From Third Act Faith's “Going Deep” newsletter—originally published January 3rd, 2024.

Decades of discourse
led by lawyers,
scientists, economists,
and we are stuck.
They can’t do what must be done:
reach the human heart.1

When it comes to addressing the crisis of democracy as well as the climate emergency, what we need to do is reach the human heart. That’s exactly what congregations, clergy and people of faith are good at. Throughout history, driven by a desire to be faithful to God, people of faith have called upon their gifts, their abilities and their soul-force to address many of the failures of our public life. Engaging public life is as important as any purpose of the church, the synagogue or the mosque.

God-faring (yes, God-faring, not God-fearing) people of faith can no longer stand idly by as the stability of our democracy, the authority of our Constitution and the rule of law come under attack. We can no longer be bystanders as Christian Nationalists prepare to transition our government from a democracy to a theocracy. Similarly, God-faring people of faith can no longer be silent as the climate crisis unjustly destroys the lives of the most vulnerable on Earth — those who did the least to cause it — those we are called to love and care for. We can no longer ignore the disinformation and lies perpetrated by corporate profiteers who focus only on maximizing quarterly profits as they wreck the Earth for all future generations. We (in the developed world) can no longer carry on our normal lives as if living our lives was not the cause of the sixth great extinction.

Third Act was formed to engage people of a certain age in the urgent task of addressing both the crisis of democracy and the climate emergency. Since Third Act was born in December 2021, both threats have gotten much, much worse.

Third Act Faith encourages people of faith and houses of worship to call upon their spiritual, moral and community-minded values as they muster their gifts, energy, time, skills, networks and assets in an organized effort to do what urgently needs to be done to preserve democracy and restore our common home.

In 2024, public life in the United States will be dominated by the run-up to the election. A little-known fact of American history is that for 250 years (1634-1884), one of the ways congregations engaged public life was to hear an election sermon. As an election approached, houses of worship would fill with citizens eager to reflect on the moral qualifications of those running for office. Today, though, it is likely that little to nothing will be said about the election in many, perhaps the majority, of our houses of worship.

It’s time to reawaken this moral witness. Doing so will require many — perhaps most — people of faith, houses of worship and their clergy to overcome their longstanding aversion, and their congregation’s resistance, to mixing politics and religion.

I did my best to address this challenge when, from 2006-2018, I served as leader of more than 350 United Church of Christ churches in Massachusetts. In the months prior to most elections, I offered a workshop for clergy that focused on the history and importance of preaching an election sermon and the general concern about politics and the church.

My understanding of the relationship between politics and the church was nurtured in the mid-1980s when I was a member of Riverside Church in New York City. There, I learned of Riverside’s founding pastor Harry Emerson Fosdick’s repeated endorsement of Jesus’ exhortation from the book of Acts, “You shall be my witnesses.” He told the people in the pews that if they were to be faithful, it was up to them to stand for high principles; to act in such a way that people would see in them something greater than themselves. Again and again, Fosdick would remind his congregation that even the least of us can stand for the greatest things. Each of us can bring to the voting booth a sense of moral responsibility. I also benefited enormously from the wisdom and moral resolve of Riverside’s senior minister, my mentor and friend, William Sloane Coffin.

During my 20 years serving as a local pastor in two congregations, I preached many election sermons. Two months before the election, I often asked my congregation to share with me materials that they thought might be helpful as I shaped my election sermon. One year, a member shared a quote from our denomination’s former executive minister for Justice and Witness Ministries, Bernice Powell Jackson: “Politics is about the values we honor, the dollars we allocate and the process we follow so that we can live together with some measure of justice, order and peace.” This provided a nice counterpoint to the quotations that others had suggested from Machiavelli and Clausewitz.

While the many election sermons I delivered were obviously political, they were never partisan. I never endorsed a candidate, and rarely mentioned them. Instead, I did my best to provide my congregation with what I discerned to be timeless moral principles that should guide our political decision-making — principles that are not only rooted in our faith tradition but are also supported by every faith tradition I know of.

The first principle concerns each candidate’s past record and current promises about how society and government must care for the least of these among us. In God’s eyes, each person is of equal worth. Our duty is to establish a form of government and elect representatives who will uphold the worth of each person.

