Faith Forum: How do you answer questions from your congregation about your political beliefs?

The Rev. Jill Jarvis, Unitarian Fellowship of Lawrence, 1263 N. 1100 Road:

Slavery was the hot political issue in mid-19th century America. People of faith — including Unitarians — left behind comfortable lives in New England to settle in Lawrence, determined to bring an end to slavery.

One hundred years later, religious people from all over the country — including Unitarians — responded to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s call to come to Selma to march for voting rights. Today we’re still witnessing and advocating for human rights. Around the country many of us are supporting the Occupy movement, and our ministers are acting as on site chaplains.

How could our religious values not inform our political beliefs and actions? It’s through the political system that we the people determine how our system shapes our common life. I’m called as a Unitarian minister to speak truth to power; to promote the inherent worth and dignity of all people (our first principle); and to speak out for justice, equity and compassion in human relations (our second principle). In our long tradition of the free pulpit, I speak what I believe to be true about social (not partisan) issues. And in our tradition of the free pew, each member is responsible to consider, accept or reject that interpretation in light of his/her own experience.

As we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr., Sunday our morning service will honor youth involvement in both the civil rights movement and the current struggle for human rights for immigrants. Sunday evening, we’ll host a community celebration and concert to celebrate the legacy and continue the journey (see our website for more information

We can expect this to be, yet again, a contentious election year. Many members of our congregation will continue to be actively involved with issues of war, economic justice, human rights and the environment. If religion doesn’t lead us to create a world of freedom, justice, and love in this life, then the world would be better off without it.

— Send e-mail to Jill Jarvis at

The Rev. Josh Longbottom, associate pastor, Plymouth Congregational Church, 925 Vt.:

In the church I teach about the life of Christ, get people in touch with the spirit and help them to sharpen their sense of the sacred. Each of those things has political implications, but they are, in and of themselves, not partisan teachings.

On the street, I do what I feel called to do as a citizen. Often, that comes off as radical. And, you bet, my politics are rooted in my understanding of Christ.

Jesus didn’t so much invent a new way to pray as much as Jesus invited people into an egalitarian community. In a way, his movement’s uniqueness was more political than prayerful.

The optimist in me says politicians are best suited to further the common causes of freedom and equality with regard to the particulars of policy making. We should all expect a natural amount of disagreement to arise about how best to achieve those goals.

If a congregation member was to ask me directly about a candidate or a policy, I would probably be frank with them and leave very little gray between my black and white. And, in all likelihood, my answer would be steeped in scripture.

However, I don’t tend to preach about policies.

Pastors are trained as Biblical interpreters, public speakers and care-givers. Everyone in this town has access to higher quality political insight than what they are going to get from me. One the other hand, I do know my scriptures.

The radio, newspapers, television and the internet are so full of expert consideration of candidates and policies that there are plenty of forums for partisan argumentation. Only in the church do we really have an appropriate space for teaching the life of Christ. So come Sunday morning, I stick to what we do best.

— Send e-mail to Josh Longbottom at


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