First Baptist Church is a place where individuals respond to the word of scripture and seek their own interpretation. Where Separation of Church and State and religious liberty are taken very seriously. Where we hold our Baptist beliefs with deep conviction but we hold them in modesty.
» First Lines -- Politics and Church: They Do Go Together -- by 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.