“Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this and whose title?” They answered, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matt. 22:17-21)
It’s impossible to read the Bible for very long without coming across discussions of politics, and it makes sense. The Bible is a collection of books telling the stories of God and all the things God created, most specifically us, human beings. And politics, from the Greek politikós, refers simply to anything having to do with public matters—how we live among and with one another. So it comes as no surprise that scripture is full of discussions and stories about things that are inherently political. From money, to social services, to healthcare, to sex, to education, to war, scripture has lots to say about how we live in the world.
So, how do we determine the times and the ways in which we can and should discuss politics in the congregation, especially in educational settings? First things first: it is crucial to help congregational members of all ages be clear on how deeply political our faith is. Though many folks were taught otherwise, there simply is no such thing as apolitical Christianity. So in congregations where this isn’t a given, spending time in scripture simply with the goal of learning what scripture talks about can prove helpful.
Next, it is crucial to determine what your denominational and congregational approaches to biblical interpretation are. Do you endeavor to be literalists? Do you emphasize reading from an understanding of the context in which texts were written? To what degree do you believe biblical texts can and should dictate contemporary behavior? There is no one right answer, and no congregation (or even individual) will only have one approach to biblical interpretation, but it is critical to know who you are in relationship to scripture, especially if you are in an educational role. Particularly if you get paid for your work, you must know what you are responsible to your congregation/denomination for teaching and be clear to congregants, especially children, when you are teaching something that departs from what you have been charged with teaching.
It is also of utmost importance to know the law. If we are serving in congregations in the US, there are very specific laws around what congregations and leaders (especially rostered leaders/clergy) can and cannot do and say, and misconceptions abound. Here is a full listing, but in general, while churches and clergy cannot endorse or fundraise for particular political candidates in the context of their ministry, they absolutely can talk about and to political candidates and politicians, organize around political issues, and educate members on how to effectively participate as individuals in the political sphere.
As you are planning your programming for the fall, knowing that politics and upcoming elections are likely at the front of members’ minds, I urge you to talk with your members, especially the children of the congregation about what they would like to know. Do they want to know what the Bible says about war? Or healthcare? Do they yearn to hear the stories of the Bible’s queer characters? Are they struggling to build a theology of race, knowing that it wasn’t a concept that existed for the biblical authors?
While a fear of discussing politics in the congregational sphere is understandable, and there are guidelines we must follow, it is a responsibility we cannot shirk, knowing that we worship a God who cares deeply about us and the planet. It matters to God how we distribute money, goods, and services. It matters to God who gets fed. It matters to God how we care for ourselves and one another, and politics is the way all this happens.