Why Christians and politics should mix

The News and Observer OP-ED
MAY 14, 2016

I have met the political enemy – me and my fellow Christians who find it so hard to live our convictions

Christians are ‘political’ in that beliefs, including religious beliefs, have political consequences

We believe that Jesus Christ reigns, not Caesar; that God, not nations, rules the world

Bishop Willimon,

I liked you when you were preacher at Duke Chapel. But now that you have gotten political, you are an embarrassment. Shame on you for your work against HB2!

– A concerned Christian

I’m in the middle of grading papers, and so have little time to respond to individual emails. But here is how I would generally answer such a note:

Dear concerned Christian:

I have never met Gov. Pat McCrory, though I did see him eating a halftime hot dog at the Duke-Carolina basketball game. He looked rational.

Then came the governor’s “bathroom bill.” I’ve been forced back into politics – as a Christian. I’ve attended rallies and signed statements and was interviewed on NPR about this misguided, mean-spirited bill.

Of all the things that need doing in our state, why did our governor sign a law that vilifies and makes life more difficult for some of our most vulnerable citizens? Why has the legislature taken time out from protecting ballot boxes from voters and keeping children safe from quality schools to protect people from non-existent threats to restrooms? What’s next?

I’ll admit that Jesus was notoriously disinterested in sexuality, though he was tough on heterosexual adultery. Jesus was adamant that his followers take responsibility for those who were vulnerable. Jesus commanded us to love others, welcome strangers, forgive enemies and pray for those who persecute us. I feel certain that Jesus would not have approved of vilifying someone for misusing a restroom.

I’ll also admit that Jesus took little notice of politics. Judea was occupied by the largest army in the Near East, at least before our occupation of Iraq. But it didn’t take politicians long to recognize Jesus as a threat. In a vain attempt to shut Jesus up, it was a politician who ordered that he be tortured to death.

Since then, Jesus’ followers have caused political trouble in just about every society where they have been located. Politics is about power, and Jesus commanded us not just to think good thoughts but actively to do good deeds. When politics works, it does something radical: assume responsibility for people who are neither in my family nor who look like me, people with whom I have no relationship other than Jesus.

That’s why I joined with the Catholic and Episcopal bishops of Alabama in suing the governor of Alabama for his mean-spirited immigration law. We bishops won.

During his campaign for governor, McCrory promised to keep undocumented workers out of our state but never pursued that. We bishops didn’t have to go to court.

In one sense, you have a valid objection that I, as a clergyperson, have “gotten political” in my criticism of our state’s politicians. Christians are “political” in that beliefs, including religious beliefs, have political consequences. We believe that Jesus Christ reigns, not Caesar; that God, not nations, rules the world. God’s peculiar answer to what’s wrong with the world, God’s showcase for creative social alternatives, is the church.

Our sweeping biblically based political claims mean that, when we are confronted with something like HB2, we’ve got to try to speak up like Christians.

Returning from a Moral Monday demonstration in Raleigh, where hundreds of us had gathered to once again protest the actions of our sorry politicians, I was rather pleased with myself for my courageous (though uncostly) political activism. Our protest got them told.

On the radio, McCrory dismissed our demonstration as just a bunch of aging hippies from the ’60s. Ouch! He bragged that polls show close to 70 percent support from North Carolinians for his policies.

“Preacher,” said the layperson whom I had dragged to Moral Monday with me, “sounds like we don’t need better politicians; we need a better class of voters. Maybe you should stay home and work on your Sunday sermon rather than go get arrested in Raleigh.”

I have met the political enemy – me and my fellow Christians who find it so hard to live our convictions. That’s why maybe my most radical, politically significant act is to stand up this Sunday and preach that God’s will be done, God’s reign will come on earth as in heaven, whether we like it or not.

Will Willimon, for 20 years dean of Duke Chapel, served as United Methodist bishop in Alabama and is now professor of the practice of Christian ministry at Duke Divinity School.


Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/opinion/op-ed/article77494022.html#storylink=cpy


7 thoughts on “Why Christians and politics should mix

  1. Bishop, Thank you for your , as usual, genius response to the “concerned Christian”. I say genius, because you use your intellect to explain Scripture in a way that speaks to the issues at hand. I am thankful you were my Bishop and I am grateful for having served with you. I wish I could hear your sermon this Sunday if you preach it somewhere!! Your sermons always stir things up, especially my desire to be a better person and a better preacher that deserves the name Christian.


  2. Dear Bishop Willimon, in the spirit of being Methodists, please allow me to slightly disagree with you. I have followed you for years; I have used much of your writings for teaching, sermons, etc. I have not always agreed with you but for the most part, have always respected you for your solid positions. In this case, I must disagree with you. Yes, I totally support your position on Jesus being the champion of the least, the last, the lost, the lowest and the loneliest among us. I preach that and live that. We agree here. But on the bathroom situation, we disagree. While I am all for supporting the “least” among us in terms of transgendered individuals, I also must balance that against the safety and protection of another group of the least among us: children. Jesus was also a great champion of children and in this entire circus of bathroom legislation and accusations and unsubstantiated epithets and emotionally based rhetoric, who speaks for the protection of our children? Who speaks for the safety and protection of my own young teenage girls who do not want nor need a teenage boy who decides one day that he would like to enter the girls’ bathroom and surreptitiously use his selfie? Sorry, but the entire discussion and legislation around this issue has all but forgotten this issue or the possible other, more drastic issues that very well might arise. I believe this is a smokescreen to take our attention off the more pressing issues that confront our culture and nation. So quite honestly, I do not believe it is a political issue that Christians need to get involved with. Sorry. I’d much rather spend our limited time, attention and effort on feeding the poor, clothing the naked, protecting the children, saving the marriage, etc. So, respectfully and lovingly, I must disagree with you. Keep up the good work….and like Mr. Wesley said, we CAN agree to disagree but we CAN agree on love. God Bless.


    1. I don’t live in North Carolina. But I’ve sent children to school in a district where transgender kids of all ages — have been using the bathroom of their choice without incident for years. When my children were very young, I’d hang outside any public bathroom if I couldn’t go in, just to make sure they were safe. Parents have a role — they can teach their kids to respect everyone, and to call for help when they need it. That should cover it.

      When discussing HB2, it seems important to mention the other provisions in the bill — about minimum wage and the right of citizens to hold their government accountable in all manners of discrimination. This transgender bathroom thing looks like a Trojan Horse. Read the entire bill.


  3. Thanks for this pointed and eloquent word Will.  The glory of God is not and has never been the glory of Pharaoh or Caeser, but the glory of the  cross of Jesus Christ that transforms us through the renewal of our minds, and informs our life together in community.Grace & Peace,Greg Gregory J. Johanson, Ph.D. Hakomi Educational Resources POST OFFICE BOX 23 (478 SW Douglas Street) Mill City, Oregon 97360 Tel: (503) 897-4830 E-mail greg@gregjohanson.net Web: gregjohanson.net “The art, science & grace of human transformation.”

    From: A Peculiar Prophet To: greg@gregjohanson.net Sent: Tuesday, May 17, 2016 6:55 PM Subject: [New post] Why Christians and politics should mix #yiv3797230690 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv3797230690 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv3797230690 a.yiv3797230690primaryactionlink:link, #yiv3797230690 a.yiv3797230690primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv3797230690 a.yiv3797230690primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv3797230690 a.yiv3797230690primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv3797230690 WordPress.com | willwillimon posted: “The News and Observer OP-EDMAY 14, 2016I have met the political enemy – me and my fellow Christians who find it so hard to live our convictionsChristians are ‘political’ in that beliefs, including religious beliefs, have political consequencesWe” | |


  4. It is good the hear that you are still passionate enough about issues to take a stand in public. Sadly, I don’t have that kind of energy any more even when K-12 education is involved.

    It is always a pleasure to visit my ex-colleagues at the Duke University Free Electron Laser Laboratory. They always have new toys to show off!

    Next month will probably be my last opportunity to visit Duke as I will be retiring for good in December. I hope you will have a few minutes to spare.

    Thank you for inspiring so many people; I will never forget chapter 5 of “Downsizing America” and how you made sure FREE survived long enough to create six charter schools:


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