the Christ child as represented in our Christmas crib, the story of the magi takes place in a context that is profoundly political. In fact, the majority of the gospel passage is not about the magi but about King Herod who was the political ruler at the time of Jesus’ birth. Herod’s political agenda was to keep his power and to eliminate the Christ child whom he saw as a threat. We learn from another place in the gospel that Herod ordered the execution of all the children in Bethlehem under two years of age. His agenda forced Joseph to take Jesus and Mary and flee to Egypt. Thus, the holy family became a refugee family, fleeing from the oppression of Herod. It is hard to get more political than that, and it’s right there in the gospel story.

So, like Jesus, we live in a world where religion and politics overlap. We are also fortunate to live in a democracy where we have a voice and a vote to influence the policies we believe are just. Whether you are Democrat or Republican, if you are a follower of Jesus, you respect the value of human life, whether that is human life in the womb or providing education and nourishment to the poor. Whether you believe that we should or should not build a wall on our southern border, if you are a follower of Jesus, you recognize the human freedom to begin life in another country through immigration, and you should insist that our government officials develop a just immigration policy that not only protects our borders but also treats those who would try to live among us with respect. Whether you are for or against Obamacare, if you are a follower of Jesus, you realize that there is a human right to adequate health care, just as there is a human right to food.

The church is not a place for partisan debates or political campaigning, but the church is a place where the followers of Jesus come to recommit ourselves to seeing that his teachings have an impact on our society. When the magi realized that the political agenda of Herod was violent and unjust, they refused to cooperate with it. Whenever we recognize that governmental policies are opposed to the teaching of Jesus, we should have the courage to speak out against them with all our strength.

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