Dear area churches:
First, thank you for all you do: the meals delivered, the tutoring, the lives changed, the evictions avoided and all the good that arises because of your faithful efforts. Church folk across this community join with people of other faiths and other groups to work for affordable housing, access to health care, quality education and more. Thank you all.
Second, to my siblings in faith who claim Christ as our way, it’s time. Time to wade into the deep waters. Time for some holy risk-taking in this time of crisis.
When our nation stands at a hair’s breadth from yet another untenable war, when children are still being torn from their parents, locked in fetid cells and denied medical care, when destruction of God’s creation is ignored and even accelerated for human profit, when bigotry and racism and xenophobia are encouraged and rewarded, when immigrants and refugees are used as pawns for political gain, the time has come for people of faith to rise up, speak out, organize, pray, show up, stand up for God’s vision of a just world for all.
It’s time for all who believe in that God, that vision, that hope for a world where the lion and the lamb dwell together to let go of our fear.
I know what you’re thinking: Don’t mix politics and religion. I hear the fear in that, the fear of your church being split, of losing friends or family members. But I am also hearing from many a deep longing for places where pressing, complex matters can be discussed in depth, with respect, honesty and integrity. Discussed, and acted upon in substantive ways.
It’s time to get political. Not partisan, political — there’s a big difference.
Partisanship refers to strong adherence to one group or party or politician or stance. Churches should avoid partisan candidate endorsements and campaign rhetoric, actions that violate current IRS laws but also alienate people and shut down healthy conversation. Partisanship also allows a congregation to abdicate its responsibility to call all parties, all candidates to accountability.
Politics is how a community, group or nation organizes itself to get things done for the common good. Religion and politics mix constantly in the Bible. The Hebrew prophets were relentless in their calls for justice for the poor and those on the margins. Jesus confronted the violent power of the Roman Empire with his teachings, his actions and his very life. He upended hierarchies and welcomed the outcast. He blessed peacemakers and proclaimed freedom to those held captive. Pretty political.
How do we do that? How can we engage in ways that have spiritual integrity and moral substance? Like many of you, I wrestle with these questions, and I am exceedingly grateful to my own congregation and those in the community who continue to teach me. Here are a few suggestions to start:
- Identify your congregation’s core values. What are you passionate about? What current critical issues intersect with those values? Start there.
- Learn together: Listen to/read well-reasoned, thoughtful opinions that differ from yours. Humility is a spiritual virtue.
- Use Scripture with integrity, not as a weapon.
- Create safe spaces in your faith community where people can share their deepest concerns and ask tough questions without feeling attacked, shamed or shunned.
- Center the voices of those directly impacted by current policies.
- Pray more than you ever have before.
- Make space for nuance and complexity. Go deeper than sound bites and bumper stickers. Refrain from reducing everything to a binary — GOP versus Dems, conservative versus liberal.
- Recognize the complicity of white Christians in many of the evils we are now confronting. Vow to make amends.
- Don’t stay neutral. Take a stand, be clear why you take that stand.
- Take action. Silence is acquiescence, so don’t just study and discuss. Be public. Take a risk.
As the Bible so frequently reminds us: Do not be afraid. Easier said than done, I know.
Acknowledge that fear but refuse to abide in it. Trust in the One who claims us all, who guides us, whose grace is sufficient. Congregations that take risks discover spiritual blessings and renewed strength. No need to go it alone; join with the growing numbers of us who are seeking to put our faith into action. And when faith communities work together across boundaries of denomination or theology or worship practices, we are all the stronger for it.
As people of faith, we are called to raise up a vision and a voice that goes beyond mere partisanship, to uphold the dignity of all God’s children and indeed all God’s creation.
It’s time, Church.