Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Politics and Church:
They Do Go Together

First Lines from Griff Martin 

It’s common etiquette at dinner parties to avoid three big topics: sex, politics and religion. This may be great advice for a dinner party, but it’s horrible for theology. This is one of those places where we have to stop allowing culture and a desire to be polite to domesticate what we do at church.

Because in trying to be nice and polite, we have missed talking about the three things that matter the most: sex, politics, and religion. Theologian Shirley Guthrie defines sex as our connection to our physical self; politics as our connection to one another; and religion as our connection to God. These are the things we need to be talking about because these are three things Jesus talked about over, and over, and over again.

And just as a friendly reminder, church is not about being a nice place. As one of my favorite writers Annie Dillard puts it: Why do people in church seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? … Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us to where we can never return.”

I will be honest – there has been a conversation recently at First Austin about the political nature of church; in particular, when are we (when am I) being too political? I admit this is a fine line, and one that I have probably overstepped at times, and will overstep in the future. So I want to take this space to be really honest with you. When something comes up like passing out water at a march, things get really complicated rather quickly; so here is where I am right now, so you can see and know my heart.

First, any time the church has a chance to support a group standing for human rights, I hope we stand with that group. If it’s veterans, people experiencing homelessness, women, LGBTQ+, Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, or our Muslim brothers and sisters…. When a group is going to march and take a stand for human rights, and we have a chance to stand out front and offer them a cup of cold water and say “we support you because all people means all people,” I hope we take that opportunity – because human rights are Kingdom work. (Besides that, just look in our history book and see the good that came when we passed out water at another event; it makes a difference).

Second, we are in a new political age, and it appears that preaching certain Gospel passages will, at times, appear to be opposing certain political views (although, it is worth noting, preaching the Gospels should always mess with our politics, no matter what side of the aisle we sit, and if it does not, then you better keep reading). I hate this, but it’s Christianity. At times, our allegiance to the Gospel is going to put us at odds with the powers that be… actually, this will probably happen more often than not, no matter which political party is in power (and perhaps we need to pray forgiveness that we have so often avoided this). I will not water down the Gospel to avoid being political. If the Gospel clashes with our politics, that is our problem and not the Gospel’s.

My litmus test will always be that I want to be found standing on the side of the Gospel, alongside the Words of Jesus Christ – and I hope you are standing there with me. As the brilliant theologian Jürgen Motlmann states: “theology has to be public theology: public, critical, and prophetic complaint to God- public, critical, and prophetic hope in God.”

I recently wrote out my goals for the upcoming year, and one of them is to go further with “all people, all people, all people.” I have struggled and ached when folks have come into my office to share that they feel alienated at church because of how they voted in the last election. That alienation is sinful and shameful on our part, for any time someone does not feel welcome, we have failed. No one should feel shamed for the political position they hold, and if they do, the fault is on us. As a church that proudly proclaims “all people,” this is one way we show that. In fact, this is probably the place we have the most work to do as a congregation, for we would never stand for snide comments about someone’s skin color or gender or sexuality. But the truth is, we often allow snide comments about how they vote or their political party, and that is allowing otherness to be part of us – and it’s wrong. “All people” means all people, and we seek unity, not uniformity.

I hope this church is always open to those who vote all parties and all ways. My goal is that this church will continue to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that we will be a sacred middle ground for conversations that can’t be held in our divided world, and that we will continue to be political, but never partisan, and that we will always be prophetic and hopeful.

As I stated last year from our pulpit: “God doesn’t need a political party. God doesn’t need a politician. God needs a people.” We are going to be that people.

Amen and Amen.

Grace and peace,


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