Pastors and Politics

May 18, 2015 Length: 27:57

Father Josiah Trenham speaks at the 2015 Unite IE Conservative Conference. Learn more about Patristic Nectar Publications.

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Several months ago, Fr. Josiah was invited to speak at a conference in southern California entitled “Unite Inland Empire Conservative Conference.” There he shared the podium with Governor Bobby Jindal and several Republican presidential candidates. Father delivered a lecture entitled “Pastors and Politics” in which he argued for the supreme importance of clergy speaking truth to politicians. This video is published with the permission of 590 AM and the organizers of the Unite Inland Empire Conservative Conference.

Too gracious and untrue, most of what he said, but I am really pleased to be here. And I know I look funny. Let’s just get it out on the table. [Laughter] I know I look funny, and some of you are probably wondering, “What are you doing here?” but let me just tell you: To me, a lot of you look funny, and I don’t know why you’re here either. [Laughter]

Two weeks ago—God help me—I was invited to attend the annual Movieguide Gala Awards in Hollywood. I had a tremendous time, and I had the pleasure of meeting the Robertson family of Duck Dynasty fame. [Cheers and applause] Now, you’ve heard that I have ten kids. It’s true. I have survived so far, but in my house Duck Dynasty is something like the sacred canon of shows you must watch. And I knew, when I saw the Robertsons, that if I didn’t meet them, I might as well not go home. So I did.

I went over and I met Sadie—really beautiful, young Sadie—then I met her mom, Korie (that’s Willie’s wife), and Korie’s mom, elegant lady. I asked Korie if she could take a message to her husband for me, and to his brothers. I said, “Look, Korie. The hair, the beard. Dig it. Dig it!” [Laughter] I said, “But you all stole that from us Greek Orthodox priests and monks a long time ago.” And Korie’s mom, she reached up and she grabbed me. She said, “Father, those boys have been like that for a long time.” And I said, “Yes, ma’am, but not 2,000 years.” [Laughter] Love their grooming.

You’d be right to ask, I think, what’s a pastor doing at this conservative political conference. I certainly know some of my clerical colleagues are asking what I’m doing here. Some of my own parishioners are probably asking—if they even know—are asking what I’m doing here. The IRS is certainly asking what I’m doing here. [Laughter and applause] That unbiased and non-partisan government agency has been telling lies to clergy for 50 years to keep our mouths shut and to steal freedom of speech in the pulpit. [Applause]

So let me answer that question, what’s a pastor doing here at this conservative political conference. It is perfectly natural for me to be here. Absolutely natural. [Applause] Pastors and politics are intimately connected and have always been intimately connected in God’s design, from the beginning, in the old and the new covenant, from Israel right through two millennia of Christian history. Where you have politics, you have pastors. It’s only the Johnny-come-lately secularists who would like us to think and act differently.

Pastors are ambassadors for Jesus. This is the bottom line. And, in case you all aren’t remembering, Jesus is a prophet, yes; he’s a priest, yes; he’s also a King. The King. [Cheering and applause] Think with me if you will about the great prophet and God-seer Moses. Did you know in the 17th chapter of Deuteronomy Moses laid down a law that every king in Israel needed to have his own copy of the law? It needed to be kept just next to the throne, and it needed to be read to him every day, so he would remember: though he possesses societal power, he’s under God. He’s under God. Who do you think did that reading to him?

Think about the great King David, a man who had a heart for God. Think about how much he, as a king, needed his own pastors; when he was ensconced in power, how he allowed his moral guard to drop, and after abusing his power to commit murder and adultery, he was only saved by the powerful influence of his spiritual shepherd, the prophet Nathan. Or think of my own namesake, the last great king of Israel, Josiah, who made consultation with the prophet Jeremiah, who was one of his best and closest friends, before he went into battle. This isn’t just a Jewish paradigm. This is a Christian paradigm.

My favorite pastor in the history of the Church, the greatest preacher in Christian history, St. John Chrysostom, was the patriarch of Constantinople at the end of the fourth and the beginning of the fifth century. He was so influential for good, for the poor, for life, for the family, for holiness—in the public square. He was so influential in politics that Emperor Arcadius, with a really stained conscience, and unfortunately unable to take any godly counsel, banished him to the corner of the Roman empire, where he died in exile.

