I am responding to the Los Angeles Times editorial, “Keep politics out of the pulpit,” published on Aug. 29.

The all-important First Amendment rightly allows freedom of speech, definitely implies the separation of church and state and often is interpreted to mean that politics should be kept out of the pulpit. But this is a three-sided subject, each part dependent upon the others. Any controversy must keep us focused upon why this amendment is so necessary if it is going to continue serving well our free nation as intended by its wise founders.

Most definitely, I agree that it is a violation of the First Amendment for anyone speaking from the pulpit to tell a congregation how to vote.

Those delivering pulpit messages, however, have a responsibility to challenge constructive thought in order to clarify those ethical problems of our time that call for prompt attention if we are going to remain as a free and morally healthy society.

Certainly, there are parts of the biblical message that can be interpreted differently. Blest we are to live in a society guaranteeing our right to speak appropriate messages of concern as well as worship and learn through faith/love fellowships immune from government control.

Separation of church and state implies a right for one to convey his/her concern about, as well as agreement with, elected and non-elected persons whose agendas contradict established sound moral principles. Serious questions regarding war, greed that makes lives more difficult for many, financial mismanagement of public funds, and racial and economic justice need to be continually asked.

Fair game are those persons hiding behind political party dogma who are indifferent to our collective responsibility to be honest and our need to be genuinely concerned about our neighbors, peace, justice and responsible citizenship.

The pulpit is a place from which to issue prophetic warnings to caring persons needing to be made aware of today’s pharaohs of greed, injustice, profiteers from war. The pulpit needs to exist as a place where ideas and ideals as well can be forthcoming for repairing what is broken and healing those ills so sadly plaguing today’s society.

Lawrence E. Merckens, of Manchester, is pastor of Riverside Congregational Church (United Church of Christ), Vassalboro. He also has taught ethics and interpersonal communication courses through the University of Maine at Augusta.

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