Politics is Not a Dirty Word

A few weeks ago, Yours Truly published a column about the intersection of politics and religion.  My thesis was that there is nothing inherently wrong with Christians being involved in politics, provided of course that they did not succumb to any chiliastic or utopian fantasies

The genesis for this thesis was a piece written by Fr Alexander F C Webster, which was written a little over twenty years ago in Again magazine. 

A few of you have asked me to find the hard copy so that you could read it for yourselves.   Here it is!  

Politics Is Not a Dirty Word


  1. RIP (reluctant internet poster) says

    Thanks for posting this. First, in case he is still reading, as a former 56M, I’d like to take the opportunity to say hooah to the archpriest.

    And if he is still reading, I’d like to ask his thoughts on *how* he believes an Orthodox Christian should vote. Meaning, on principle or pragmatically? For example, I know I’m nothing close to a majority, but I know I’m not the only Christian (Orthodox or otherwise) who has difficulty with, and thus voting for, either major political party due to agreeing on certain profoundly important things but also disagreeing on other also profoundly important things.

    So one (me and people like me, anyway) seems to be left with a couple equally unappetizing choices: accept or talk oneself into agreeing with things one profoundly disagrees with or become a member of a third party one finds more general agreement with but which has no chance of winning anything. Raising the question of whether a vote of conscience is morally laudable or just throwing one’s vote away. So, again, the question of principle vs pragmatism. I can see both sides of the argument but have never been totally comfortable with either.

    • Archpriest Alexander F. C. Webster says

      Thank you for the “hooah,” RIP. (For the non-military readers here, “hooah” is the usual American soldier’s “attaboy”–similar to the USMC “hoorah”–and a 56M, or 56Mike, is the designation in the list of the Army’s military occupational specialties, or MOS, for chaplain assistant.)

      Your question about how to vote is at once profound and not easily answered.

      For substantive matters of public policy and legislation, I would counsel that we follow our Orthodox moral compass above all else, whether we are public officeholders or citizens exercising our franchise to vote for public propositions (as in California) or referenda. At the top of my list of matters of conscience would be government protection and funding of the abomination of abortion. No Orthodox Christian in government at any level or in any office may, in good conscience, freely support, aid and abet, or even condone abortion or hide behind the sophistry that we hear from so many Roman Catholic legislators and federal officeholders (and even some of the few Orthodox Christians in such positions now and then) that they are “personally opposed” to abortion or abortion funding, but cannot “impose” their personal religious or philosophical views on the citizenry. Those politicians seldom, if ever, seem to refrain from imposing their “personal” views on the citizenry for a host of many other contentious, divisive issues such as, to name only a few, sex “education” in the public schools, “gender” diversity, U.S. defense policy and military activities abroad, “affirmative action” and racial preferences, or a “preferential option for the poor” that translates to socialist hostility to free enterprise and capitalism.

      The question of voting for particular candidates for public office–from the U.S. Presidency all the way down to one’s local mayor or town council–is more complex. Candidates, unlike specific legislative acts or public referenda on matters of policy, are not usually focused on one issue or concern. To be sure, in the current radically polarized political culture in America most of the political and moral views of most candidates may be predictable, depending on whether those candidates identify as Democrats or Republicans or, more broadly, as political liberals / leftists or political conservatives. As you intimate, however, a voting Orthodox citizen may agree with a favored candidate on some key issue but disagree with that candidate on other key issues. In that case, taking a cue from my Roman Catholic colleagues in the disciplines of moral theology and social ethics, I would suggest that the act of voting is a matter of prudence as much as morality. The virtue of prudence is best defined as “the use of right reason to attain possible goods.”

      I put to you a hard case. If Candidate A in a particular election for a legislative position is 100% Pro-Life (especially anti-abortion) but generally supports, let’s say, the use of torture by U.S. government agents in very extreme circumstances to obtain vital information from terrorist suspects in order to save the lives of countless innocent men, women, and children, may a conscientious Orthodox Christian U.S. citizen vote for that candidate? Of course, it might depend, in part, on the character and positions on issues of the opposing candidate(s). What usually makes such agonizing choices prudential instead of more self-evidently moral is the need for conscientious citizens to prioritize the issues at hand and then make a choice among the candidates.

      Full disclosure: I never have nor shall I vote for any candidate for any public office who does not take a firm Pro-Life position on the issue of abortion. In my own prudential judgment, the willful destruction of unquestionably innocent, sinless helpless preborn human life is an intrinsic evil that may NEVER be morally justified. In my prudential ranking of intrinsic evils, abortion eclipses all other atrocities that human beings may inflict on others. But I cannot and will not vote in good conscience for candidates for public office who violate other secondary and tertiary standards of fundamental human decency.

