New from best-selling author Rev. Dr. Marvin McMickle is Pulpit & Politics, which seeks to provoke an emergence of a new generation of black preacher-politicians who will move beyond spiritual leadership and into advocacy and social justice. Dr. McMickle argues for the vital role of the preacher, not only in the pulpit but in serving the community and challenging the government, from within or without.
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About the Author
Marvin A. McMickle, DMin, PhD, president of Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School in Rochester, New York, previously served as pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in Cleveland, Ohio, for nearly twenty-five years. One of the nation's most respected preachers, McMickle was professor of homiletics at Ashland Theological Seminary, spent a semester as a visiting professor at Yale University Divinity School, and has more than a dozen books to his credit, including resources on preaching, ministry, and African American history.
Read an Excerpt
Pulpit & Politics
Separation of Church & State in the Black Church
By Marvin A. McMickle
Judson PressCopyright © 2014 Judson Press, Valley Forge, PA 19482-0851
All rights reserved.
PREACHERS HAVE A PLACE IN POLITICS
I am aware that there are likely to be many people, including many black clergy, who will not immediately agree with my insistence upon political involvement as an essential aspect of the work of the church and the clergy. They will likely be inclined to say, "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, and unto God that which is God's" (see Matthew 22:21), or, "Be in the world but not of the world" (see John 15:19; 17:14; Romans 12:2). I honor those who see it as their chief vocational task to serve in a priestly or pastoral role with spiritual formation as their primary objective. However, I want to call attention to the claim by Peter Paris that over the years that black people have been living in the United States and its colonial predecessors, black clergy have functioned within four distinct leadership models: priestly, prophetic, nationalist, and political.
Most black preachers have always gravitated to the more sheltered and less controversial role of priestly leaders working almost exclusively within the church and within church-based or church-affiliated organizations. It should not be forgotten that while the priestly role may have been the most frequently chosen role for black preachers, it was by no means the only role chosen by all black preachers. Readers of this book will be reminded of the other three models of leadership mentioned by Paris, including the political model of clergy leadership within the black church that has functioned with great effectiveness over the last 150 years, and that can and, hopefully, will continue to play an important role in the twenty-first century.
It should be noted that a separate attempt at defining the leadership models of the black preacher in America is offered by Tamelyn Tucker-Worgs in her book The Black Mega-Church: Theology, Gender, and the Politics of Public Engagement. That book looks at the public engagement models of 149 black congregations with an average weekly attendance of two thousand persons or more. The author states, "The repertoire of black church public engagement activities comprises three broad categories: protest politics, electoral politics, and community development."
For Tucker-Worgs, the protest aspect of black church leadership is typified by the Civil Rights era and would match up well with Paris's reference to the prophetic model of leadership. The community development model, which is a new designation, relates specifically to the capacity of megachurches to leverage their resources into 501(c)(3) organizations that can seek grants and engage in not-for-profit efforts that range from housing rehabilitation, to retail and commercial outlets, to other forms of physical redevelopment in hard-hit urban centers. However, she also points to the electoral politics focus of many black megachurches when she says, "As African Americans gained greater access to the electoral sphere, activist black churches in post–civil rights America hold candidate forums and distribute voter guides, and in more than a few cases their ministers have run for public office."
Tucker-Worgs suggests that this kind of political activism has been present in black churches since African Americans "gained greater access to the electoral sphere." What she does not suggest, but what is central to the argument in this book, is that black people first gained such access with the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1870 during the Reconstruction era, not with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Thus, the involvement of black churches and black ministers in electoral politics does not come on the heels of the Civil Rights era of the 1950s and 1960s; rather, political involvement greatly precedes that era by nearly one hundred years, then runs parallel to it, and continues into the twenty-first century well beyond the time of what she calls protest politics.
The central point is this: both Peter Paris and Tamelyn Tucker-Worgs recognize that there are several legitimate and long-standing models for leadership and activity among black churches and black clergy, and that one of those models involves electoral politics. Neither author offers even a hint of concern that this political involvement is a violation of the idea of the separation of church and state. In fact, both of them would agree that it was the separation of black people from the mainstream of American society with the sanction and support of the state that created the conditions that gave birth first to the black church, then to the black preacher, and finally to the black preacher/politician.
