Posted on October 15th, 2011 | Filed under Challenges, Congregation, Featured, Leadership, News, Social Issues, Theology, Topic of the Week
Tagged with America, Christianity, Faith, Formation, God, Jesus, morality, politics, transformation
Politicking. It’s a dangerous game to play. The political arena is a nasty space in the quest for votes and power, with much weeping and gnashing of teeth. Backbiting, name calling, cutting and pasting factoids of candidates until no one knows who really said what or who really stands for anything. It’s nasty out there, on our television sets, in our newspapers, andat our family dinner tables, nasty and nastier as the election draws near. As a preacher, let me be honest from the start, I want none of it in the sacred space of the pulpit.
Does that make me lazy? Naïve? Irresponsible? An escapist? Maybe. It depends on what your theology of prophesy is and how it manifests itself in the pulpit. I absolutely believe that I am called to “Occupy the Pulpit” with an ear tuned to scripture and the other tuned to politics, and have made that clear before here at State of Formation. Tension is bound to be present. Conviction is bound to move the hearer, just as much if not more so than it moves the preacher preparing the message. It’s just that I fancy myself more like Jesus (in a humble way, I promise), who rarely had to “name-names” for his listeners to know exactly who he was for, what rights he stood for, and what evils he fought against. In his parable, stories, and actions the community was well aware of the tensions growing in a life committed to following Jesus under the occupation of a Roman government.
Jesus preached politics, but he never resorted to politicking.
The message of Jesus the Christ was subversive, but that did not make it subservient to the pressures of Roman rule, no, quite the opposite. His way of being prophetic terrified the government officials and contributed to his execution. Jesus was not lazy and he was not escaping from the realities of social issues. He just didn’t need to spell it out for his followers. He had more trust in them than that.
But that was politics of 2,000 years ago. What about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? He was certainly a politically aware preacher. He certainly was a public theologian who prophesied about the real circumstances created by the men and women of Congress and called for reform from the Sunday pulpit. And yet…
“Martin Luther King never once from the pulpit endorsed a candidate. He talked about social issues, social justice everyday of his life, but he never endorsed a candidate. Now why would that be? Because he did not think that the church was the appropriate place… to play hardball politics. He was right and pastors would be good to look at his example t to draw the line between prophetic witness to issues and pandering to politicians.”
-Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Executive Director, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State
In general this belief that pastors NEED to be preaching political endorsement in the pulpit raises an issue I have with the state of education and formation on the whole. It is a continuation of the ethos that the classroom, and the pulpit for that matter, is the space for one with power to data dump truth on the multitudes of listeners rather than to inspire them to know truth in a sapiential sense. It is a continuation of the belief that there is not the potential within the populace to reach understanding and revelation on their own, thus memorization of the truth according to one leader is the model.
If I am a pastor and I really believe that unless I spell out for my congregation who to vote for they will not vote in ways true to their faith values as a Christian, then I am in a dangerous space of power. I am limiting God’s work in their hearts. I am standing in as the Source of Revelation. This mentality belittles the potential within each congregant and limits the work of the Holy Spirit.
I believe Christians, as followers of Jesus the Christ, we too are called to speak out as public theologians. Christians are called on to meet the greed and powers of politics with the transformative power of the Gospel.
But, as followers of Christ and especially as those called and ordained to the space of the pulpit, Christians need to also have the trust and manner of Jesus who made prophetic moves without endorsing candidates. Let us remember that he came not to rule in political power, much as the zealots had hoped, but to rule the world with a subversive power that flips politics on its head. Preachers need to be midwives of truth for their congregations, drawing out the wisdom that is inside of people in their unique contexts and trusting it. Preachers need to train communities to walk about always as ones with one ear tuned to scripture and the other to the demands of political choices and consequences. If the congregation is formed in this manner, the great news is the they need not wait for the call of the pastor to write letters to congress, to make phone calls, to protest. They will know, as the baptized are all able to know, when evil must be named, and liberation must be claimed.
Casey is first year Ph.D student in Homiletics and Liturgics and fellow in The Program in Theology and Practice at Vanderbilt. She is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). She lives in Nashville with her husband, two cats and twenty Divinity school students at the Disciples Divinity House.