      During the last four decades in particular, I have sometimes voted for neither major political party’s candidate for the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Senate, or the state legislature precisely due to moral dilemmas such as I have mentioned above. But I have not declined to vote in those vital elections or “settled” for a third party candidate. Instead, I am pleased to announce that I have submitted write-in ballots on such occasions with the names of my father, wife, and granddaughters. I do not regard those protest votes as “wasted” or frivolous. On the contrary, my reasoning is that I am able thereby to lower ever so slightly the winning margin of the victorious candidate. On such occasions, I left the polling place confident that I had exercised my hard-won right to vote, while abiding by my Orthodox moral conscience. 

      • Err…   “Full disclosure: I never have nor shall vote for any candidate for any public office who does [not] take a firm Pro-Life position on the issue of abortion” perhaps?

      • George Michalopulos says

        Very well said, Fr!

      • RIP (reluctant internet poster) says

        Thanks very much for taking the time, Fr Alexander. That was helpful and I appreciate it.

      • Tim R. Mortiss says

        We all like to inhabit the sphere of national politics and ignore the politics in front of our own faces in our own communities.

        One result among others is that we impoverish the national political ‘scene’ precisely because we have ignored the local.

        For example, our city and county councils, school boards, and, indeed our State legislatures have increasingly become the stronghold of office holders who are public employees and non-profit-organization employees, as opposed to the citizens who used to run for and fill these positions: the local lawyer, the insurance agent, the real-estate agent, the owner of the automobile dealership– in short, business people grounded deeply in day-to-day reality. This trend is greatly advanced in my State; such folks have taken over local government entirely in Seattle, and in Tacoma, my city, almost every one of our 9 city council members is from a government or non-profit employment background. A total reversal of the situation of former times.

        The natural leadership has opted out of local politics. As a result, the ‘pipeline’ is emptied out– governors, congressmen, senators, increasingly come from these “activist classes”.

        But we all would rather talk about Washington, Moscow, Constantinople, London, and Beijing, and all the issues of high national and international politics. Who wants to talk about Peoria, Wichita, Boise, Spokane, Fargo– much less get off of their rear ends and do anything about them? And in so doing at the local level, launch careers that can do better at the state and national level than the present gang.

  2. Tim R. Mortiss says

    But for most people, it seems that “politics” means expressing their “political opinions”, which mostly consists of bloviation, rhodomontade, angry utterances, unprovable assertions, on and on. As on contemporary “political” blogs.

    I think real “politics” means involvement in the governance of one’s society beyond mere opinion. Politics means action.

    Run for office. Join local appointed public boards and councils. Give money to candidates. Appear at hearings before City Councils, State Legislatures, etc. Encourage and support others to run for office.

    I’ve twice run for local office and, mercifully for myself and the public, twice lost. My wife won five elections for local public office and served thirty years. None of this counts local neighborhood councils, service on committees, etc.

    I attend and testify at city council and legislative committees; including twice in just the last few months, on issues important to us. I write letters to councilmembers and legislators; not email rants, but measured letters. I give money to campaigns I support; by no means huge amounts but more than nominal sums.

    Et cetera. Politics is action. Talk is….cheap.

    • George Michalopulos says

      TimR, hear! hear!  I agree with you on every point.  I especially like your verbiage:  “rhodomontade” especially.  It’s vaguely familiar.  Please define?

  3. RIP (reluctant internet poster) says

    Tim, I like your emphasis on local politics.  I think the Founders of our nation agree with you.  And I think forgetting that may be what has turned people into “one issue” voters today.  Meaning, I think Roe wasn’t a dividing line.  What led to Roe is more important.  Today, we like to blame it on secular ideology and, sure, there’s plenty of that to go around, but I also think social conservatives have to own our part, as I think a lot of it has to do with indifference. Or, at least, not keeping our eye on the ball.
    People like to reflect on the 50s idealistically, but conservatism is just a natural response to the horrors of the Depression and WW2.  I heard it once said that “the 1950s always lead to the 1960s.” I think that’s true, if an oversimplification.  The 1960s happened because the youths at that time hadn’t experience the horrors of depression and war and, thus, weren’t as interested in societal safety as their parents’ generation.  So they were receptive to their college professors, radicals from the 20s and 30s (when all this social change really started) who had taken refuge in academia.  The radical social change started then.  It was simply impeded for a few decades by world events.
    Which nobody probably cares about.  What matters to your point is the rise of the Christian Right in the late 70s in response to Roe and the rise of identity politics.  Now everything is national.  Now nobody cares about attending school board meetings.  Until they do….

    • Gail Sheppard says

      Right. Until they do. . .

    • Tim R. Mortiss says

      RIP, I agree with many of your observations, particularly those of the ‘nationalization’ of politics. This is, of course, paralleled by the ‘nationalization’ of art, music, sport, and much else. Regionalism is gone; everything, including money, goes straight to the top of the ‘pyramid’.
      National politics for most of us, when you think about it, is an indulgence. By that I mean tens of millions of us have our opinions on the subject, which we happily share endlessly through our internet-connected keyboards. But we don’t, and can’t, actually do anything about it. Whereas, at the local and state level, we can do something– but that involves stepping back from chit-chat, and opinion, and into the world of inconvenient action.
      How many times have we heard, or said ourselves: my vote, my involvement, doesn’t count? And yet, though I couldn’t prove it, I think that many great leaders, up to and including Presidents, got there precisely because of a handful of votes, or some involvement by local people, in the first place. The man who first won a county council position or a legislative position and went on to the national sphere may have won that early position by a few votes  or the efforts of a small number of people. More than one great statesman has become one by a tiny number of votes and extra efforts by a very few– 30 years earlier.

      • RIP (reluctant internet poster) says

        I think I’m with you, Tim, which is why, while I struggle with national politics, I don’t struggle with it….that much.  Unlike Fr Alexander, I don’t actually necessarily have a problem voting for a pro-abortion candidate, if that candidate supports things, economic policy wise, that I think would a) help reduce abortions and b) are generally helpful which the other candidate doesn’t support.  Precisely because nobody who says they’re pro-life in Washington has really done much of anything to move that ball forward in the last 40 years.  Again, pragmatism. With respect to the archpriest, I do think it’s possible for a vote for a pro-choice candidate to be a moral defensible vote.  
        Which isn’t to label that a morally good choice.  In the end, I feel like I’m often left with a trolley problem. We want our votes to be clean but, mostly, we’re left with killing one person or five people.

        • Tim R. Mortiss says

          Another virtue of local political involvement is that there is much less scope for paranoia, conspiracy thinking, grandiose theorizing, and endlessly broad sweeping generalizations about everything under the sun.

        • Archpriest Alexander F. C. Webster says

          RE: “Unlike Fr Alexander, I don’t actually necessarily have a problem voting for a pro-abortion candidate, if that candidate supports things, economic policy wise, that I think would a) help reduce abortions and b) are generally helpful which the other candidate doesn’t support.”

          “RIP”, I would appreciate your amplifying that comment. Are you saying that a candidate’s positions on economic issues may outweigh that candidate’s pro-abortion commitment when you cast your vote? If so, how does that work? (I am genuinely interested in learning your decision-making process.)

    • cynthia curran says

      A lot of the christian right were ex-hippies that converted to evangelicalism during the Jesus movement. Some even became orthodox.

  4. George Michalopulos says
  5. George Michalopulo says
  6. George Michalopulos says

    You see, it’s not that hard to “punch back, twice as hard” against the petty little tyrants that govern the Blue states:


    • Sage-Girl says

      Thanks George for inserting links to stuff I never heard about… And yea, Republicans are being censored ? by Twitter!

  7. cynthia curran says

    I’m tired of Antifa thugs rioting in US cities. I’m voting for Trump for law and order. Why, oh, why does the far left do this every decade.

    • Sage-Girl says

      Cynthia Curran:
      I never received this thread in Email – so I’m forever late to discussion ..,
      YES you should Vote ? for President Trump!
      Riots in Minneapolis & Chicago & NYC etc should wake people up —we need a tough President who demands law & order.  No liberal Democrat will stand up to PC rioters & ANTIFA

  8. George Michalopulos says

    A great synopsis of why President Xi wants Creepy Joe as President:


    Always follow the money.  Plus, there’s the bonus that Joe is completely malleable given his dementia.  And since we’re degenerating into a banana republic, all it will take is Joe to push us over the finish line.  

  9. George Michalopulos says

    Well, it looks like the Brits are on to this stratagem as well:


    and the Red Chinese are not too happy about it.


  10. George Michalopulos says

    I’m so glad we don’t have censorship in this country like in commie lands like Russia.

    Thanks neocons! We constantly need to be reminded why American soldiers have died oversees so that we can “enjoy our rights”:


  11. George Michalopulos says

    This is most definitely not fitting the doom-and-gloom narrative. I imagine Neil Cuckvuto and Don Limon are having severe gastrointestinal distress right about now: