Friday, January 06, 2012

Parish Politics

A recent conversation has got me thinking about politics in church.

No, I'm not talking about the recent Iowa caucuses, nor about how some preachers might tell people in their churches how to vote. Rather, I'm thinking about the ways in which different personalities play off of each other in getting the work of the church done.

For example, consider a pastor who can preach from a deep understanding of the nuances of biblical interpretation, but who nonetheless might come off as talking over the heads of members who did not have that level of education. They may well prefer a pastor who "talks like they do." Now consider that the first pastor is just as caring in most interpersonal relations with church members, and may well be better at conducting the business of a church at meetings. Even with all of those "benefits," many members might still prefer the "talks like they do" pastor. I don't mean to place fault with such people, but simply to illustrate that how we feel about people is indeed deeply embedded with how churches conduct their business, and thus with politics.

Not convinced yet? Consider this definition of politics: "the complex or aggregate of relationships of people in society, esp those relationships involving authority or power." Politics isn't just about elected officials in civil government, or about divisive issues and laws. It is also about the day-to-day workings of how people get things done. This is especially obvious when dealing with people of differing personalities, to say nothing of the differences in opinion that are increasingly prevalent these days.

When viewed in this way, you really can't avoid politics in church, and this has very real implications for how we live our faith. The person who is has a favorite hymn that hasn't been played in church for years is now on the worship committee. The woman who's grandmother can no longer use her own stairs at home may be on the property committee. People bring their experiences, personalities, opinions, everything that they are into these committees, and thus into the work that is done for the church, affecting everything from what color of carpet is set in the sanctuary to what translation of the Bible is put in the pews. It's messy, and indeed political, but that's how most churches work in some measure or another (even if a church doesn't have "committees," per se).

So, the next time someone complains about the church being "political," (especially if that word is offset against some other ideal of the church. Say, "spiritual," for example) it might be worth the effort to ask them to clarify what they're talking about.

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