Twenty minutes is not enough for me to tell you about the incredible exploits of spiritual leaders in the political realm, from all Christian traditions: Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics, Protestants. We have a beautiful history. We have our differences, there’s no doubt about it, but on the important subject of truth speaking to power, of pastors speaking to politicians, there is no difference, there is complete unanimity in the Christian tradition. If you want to know more, by the way, about the great pastors in Church history and how they engaged politicians and helped the realm of politics to become dignified, send me an email; I’ll give you a book list. I’ll send you a book list.

We could talk about the great fourth-century St. Ambrose of Milan, who taught the Emperor Theodosius when he forgot about the moral principles of justifiable war and killed 7,000 people. He met Ambrose at the door of the church, and Ambrose blocked entrance, and he made the emperor of the Roman empire stand throughout Lent, barefoot, in the snow, in penance. That an emperor would accept that was a major marker that the empire had become Christian and that God’s authority had replaced what had previously been the concept of emperors in the Roman empire.

We could talk about the ninth-century St. Photius of Constantinople, who wrote a political guide to the newly converted king of Bulgaria, Boris. Here is a patriarch explaining to a politician, who’s recently become a Christian, how to rule in the political sphere, before God. You could think about the great archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, and his exploits with a power-hungry King Henry II in England. The list goes on and on. I’m just trying to… I’m just trying to whet your appetite. [Laughter]

Let’s talk about America. When John Adams was asked to list those that he felt were most influential in securing America’s independence, he named specific pastors. These pastors were from the American Revolution, and clergy, through their sermons and teachings, played a significant role in establishing the intellectual basis for American government. I have in my personal library at the church a moving collection that’s entitled Political Sermons of the American Founding Era, 1730-1805. Two volumes. Eighteen hundred pages.

This is America. The preachers during the Revolution were known as the “Black Robe Regiment” because of their clerical robes, which, if you didn’t notice—hello! [Laughter] They not only preached biblical principles, but they frequently left the safety of their own churches to lead their congregants to fight for those principles. They did not believe that religious freedom meant that they could do what they wanted only within the four walls of their churches as the freedom thieves of our own times would like us to believe is the meaning of religious freedom. Educated pastors have historically engaged the public square with a sure and a certain word about freedom, about God’s laws, and about accountability. And our nation, brothers and sisters, needs a resurgence of the “Black Robe Regiment.” [Applause]

And it wasn’t just during the American Revolution. It’s throughout the centuries of our nation’s life. Some of you might have seen recently the film Selma, memorializing Rev. Martin Luther King’s historical voting rights march on Selma, which took place in 1965. Depicted in that movie is an important historical reality, especially for us Eastern Orthodox or Greek Orthodox Christians, because at that time the senior Greek Orthodox bishop in America, for most of the second half of the 20th century, the late Archbishop Iakovos, God rest his soul, flew to Alabama and marched on Selma arm-in-arm with Rev. King. Together they were pictured on the front cover of the March 26, 1965, Life magazine. And Archbishop Iakovos, in his remarks, and the Rev. King appealed, as their ministerial predecessors had done before them, to the unalterable natural law of God and demanded that politics be just, according to the standards of God’s truth.

If we allow politicians to excise God from public discourse and to deem God irrelevant for public policy, we have destroyed any ability to appeal to unchanging standards of justice and morality at all. [Applause]

Our country has long held sodomy to be both a sin and a crime. As recently as 1986, in the Bowers v. Hardwick case, the Supremes upheld this traditional piece of Western jurisprudence without question. But embrace a morally vacuous public square, and a mere 17 years later, the Supremes rule in Lawrence v. Texas—this is 2003—that anti-sodomy laws are unconstitutional and if you believe—this is a quote from Kennedy himself—if you believe that marriage is between a man and a woman, you suffer from animus against gays. A Supreme Court justice, Antonin Scalia, said in his minority opinion in that case, when God is thrown out, morals legislation ceases. No longer can we censor vulgarity; no longer can we defend the moral structure of the family.

