12/09/2012 08:42 am ET Updated Feb 08, 2013

Putting Ourselves in the Line of Fire, Part II

Faith means taking action. Spirituality without action is fruitless and social action without spirituality is heartless. At All Saints, we are boldly political without being partisan. We create a partisan-free place to stand. We believe that our work liberates the religious patriot to see clearly, speak courageously, and act daringly.

In my last post, I wrote of the groundbreaking work All Saints has done over the years on behalf of justice. Then, in 2004, the IRS believed we'd crossed the line in terms of promoting partisanship, and they launched an investigation into our practices.

They accused the church of "campaign intervention." Though this position was technically wrong, it actually helped to make a very important point.

These IRS regulations are appropriate when they prohibit churches from taking partisan stands, or else risk losing their tax-exempt status. There is a difference between partisan politics and political action. It may seem I am splitting hairs, but bear with me.

We do indeed engage in political action here at All Saints, but it is never partisan. This is a critical distinction. For instance, we never invite candidates to speak at All Saints during an election cycle unless those candidates' opponents are also invited. We make sure that employees and volunteers who represent All Saints Church wear no buttons or any other insignia advocating for or against a particular candidate.

But this does not mean that we do not engage in vigorous and passionate debate about politically charged topics. At All Saints we believe faith means taking action, and taking action necessarily means addressing the political realities that impact our world.

The IRS abruptly dropped the case after a couple of years, with no explanation. But the aborted investigation was a truly clarifying experience for us.

We had the opportunity to explore and then teach the difference between non-partisan political activity and partisan political activity. In our church, we are called to both love of God and love of neighbor. These loves cannot be separated: As soon as you enter the realm of neighbor-love, you have entered the realm of politics because neighbor defined by Jesus is not your zip-code neighbors but anyone who is in need. And so we often find ourselves embracing non-partisan political activity because it is our mission to help those in need.

As Christians, we are guided in that agenda by a powerful parable of Jesus recorded in the last chapters of Matthew's gospel, ending in the famous words, "When you did it to the least of these, you did it to me." Jesus listed acts of compassion toward the hungry, the imprisoned, the naked, the immigrant and others.

It is often missed that Jesus is not addressing individual persons in this parable. He is addressing the nations who are gathered at the end of time for a final evaluation of how they treated their most humble people. National treatment of these brothers and sisters are at issue in this parable. That requires us to be involved in political policy making.

For decades, All Saints Church has been called to teach and preach Jesus' core values of inclusion, of compassion, healing, environmental justice, peacemaking and economic justice.  This church invites everyone to embody those values in the political arena of life. 

This includes critiquing policies that violate those core values. We must always conduct our social action from a non-partisan perspective. That is why we have criticized the policies of both President Obama and Gov. Romney.

Our non-partisanship is a holy space from which we can, without obligation or allegiance to any party or person, bring the core values of our faith to bear on our institutions and culture.