POLITICS IN THE PULPIT:<br />
Why Can't We Separate Church and State?

First Lady Michelle Obama gives the keynote address to the AME Church

I hate to join in with other political commentators who have pounced on First Lady Michelle Obama over seemingly inoffensive remarks, but a point she made during an impassioned plea to Black churchgoers last week really gave me pause.

During an appearance at conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Nashville, Tennessee, Michelle Obama stressed to the audience that now is the time to embrace political action. While offering her sales pitch, she offered a counterpoint to the idea that church and political issues ought to stay separate. The First Lady asserted, “To anyone who says that church is no place to talk about these issues, you tell them there is no place better.” She added, “Because ultimately, these are not just political issues. They are moral issues.”

Alright, I get it.

Even if Mitt Romney is a flawed candidate, the state of the economy makes President Obama’s chances at reelection tough all the same. So in the grand scheme of things, this is a rather politically astute way of drumming up support among the president’s strongest supporters given the role Black churches have traditionally played in mobilizing Black voters. Indeed, 96% of Black voters supported Obama in 2008 in record numbers, and that kind of enthusiasm will be needed again this November.

And, she again, is right to note: “How many of us have asked someone whether they’re going to vote, and (they) tell us, ‘No, I voted last time,’ or ‘Is there really an election going on?’ After so many folks sacrificed so much so that we could make our voices heard, so many of us just can’t be bothered.”

Nevertheless, while I understand the politics behind Michelle’s words, I’m uncomfortable with a national figure in politics encouraging more religious meddling in politics. Yes, there is a tradition for churches to discuss select social issues – especially in our community – but I tend to believe in mixing faith and politics is a bad idea.

I think this more and more given leading bishops of the religion I was raised in, Catholicism, are in the media acting as if President Obama made a declaration of war for mandating contraception coverage via the Department of Health and Human Services. Already, those on the side of the bishops are taking Michelle’s words and acting as if they support their stance. That’s an obvious twist of convenience, but therein lies the trouble ahead.

One could also point to the religious right and see the dangers of imploring the religious community to get more political. Does the world need more candidates like Rick Santorum, who think they were ordained by God to run and shame us all into heterosexual missionary sex or celibacy in the meantime?  Even as it pertains to members of the Black religious community, though there have been voices out there speaking out in support of marriage equality post-President Obama’s personal endorsement, other high profile Black religious leaders have made their opposition clear – and have lent their support to measures like North Carolina’s anti-same sex marriage Amendment 1.

Which brings me to another gripe I have: This consistently perpetuated belief that religion is to be automatically equated with morality. As a lay heathen, I find that to be an antiquated belief no longer supported by the behavior of various sects of the religious community. While I don’t expect anyone from The White House to disavow such a point-of-view, I’d rather not hear anyone continue to lend credence to it either.

When I did go to church, it was largely based on worship, fellowship, and community. I only missed mass once in 18 years of church going, and rarely if ever did I hear any of my priests get political. I preferred it as such. I suppose it’s a nice sentiment in theory, but recent decades have proven that there's no quicker road to division and acrimony than pushing pastors to get political.

So while I get the mindset behind Mrs. Obama telling Black churchgoers there’s no better place to get political than church, I just wish that proclamation followed with, “And I’ll tell my husband to revoke their tax-exempt status in his second term.”

Michael Arceneaux is a Houston-bred, Howard-educated writer and blogger. You can read more of his work on his site, The Cynical Ones. Follow him on Twitter: @youngsinick