I don’t have answers here, but I’m curious to find out how many people in our churches think the Pastor should avoid any political subjects in their sermons (and by extension keep politics out of issues of faith), and compare that with those that feel faith does indeed have a place in politics.
What role does the Gospel message play in our “public” lives? To what extend should our faith play in the world of politics? Is there a “non-filtered”, unbiased, way of seeing not only the message of Jesus Christ, but the prophetic message of the Living God through the bible? What is the message to the people about how we are to live and what we are to do?
I’d be curious what the break out looks like in terms of political persuasions, party affiliation, participation in a church (and denomination/theological flavor!), age and gender differences, etc. How many of us feel moved to work towards a more egalitarian society regardless of our faith? How many of us would feel more compelled to maintain the status quo regardless of whether we participated in church or not?
I’ve always been interested in “people”; in what consciously, and (more interestingly) unconsciously, motivates and inspires us in as we go about our work in the world. As a former Political Science student, and now theologian, I find these questions intriguing.
So let’s jump into the deep end of the pool… What values do we hold as seminal to our faith? Yes, we may say we believe in something… but when we get to our core we may actually value something else entirely. And the follow-on question; how aware are we of our values?
For example – Is our deeper/deepest value to maintain the status quo (perhaps because we benefit from it)? Or is our deeper value to build a more egalitarian community? (Even if it may negatively impact us personally?)
I asked the first question at the top of this post as a theologian struggling to interpret the message of Faith in my present circumstance.
The foundational theological questions are… What do we believe is the deeper message of Jesus? What is the fundamental call of God to us today? And how does this play out in our “real world”? …In what we say about our future as a society… about politics?
I’ve often struggled to discern the deeper issues of life, both as a Human Being in general, and a Pastor in specific. I’ve been challenged by what I perceive as the Call of Christ, but in this especially churning political time we find ourselves in now, I am finding a little more clarity.
Why was Jesus killed? As much as we might tell each other how much Jesus loved people, or how he forgave people… or how much he hugged all those kids… he wasn’t executed for this. We’re so fond – on Sunday mornings – of talking about how many people he healed, and how he was able to show God’s forgiveness to so many, and how he changed their lives… (which is all probably true)… but he wasn’t killed for healing people, or forgiving people… per se. In fact, who would have a problem with these things?
He was executed by the establishment – by the powers that be – by the dominant powers of the day – by the forces of Empire – for challenging the status quo. He was executed, not for forgiving people per se, but for forgiving people… and reducing the power of the temple system… the only official “forgiveness” system sanctioned by the religious leadership at the time. In those times there was no real distinction between religious and political elites/powers. They were all perceived as God-ordained. So that place and era’s 1 % were the Temple leadership, religious leaders, and the monarchy (and the royal court). And the Israelite/Jewish system was backed and enforced by the larger “power” system… the Roman Empire.
So when an (perhaps another) itinerant Jewish Rabbi comes along and challenges this system by telling people they don’t have to go to the temple to experience God’s forgiveness…that God’s grace can come to them outside of the expensive and tedious system of power and control… in a time where any expression of independence from these political and religious systems was seen as not only suspect, but treasonous, you can sort of see how radical Jesus’ message really was! When Jesus says “Give to Caesar what is Caesars’, and give to God what is God’s”… he was stating that Caesar wasn’t God… which in itself was treasonous.
So in its era, these things were completely connecting religion/faith and politics! Truth is, when we do faith actions in the world… we are not only putting our faith into action, we are not only making a faith statement, we are also making a political statement!
Considering we are political creatures just as much as we are faith creatures… let us investigate if there are any differences between what we say we believe and what we actually believe? What really are our deeper values?
What is at the core of our faith? Some of us say Jesus call us to feed the poor, take care of those who have fallen through societies cracks, to care for our version of the “orphans and widows”.
“Widows & Orphans” may be a technical term, but does shed light on some of the most marginalized people of their society. Women and children were not really “people”. Well, yes, for sure they were people in the sense of them being members of the species. But what they weren’t was fully free people. They needed to have a man “sponsor” them – a free man to host them, care for them, be responsible for them. Otherwise they probably wouldn’t have a place to live, a way to get food, a way to live well. In that society, not having a man sponsor you made you more vulnerable to hunger and homelessness.
