Politics is often taken to be a dirty word. And many of us are remarkably timid about going public with our faith.
But political processes are simply the way that communities of people organize their common life, allocate their resources and tackle their shared problems. Politics is about the values we honor, the dollars we allocate and the process we follow so that we can live together with some measure of justice, order and peace.
How can people of faith possibly wash their hands of that public arena when our Scriptures so clearly show God's preoccupation with honest weights and measures in the marketplace, judges who will not take bribes, the plight of the poor and perils of wealth, the hospitality for strangers and foreigners and the beating swords into plows and spears into pruning knives?
For people of faith, public policy is never merely politics, never merely economics. It is one way we try to plow the Biblical vision of shalom into the soil of our history. It is a way of living out the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. It is a way of being a "good Samaritan."
It is fitting for local congregations and church structures across the country to develop non-partisan programs to help the Christian community to reflect upon the political order. These can include setting up organizing committees for local and national races, sending teams to interview candidates, holding candidate nights in churches and conducting voter registration and voter drives. In all these activities the goal would be to get the concerns of the church into public debate through the public media and to elect candidates concerned about promoting justice and the common good.
Justice and Witness Ministries has developed a new resource, "Faith, Politics and Elections"—available online at ucc.org/justice/election2004—where you will find descriptions of the various ways in which you and your congregation can get involved in the political process. Because the Internal Revenue Service's tax code largely dictates the degree that churches and religious organizations can be politically active, we have included a reminder section, offering for your consideration general guidelines for tax-exempt churches and religious organizations.
Bernice Powell Jackson is executive minister of the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries and a member of the five-person Collegium of Officers.