By Janis Fontaine
Churches might have the legal right to discuss politics from the pulpit, but should they?
“Our particular tradition is not to use the pulpit for politics, even though we might like to,” said Pastor Andy Hagen of Advent Church in Boca Raton. “The role we have is to present the values of our faith and keep speaking them.”
Those values? “Love and hope.”
Father Marty Zlatic of St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church of Boynton Beach agrees: Making any sort of political statement from the pulpit is “a delicate dance.”
“We have to remember that 50% of our congregation is red and 50% is blue. We don’t have a political preference,” he says of the church. “It’s a morality preference. It’s how we treat people and that we respect the dignity of every human being.”
From pure seeds, positive things bloom, he says.
“I preached on Sunday on the gospel John 1:47,” Zlatic said recently. “I didn’t mention any names. The goal is to prepare the message in a way that even someone who opposes it might hear it.”
The passage: “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no guile.” In biblical translations, guile means “deceit” or “fraud.”
Most of the time his message is one of hope and healing, Zlatic said, but people need the promise of truth to hope and the knowledge of truth to heal. “People always need to talk about hope.”
“My healing word is ‘understanding,’” Hagen said. “I don’t believe we’re divided. I believe we want the same things, but we’re not convinced we can all get them. Someone has convinced us there’s not enough of the pie to be shared.”
COVID-19 has divided people, emotionally, spiritually and physically. Even though online church service viewership is consistent and more popular than anyone expected, others aren’t so happy to worship from home.
“People are yearning for a human connection,” Zlatic said. “We’re a very huggy church. Praying on the phone, rather than being able to hold someone’s hand, it’s certainly harder. I’ve learned to smile with my eyes.”
To strengthen those connections, Zlatic gave the congregation “homework.” He asked people to take out their church member directory and call someone they didn’t know, just to say hello. He laughs when he says, “I told them to be sure to say we’re not asking for money!”
So far, it’s working out well.
Some kindnesses sprouted organically. The St. Joe congregation spontaneously started the In Touch ministry, where volunteers regularly call homebound congregants to check in on them.
At Advent, Hagen said the church started a small food pantry outside, where people can drive up to drop off (or pick up) food. As the sun was setting, he watched a little girl jump out of a car to put a few cans in the box. It’s been more popular and successful than anyone imagined, he said.
“I think when you focus on love, great things happen.”
Janis Fontaine writes about people of faith, their congregations, causes and events. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.