When a little girl was born (and boy too, until he was old enough to be a man), she “belonged” to her father. It was her father that sponsored her home, food, care, etc. It was her father that took responsibility for her care. When she was old enough to marry, her father “gave her away” to her husband, another man who took responsibility to care for her. If her husband died before her, then the responsibility for her care fell to her (usually oldest) son. If she had no sons, then she was seriously at risk for a slow death; if no man took responsibility for her, she would be at a loss of home, food, etc.
So, although there really were “Widows & Orphans”… and God (through the prophets) really did call the people to act with compassion for them and others for whom society might have forgotten… they are also a symbol of those “left behind”.
Who are our “Widows & Orphans”? Who are the people in our society most likely to fall through the cracks; to lose their livelihoods, their homes, their means of survival, their ability to make a living, to go hungry? Who are we called to have compassion for? And how do make sense of this call from Jesus to care for them?
We may understand God calling us to care for the most vulnerable in our society. And we may even think of ourselves as noble as we feed some people, or help some people. But here’s where theory and practice diverge – who is there in our lives that actually need help to get back on their feet, but we just not want to help are we just not able to help – Who are the “Orphans & Widows” in our society we most definitely are not inclined to show compassion for? Remember, this too is not only a faith statement, but a political one as well!
If we just leave Jesus’ ministry to healing sick people, casting out demons, and hugging children… we are totally missing the deeper meaning of his work. He was executed – a governmental act – an expression of power… of Empire – because he was too political. He was executed for challenging the system and structure of religious power, which was sedition – it disrupted the balanced system imposed on the Israelites by Rome. He was executed for sedition, for fomenting revolution, for resisting the power of Rome! He was executed by Rome for making political statements through his words and actions.
And here we are… either accepting the idea that living faith actually calls us to make political statements – statements about what we actually believe, through words and actions… or limiting “faith” to a kind of emotive feeling of love from God.
So, what kind of “faith” statements do we want to make about people that have fallen through our societal cracks; about our neighbors, about strangers, Hispanics, migrants, inner city poor, and urban hipsters, about stereotypical conservatives, or liberals, about bible-believing fundamentalists, or atheists, about those on food stamps, about the functional mentally ill, and the non-functional mentally ill, about inmates, and former inmates, about the kids with ADD and those on the Autism Spectrum, and those with drug addictions, about the 1 %, about Muslims, or Jews, “Dreamers”, about participants of Black Lives Matter, or White extremists, about suburbanites… about any of our brothers and sisters that cannot care for themselves, about those that need some help to get on their feet again, about people needing some assistance to make ends meet, food to carry them over between paychecks.
We don't question that Jesus calls us to "feed the poor"... this is not a problem. Many good church people take time to volunteer at places that actually do feed the poor. I can'e believe this is in any way discouraged among our congregations. This is part of what it means to be a "Good Christian".
But calling out systems that single out some people for "lift", while for placing obstacles in front of others is too "political".
The poor start off at a disadvantage. Their opportunities for better a education - one of the more accessible keys to better employment - are already compromised. People with limited or "non-competitive" education are often restricted to low(er)-wage jobs... which compromises their ability to maintain basic standards of living (further education, health care, adequate food and clothing and shelter).
We have the best judicial system money can buy; if you have the means and the access to good lawyers, your chances of doing time (or doing more time) are minimized. But if you struggle financially, your odds of doing time are higher. Our prisons are full of those with limited economic means. And when they get out, their opportunities to financially get ahead are even more limited because they have a "record".
These multiple discriminatory Systems affect Whites, Blacks, Browns... indeed anyone. They help some people of these ethnic backgrounds, and hinder others of these very same ethnic backgrounds. We're all affected.
If we believe Jesus, like other prophets, calls us to act for Justice, for Right-ness, then it's the right thing to call these systems out - to challenge them! It's not only the Christian thing to do, it's the right thing to do. Is this "political"? Absolutely it is!
An old and consistent charge from those with an investment in keeping "the system" the same! This was the same critique leveled against those that opposed slavery... against those working for Women's Suffrage... against those working for Civil Rights... and Equal Rights... and Gay Rights... and Prison Reform... and Education Reform...
"They're being too political!"
From Stephen Colbert: