The recent UMNS story about the fact that 53 United Methodists are among those in Congress struggling with the issue of health care reform reminded me of an article I found in an old United Methodist newspaper when I was sorting through my father’s papers after his death two years ago.
The article, in the April 1969 Indiana Area news edition of “Together” magazine, counted 31 United Methodists in the Indiana General Assembly that year. Among them was my father, Allan E. Bloom, who was president pro tem of the Senate.
In a story headlined: “UMs in Assembly Agree: Religion, Politics ‘Do’ Mix, writer Robert L. Gildea noted that while a certain “breed of Christian idealists” continued to believe that all politicians must be corrupt, these United Methodists begged to differ.
“Those queried were unanimous in their insistence that not only do religion and politics mix but that they must mix if the church is to achieve many of its ‘this-worldly’ goals. It is the how of the “mixing” which divides them,” Gildea wrote.
The legislators pointed out that they brought a moral dimension to the shaping of legislation. “Hopefully, I’m doing the work of the universal church when I come here to promote good laws,” my father said.
In fact, those legislators back in 1969 – a time of tremendous political and social tumult – said the church wasn’t doing enough to make its influence felt.
Allan Bloom thought that clergy needed to discuss political issues from the pulpit. “Any minister who doesn’t concern himself with the political process is being negligent,” he said. On the other hand, he added, “Any minister who discusses nothing but politics is being negligent, too.”
That doesn’t mean my father agreed with everything a minister preached from the pulpit. I particularly remember one Sunday, probably around the same time period, when he was so upset by our pastor’s anti-Vietnam War sermon that he declared we might just start going to a Lutheran church instead. But that was a heat-of-the-moment reaction – he and the pastor remained good friends.
Whether in 1969 or today, the impact the denomination’s official positions may have on its member politicians really depends upon the individual. But, like my father, I have to believe that faith matters.