Church Ethics: The Case Against Neutrality

We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence 

encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere.

– Elie Wiesel

No church I’ve ever been affiliated with ever claimed a position of moral neutrality (of course murder is immoral - Duh). And also, at least in my experience, these same churches were usually all-too-willing to declare political neutrality. But my question is this: 

When politics affect peoples’ ability to procure basic human rights, 

what’s the difference between moral and political neutrality? 

It’s an incredibly privileged position to be in to try to claim political neutrality, but not moral neutrality. That one would do so tells me that they don’t have to worry about where their next meal is going to come from; what will happen to them if they get sick; where they will find shelter. In other words, one is afforded the luxury of being apolitical when status quo politics don’t have any chance of affecting them negatively.

But what about everyone else? 

The single parent raising their kids on food-stamps and the minimum wage; the homeless war veteran with nothing to their name but that addiction they can’t seem to shake; the sex worker who fears for their life every time they meet a client: for these, neutrality isn’t something to be debated – it’s a death sentence. And yet many churches who claim to be disciples of Jesus – the anarchy-inspiring, anti-slut-shaming, banker-whipping, free-healthcare-giving, free-food-providing, political-agitating, first-century Jew – don’t seem to care about them. 

Not really, anyway. 

Of course, they would never say that. That would earn them some bad P.R. Instead, they say things like “we believe in the separation of church and state,” or “Politics don’t belong in the pulpit.” But don’t be fooled, friends. Neutrality isn’t a form of courteous professional impartiality: it’s indifference to suffering. And this isn’t merely a modern problem. Pilate attempting to wash his hands of Jesus’ fate debunked the myth of neutrality 2000 years ago. There’s nothing new under the sun, I suppose.

If the church wants to be more than a corpse at the end of the century, it needs to stop trying to be neutral. Whether they like it or not, they’re directly on the hook for the suffering of the poor and oppressed. Blood is on their hands and no matter how much they try, they can’t wash their hands of it. To do so would merely make them modern-day Pilates, pretending to be innocent when the people they’re responsible for are dying. 

It doesn’t matter much what it looks like. It could be a humanist community, an ethical society or a bible-preaching/hymn-singing/sacrament-celebrating bona fide church. But it must take the suffering of the poor and oppressed as the fundamental point of departure. Such is the event that manifests the true Church in the lived embodiment of the world.



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