Like all of you, I am many things–citizen, critic, one-time expatriate, sometimes-reluctant patriot, deliverer of bad jokes, prophetic-progressive-pragmatist, amateur writer.
The primary vocational role I play now is that of pastor. Mainline Christian pastor–you know, the boring kind with robes.
I’ve long struggled with how folks who are called to what I’m called to are represented in the political world. We aren’t all Falwells, and there are many, many more of us who uncomfortable with the decades-old coziness of Religious Right and Political power.
On the other hand, the anachronistic, trite sloganism that gives birth to trite sayings like “Jesus was a Liberal” has always rubbed me the wrong way.
We’re not called to be partisan, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t think that our Christian practice should have political impact. The Greek root of “Politic,” after all, roughly translates as “The Work of The City.” If we take seriously that the point of the Incarnation is that “God is with us” in the real world, in the flesh, then it’s important to claim what that means.
I don’t generally think of my “political theology” systematically (maybe more poetically? I always liked how Sallie McFague referred to theology as more of a symphony than anything else), but I’ve felt called, if you will, since Tuesday’s election, to name some things about how I see my call to ministry–not only to the particular congregation I serve but to the wider community and world in which live:
- Jesus proclaimed a Kingdom of God whose values were neither Red nor Blue, neither Roman nor American. That Kingdom has more to do with how we live now than what happens when we die.
- We do not worship God at the foot of the flag. We do not worship at the foot of power. We worship at the foot of a cross, a weapon of law and order, a punishment for sedition, upon which Jesus, among others, died violently.
- We gather at an empty tomb where we are reminded that violence is not the final word.
- We repeat the story of a broken body and spilled blood in order to proclaim our wholeness. We do that at a table that God opens to all—to women and men, to refugee and undocumented, to queer and straight, to black and brown, to the whole world.
- We respond to the welcome we are offered by being gentle with one another, being lovers of peace, extending the welcome to others, and participating in the reconciliation of all things.
- We live out this welcome by being firm— we resist everything that blocks access to the table that God opens to all people.
- Our politic is to set this table with our whole lives, including the lives we live publicly.
These commitments means a couple of things that are worth keeping in mind.
- Everything has consequences, including our rhetoric. Working for peace means speaking peace, and it means naming violent speech as such. That isn’t casting blame, that’s taking collective responsibility.
- Gaslighting people’s concerns, especially for the sake of “unity” is not pastoral care.
- To “Render undo Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” is not an order to acquiesce to power, but a reminder that we are to discern the difference. Policies are part of how we treat other as Children of God.
- Public Action is Preaching, and vice-versa. Do it well.
- If we ignore our differences when we gather at the table, we don’t actually invite people to bring their whole selves. That means hard conversations are ahead. The table must be the place where we have them. And again, we set this table with our whole lives.
I’ve thought long and hard about these words over the past few days, as well as calls, from well-meaning folks, that we need to “move on,” “move forward,” or even “get over” disappointment.
I’m not doing any of those things.
Instead, I’m remembering a closing phrase my colleague and mentor, Johnny Wray, uses at the end of every email, letter, and phone call I’ve ever received from him:
I will carry my whole self, and everything I’ve listed above, into the many communities I inhabit. I will carry myself, even when I feel like a “Resident Alien,” to the table where I gather with strangers and friends. I will remember that a table of welcome is sometimes built with the planks of resistance that we carry.
And I will pray for the day when such a welcome is so ubiquitous that it, too, is boring.
As boring as a dude wearing a robe saying sincerely, “Peace be with you.”
Carry on, ya’ll.