If political leadership for black communities in the nineteenth century could have arisen unobstructed by racism and the lingering effects of centuries of slavery, the political model of black clergy leadership might not have been necessary. Such leadership could have arisen from within any number of professional groups in which black people normally would have been engaged. This was the experience of the white church community, which never had to look to its clergy for political leadership because persons could be found within the fields of law, education, business, and the military to fill those electoral positions.
That is only now becoming true in the black community. Thus, the issue here is not upholding the separation of church and state when black preacher/politicians emerge; rather, the issue is what many black preachers and black churches had to do and chose to do because the masses of black people had been intentionally and systematically denied access to power or influence within the United States.
This point bears repeating for the sake of added emphasis. If "liberty and justice for all" had included black Americans from the founding of this country, it is very likely that black preacher/ politicians would never have emerged. Like their white counterparts, there would have been more than an ample supply of potential political leaders rising up from all the various professions to which black people would have had unfettered access. It was in response to the absence of liberty and justice for their people that black preacher/politicians began to emerge. It was because so many professions were closed to black Americans from which civic leaders and political leaders could have emerged that a disproportionate number of persons from this particular profession began to emerge as soon as the burdens and limitations of slavery were lifted. This point must be kept in mind when someone seeks to challenge the presence of black preacher/politicians in the political process by referring to "the separation of church and state," a phrase that does not appear in the Constitution.
A THEOLOGICAL POINT OF DEPARTURE
The case that I want to make about the preacher/politician focuses primarily upon the black churches of the United States, but I want to begin by setting forth a theological claim about the link between religion and politics that transcends race or denomination. In order to preempt being criticized for offering only a liberal or progressive theological perspective on this issue, I will draw from the writings of two theologians of great standing within their respective theological traditions: Robert McAfee Brown and Carl F. H. Henry. We begin with the words of Robert McAfee Brown:
Any Christian worth his salt knows that in this day and age there is an imperative laid upon him to be politically responsible. When one considers the fateful decisions which lie in the hands of the politicians, and the impact which these decisions will have for good or ill upon the destinies of millions of people, it becomes apparent that in terms of trying to implement the will of God, however fragmentarily, politics can be a means of grace. Christians may not retreat behind the specious excuse that politics is too messy. Politics has become an arena where the most fastidious Christian must act responsibly and decisively if he is not to be derelict in his duties.
These words from Robert McAfee Brown about acting responsibly and decisively in the political arena were written some sixty years ago, and they came forth in the context of his own involvement in the reelection campaign of Eugene McCarthy as a member of Congress from Minnesota. Brown, himself an ordained Presbyterian minister, wrote them while serving on the faculty of Macalester College, a college affiliated with the Presbyterian Church, prior to his move to Stanford, where he taught from 1962 to 1976. He was cofounder of Clergy and Laity Concerned about Vietnam. He was also arrested in 1961 during his participation as a Freedom Rider in Florida.
These words were instructive to me in 1998, when I ran for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, and they are instructive in today's political environment. Is it appropriate for members of the clergy to be involved in the political process, and to what degree? Should clergy speak about and advocate for specific political issues? Should they write editorials and opinion pieces for the local newspaper on political questions? Should they actively support and even personally endorse persons who are running for political office? Should members of the clergy themselves seek and serve in elective office? If politics can be a means of grace, then why should members of the clergy not seek to engage in what can be essentially another form of ministry?
It is important to begin a discussion about religion and politics and about the involvement of preachers and pastors in the political process by offering a philosophy upon which that involvement can be understood. That is where this statement from Robert McAfee Brown comes in, since he talks about politics as having the potential to be "a means of grace." For most people, these words do not describe their understanding of the political process. Most people likely see politics as divisive, contentious, intrusive, bureaucratic, and corrupt or corrupting. For all of these reasons, many people want nothing to do with politics as it is being practiced in the United States at the present time.
Their point is well taken. As these words were being written, the federal government of the United States was shut down by members of Congress, who were embroiled in a war for and against the Affordable Care Act, which some refer to as "Obamacare." This is a law that was voted on and passed by both houses of Congress; it was endorsed by the reelection of Barack Obama in a campaign against Mitt Romney in 2012 in which the health care law was the central item of contention; and it was upheld as constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. Nevertheless, those who have opposed the health care law all along intended to prevent it from taking effect by refusing to provide funding for its operation.