And make no mistake, brothers and sisters; get this: when a nation makes a radical alteration of her laws, she is making a radical alteration in her allegiance. [Applause] The god of any land, the god of any nation can be identified simply by tracing the laws of that nation up to their source. Our founding fathers affirmed this, which is why God and his law are specifically referenced in our founding documents. When long-established homicide law, family and marriage law, and marriage legislation are eviscerated and their opposites are affirmed by the judiciary with the consent of many political elites, what do we get? Abortion on demand, same-sex marriage, the epidemic of pornography and public obscenity, and a state that thinks human rights are derived as a gift from the government. [Applause]

And if that’s true, if human rights don’t come from God innately, and they’re a gift from the government that the government can give and the government can take away—and when a state thinks that, it becomes tyrannical, affirming that its prerogatives include legislating against natural law and traditional ethics while removing freedoms that it arrogantly believes it first bestowed in the first place. Much of the post-sexual revolution banter about tolerance has simply been a smoke-screen. It’s been blown into existence by sexual revolutionaries in order to change what our nation considers to be normal and morally correct. Once the change has been effected, once the disordered has been legitimized, once the perverse has been considered civilized, the smoke is blown away, tolerance is laid aside, and the new, immoral vision is enforced with an intolerant vengeance. Tolerance is out the window!

And here in this town, we’ve experienced this. We have here a relatively new U.S. Congressman who, though he represents a district that passed Proposition 8 by almost two-thirds, nevertheless has become one of the leading gay activists in Congress. He loves to talk about tolerance, but he doesn’t live it. Just after being elected two years ago, he rode as the man of the year in the Los Angeles gay pride parade. And since gay parades began in Los Angeles in 1970, when, literally, the participants dragged a 20-foot papier-mâché phallus through the streets of L.A., they have become models of intolerance.

Our Congressman rode in the parade in 2013, and he was following in his car a group of men who were dressed in nothing but g-strings from the waist down and from the waist up they were dressed as Catholic nuns. They’re in every gay pride parade in California. They call themselves the “Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.” So here you have it. Mocking our religious? Trampling on what we consider holy and consecrated? And we’re supposed to take this tiny community seriously when they say they’re about tolerance? This is not about tolerance. This is about what’s normal—the dignified or the perverse. [Applause]

As a Christian pastor, I say this: When the natural law is inverted and when immoral laws are embraced, people of conscience, God-fearing Americans, must resist these laws and under no circumstance obey them. [Applause] There is no reconciliation, friends, between the new, secularist, anti-God vision of America and traditional America. There is no union. We cannot live together, and if pure secularism succeeds, if it wins—forgive me—we are hardly going to live at all. If that seems alarmist to you, I understand. I’m a pastor; I’m not a politician. I’m not here to please you; I’m here to speak the truth to you. [Cheering and applause]

Let me tell you one of the reasons that I have fire in my belly. We Greek Orthodox, we Eastern Orthodox have something uniquely to contribute to this discussion. We know about this threat, this secularist threat, directly by experience. When the Bolsheviks in 1917 conquered Russia, and they turned it and most of eastern Europe into the atheistic Soviet Union with its satellites, the secularists showed the world what society could become where God has no place in the public square and his law no influence on government. Stalin had his successors launched the greatest slaughter of people in the history of the human race.

Let me repeat that. Stalin and his successors launched the greatest slaughter of people in the history of the human race: the longest and sustained persecution of Christians in the history of the Christian faith. They martyred millions of believers, according to their own records when they were uncovered in 1988, and they made the pre-Christian Roman imperial persecutions look like child’s play. And, brothers and sisters, if you can make the beast Nero look semi-civilized, that’s saying something. [Laughter]

We Eastern Christians, we know where this drive towards secularism in our country will end. It will end in Siberian labor camps, 70,000 destroyed churches, pastors crucified on the front door of their churches—which, by the way, was the most common way of killing pastors in the Soviet Union—and mass graves.

Our founding fathers were very clear in stating that our form of government is incapable of functioning except by a moral people. [Applause] Successful republican democracy presupposes virtue, as defined by the laws of nature’s God. And when virtue is no longer considered virtue and not even considered a legitimate subject for public discussion or legislation, then robed tyrants can wipe the moral foundations of the nation out with the stroke of a pen.