The second principle involves discerning which candidate is most likely to preserve and advance justice while promoting the common good. This principle can be found in every religious tradition. God urges us to enlarge our unit of care and concern beyond self-interest and promote the common good.

The third principle assesses which candidate’s proposed policies and past practices take into consideration the integrity of creation — the care for our common home — for all of humanity and for future generations. Which candidate will offer the courageous leadership needed to expand the relevant unit of survival from the boundaries of our nation to the Earth as a whole, and extend the relevant time frame from the quarterly reports of corporations to the ancient measure of the seventh generation?

The fourth principle affirms Gandhi’s assertion that the means are the ends in the making. Which candidate’s advertising, endorsements and other means of campaigning reveal someone who tells and adheres to the truth? Someone who can be trusted to use the proper moral, legal and constitutional means once the full power of their office is conferred?

These moral principles are no less relevant today than when I preached them decades ago. With very little editing, clergy from any faith tradition could make these principles the core of their election sermon and support each principle with scripture from their tradition.

In addition to providing these timeless moral principles, I would emphasize our sacred responsibility to vote. Voting is the means by which we elect leaders and advance laws that can and should underwrite the principles I have listed.

As the ideological divide in our country — and in many of our congregations — becomes more and more apparent, clergy are often reluctant to speak about the importance of voting or to lift up the principles that should inform people of faith as they consider their choices on Election Day. Many clergy worry that if they enter this discussion, they will be disregarded and accused of being political.

While that may be a risk, the upcoming election presents every congregation and every clergy leader with an opportunity to identify the values and principles that guide us, as people of faith, when we consider our “life together” as residents of our state or country.

Let’s be clear: we are not called to be bystanders. We are called to be engaged in our communities in truthful ways that amplify love and expand justice.  And a crucial way to demonstrate our engagement is to vote.

Houses of worship and people of faith need to examine how our community, our state and our nation address the needs of the least of these among us;how we assure and advance justice; how we promote the common good; how we tell and adhere to the truth; and how we preserve and restore God’s creation. These are core values of the church, the synagogue and the mosque — and politics are the means by which all of these values are upheld.

Christians recognize that in almost every chapter of each of the four Gospels, we see Jesus urging the community to address the needs of the least of these among us. We hear Jesus passionately advocating for justice and promoting the common good. His commitment to truth is unwavering. In these ways and more, he is amplifying the message of the Hebrew prophets. It’s long past time that people of every faith tradition recognize that their God, by whatever name, calls them to preserve and restore creation.

All of these activities are political because they involve how people relate to each other, how people govern their lives together. Jesus, like the prophets in every tradition, tells the truth as he seeks to amplify love and expand justice in families, in towns and throughout the empire.

Soon, we will have the opportunity to faithfully exercise our sacred right to vote. I pray that every congregation and every person of faith will look to these principles as we examine our choices at the ballot box in the coming election.

Thank you for all the ways you are already addressing both the crisis of democracy and the climate emergency, and may the God of many names strengthen your resolve to amplify your witness.


[1] Excerpt from “New Consciousness” by James Gustave Speth, featured in Speth’s recent Orion article,  “You Say You Want a Revolution.  Here is the complete poem:

Decades of discourse
led by lawyers,
scientists, economists,
and we are stuck.
They can’t do what must be done:
reach the human heart.
The deep problems are
avarice, arrogance and apathy,
our dominant values gone astray.
We need not more analysis
but a spiritual awakening,
a new consciousness.
So bring on the preachers and prophets!
the poets and philosophers!
the psychologists and psychiatrists!
Bring on the writers, musicians, actors, artists!
Bring on the dreamers!
Call them to strike the chords
of our shared humanity,
of our close kin to wild things!
Call them to help find a new world!

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Rev. Dr. Jim Antal

Jim Antal serves as special advisor on climate justice to the United Church of Christ’s general minister and president. His 2023 book, Climate Church, Climate World — Revised and Updated,” is being read by hundreds of churches. From 2006 to 2018, Jim led more than 350 UCC churches in Massachusetts as their conference minister and president. He has preached on climate change since 1988 in over 400 settings and has engaged in non-violent civil disobedience on numerous occasions. A founding member of Third Act Faith, Jim serves on the Coordinating Committee and as TAF’s co-liaison to Third Act’s Banking on Our Future Campaign.