When Congress failed to vote in 2013 on a federal budget that would include funding for the Affordable Care Act, more than 800,000 federal workers were laid off for sixteen days, and the national economy incurred a loss of more than $24 billion. All of this was the result of the inaction of a minority of the 585 members of Congress, all of whom continued to draw their salaries. This is the politics that left Congress with a 13 percent approval rating by the American people. This is the kind of partisan bickering that has turned so many Americans off in regard to the political process.
POLITICS CAN BE A MEANS OF GRACE
This is not how politics was meant to work in this country, and according to Brown, this is not how politics has to work in this country. Politics can be a means of grace. Political institutions, along with other agencies in our society, can be one of the vehicles by which a more just and humane society can be shaped. Brown is correct when he observes that the decisions made by political leaders impact the lives of millions of people for good or for ill. Our society has allowed for the use of mass incarceration as a way to marginalize black and brown people, as has been powerfully pointed out by Michelle Alexander in The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Will we allow this to continue? That is a political decision made by persons who hold in their hands the fate of millions of people.
Will we have meaningful immigration reform, a minimum wage that can lift working people from the ranks of the working poor, a foreign policy that prefers diplomacy over missile strikes, and a respect for the rights and value of every person, including persons in the LGBT community? These are political decisions, and when they are made by people who possess a passion for justice and equal opportunity, politics can become a means of grace because it becomes the means by which these outcomes are brought to pass. Surely the idea of politics as a means of grace was what President John F. Kennedy had in mind in his inaugural address in 1961 when he said,
With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own.
This is not the message of a preacher aspiring to be involved in politics and looking to insert the word "God" into the national conversation. This is the thirty-fifth president of the United States reminding us that politics can be a means of grace through which the broad values of human dignity and mutual respect for all people can be advanced. When politics is viewed from this angle, it makes perfect sense that people of faith in general and members of the clergy in particular might want to be involved in such an enterprise. This is not the petty bickering and ideological stalemates currently on display among so many of our political leaders. This is a new understanding of what politics can be and what politicians can accomplish when faced with a more promising philosophy and purpose—politics as a means of grace.
AVOIDING DERELICTION OF DUTY
A second challenge comes from those words of Robert McAfee Brown that have informed my ministry and now inform this book: Christians must act responsibly and decisively within the political arena if they are not to be derelict in their duties. If the phrase "politics as a means of grace" puts a positive spin on involvement of Christians and other faith communities in terms of the good that can be accomplished through the political process, then the phrase "derelict in [their] duties" points to the negative consequences of failing to be involved in the political process. If a church or a pastor focuses only on the sanctuary, the hospital bedside, the support of grieving families at a grave site, and the instruction of children and adults in the doctrines of their denomination, they may still be charged with dereliction of duty for failing to engage the process that could, with a single vote, transform for the better the lives of millions of people, including people in that very congregation.
Again, I recognize that there will be many Christians, both lay and clergy, who will not initially embrace the idea of political activity being an essential aspect of the work of the church and its clergy. Some Christians from the holiness/sanctified faith traditions will state that politics can only lead to corruption and a loss of focus on spiritual matters. It is not my intention to refute those views or to demean or declare as unfaithful those who hold them. It is simply my intention to offer an alternative understanding of the link between religion and politics, and to suggest how many opportunities exist to advance the very values that we teach in our churches when we avail ourselves of the influence and resources that reside within the political process.
Excerpted from Pulpit & Politics by Marvin A. McMickle. Copyright © 2014 Judson Press, Valley Forge, PA 19482-0851. Excerpted by permission of Judson Press.
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Table of Contents
Foreword Rev. Dr. W. Wilson Goode Sr. vii
Part I The Preacher/Politician: A Model of Clergy Leadership
1 Preachers Have a Place in Politics 9
2 My Own Experiences in Politics 23
3 "Politics Is a Dirty Business" 41
Part II The Evolution of Religious Liberty and the Separation of Church and State
4 The Quest for Religious Liberty 57
5 The United States as a Secular Society 79
6 What the U.S. Constitution Actually Says 96
Part III The Rise and the Role of the Black Preacher/Politician
7 Moral Conflict in the New United States of America 109
8 Four Models of Black Clergy Leadership for the Twenty-First Century 129
9 Black Preacher/Politicians as Public Theologians 150
Part IV The Black Church and Political Activism
10 The Dos and Don'ts That Every Church Should Know 163
11 The Marks of a Politicized Congregation 175
12 Political Churches and Campaign Finance Laws 195
A Concluding Word: Calling All Interested Persons! 211
Recommended Bibliography 215