Authentic American separation of Church and State is a functional separation, not a moral one. Pastors and a morally formed and informed citizenry, speaking the truth to politics in their unique capacities, are not violations of Church and State, but the primary means to contain the State within the moral boundaries. We have some 350,000 churches in this country, but most of them right now, brothers and sisters, are quiet, and they’re allowing immoral politicians and judges to ravage our lands. We pastors are derelict in our moral duty to our civil leaders. We have to rise to our duty. You have to ask us to. [Applause]

Give me your ear just two more minutes. Just give me two more minutes.

Several years ago I attended a small meeting of pastors, academics, professors, lawyers in New York City. We met to discuss how to halt the massive onslaught on religious freedom that was advancing in our country through the terribly-misnamed “Affordable Care Act” [Laughter] which mandates the provision of certain types of care that violate traditional religious morality. And one of the esteemed and nationally known clergymen there, whom I will leave nameless, has often been asked to pray at both Republican and Democratic conventions and at party functions. He said this to us; he said, “Brothers, it’s difficult to pray with Republicans. You have to think hard about your prayer beforehand. But it’s much easier to pray with Democrats.” [Laughter] We were all thinking, “What?” Then he clarified. He clarified—and he was only half-kidding, by the way. He said, “With the Republicans, you have to think hard beforehand about your prayer, and you have to have to write it out clearly. But with the Democrats I just take out my prayer book and read the exorcisms.” [Laughter and applause] Ouch. [Laughter]

Systemic evil is real, friends. American politics needs exorcism. Over the last 40 years, our political system has dispensed a toxic stew of abortion and sodomy, the twin daughters of the sexual revolution. And now she threatens the freedom of anyone who threatens this agenda of the new and progressive America. Many of our small business owners, professors, physicians, pharmacists—the list gets longer every day—are finding out what the message is today. And this is the message of the Obama administration, its department of justice, and many judges throughout our land. Here’s the message: The government will bring about your personal and professional ruin if you do not help celebrate same-sex marriage and further abortion. This is the message.

As a pastor I came here happily, and I didn’t come to talk to you about the minutiae of the tax code or its legislation, about trade agreements, about details of foreign policy, climate change, government health care, the federal reserve, or other such very important matters for the political realm, upon which there can be some measure of legitimate and civil disagreement. I have opinions on those things, but not even my wife hardly knows those things, and my people certainly don’t, because pastors are not to preach their opinions! Pastors are to preach unalterable and unchanging truths about God and men, about what our founding fathers called the laws of nature and nature’s God. And I came here to talk about the life and death of children, because no nation of people so violent that they kill their unborn has any future whatsoever. [Applause]

I’m here to remind you and to ask you to remind your political representatives that the one singular vice mentioned by Moses in the book of Genesis to explain why God sent the universal flood, that one sin was violence. And what’s more violent than abortion? [Applause] God is not silent. He sees through flesh and stone. Nothing is hidden from his eyes, and the blood of innocents cries out from the earth, and he will certainly hear it.

I’m here to remind you and to ask you to remind your political representatives that sodomy is unnatural, it’s unhealthy, it’s forbidden by God and by the code of moral law of every major religion in the world. To dignify it with the name “marriage” is an atrocious affirmation, utter rebellion against the natural moral order, and a terrible injustice to those who bear this orientation.

I’m here to remind you and to ask you to remind your political representatives that religious freedom is the first of human freedoms and the bedrock of our nation. It’s not the freedom to worship inside your church the way you want, but the freedom to live according to your Christian conscience, in public, in commerce, unmolested. [Applause and cheering] To attack this freedom, to impose a new morality—what I would call a new immorality—upon our nation and upon our doctors, nurses, and pharmacists, upon our business owners, and upon every citizen, to bind the consciences of our people and to demand consent to what their own faith traditions stigmatize as evil is a high crime, an act of suppression that will never be tolerated by many Americans, and may very well lead to war. [Applause]

These are the things that pastors must speak about to their people and to those who possess power. Politicians: consulting with pastors and praying does not make them pastors. And pastors: praying for and with politicians and speaking prophetic words to those who possess power do not make pastors politicians. The truth is, friends, politics needs our nation’s pastors more now than ever. [Applause] God bless you. Thanks for listening.