I read the comments. I know they say, “Don’t read the comments,” but I read the comments, and now I feel like I need to respond. The current comments that I read were on a Facebook post under a link to a Louisville, KY news station’s report about the response of the Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (USA) to a church asking for a review of Donald Trump’s membership in the PC(USA). (Spoiler alert: Although he was baptized in a Presbyterian congregation, he’s not currently a member of a PC(USA) congregation, so there is no membership to review or, as the headlines are implying, revoke.) Mulitple comments, however, didn’t even address this specific question. Instead they made declarations like “…we as a church have no business in politics.” And that’s what fired me up.
Last week I preached a sermon that some will probably call “political.” It talked about fear as an obstacle to peace. It addressed gun violence and the unfortunately popular call to personal arms for safety and security.
The week before I preached another sermon that was about the sin of racism in our country and the responsibility of white America, specifically the white church, to repent of and turn away from our sins of silence, complacency, and participation.
The week before that I referenced the desire of some to shut out country’s borders to refugees in response to the terrorist attacks in Paris last month.
I don’t do this too often (maybe I don’t do it often enough) – talk in sermons about topics that are often a part of political debates, topics that are common discourse among our politicians. I figured there might be some pushback about it. I even acknowledged in the second sermon that I anticipated some resistance, not necessarily from the specific position I took, but because I got “political.” And my anticipation wasn’t unfounded because I’m used to hearing things like I read in the comments above, “The church should stay out of politics.”
But guess what? The gospel is political.
Scripture is political. In fact, Scripture is way more directly political than I tend to be. The announcement of the birth of John the Baptist, whose story I told last week, begins like this “In the days of King Herod of Judea…” (Luke 1:5). The start of the story of Jesus’ birth goes like this “In those days a decree went out from the Emperor August that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria” (Luke 2:1-2). In Matthew’s gospel, the astrologers from the East stop to talk to King Herod on their way to investigate the natal star of Jesus (Matthew 2:1-4). After the news of the birth gets back to Herod he uses government forces to slaughter innocent children, trying to crush the potential for opposition to leadership (Matthew 2:16). Later on the arrest and execution of Jesus is an action carried out by the state, by the government.
The story of Jesus from birth in a time of government census-taking to resurrection from a tomb guarded by Roman soldiers – – the story of the people of God from Abraham to Revelation – – is an inherently political story. It in no way takes place in a vacuum, but instead at every turn is an interplay of the divine will and the human response to that will which almost without exception involves how we live, move, and have our being in our community structure, in our cities, in our nations – that is, our politics.
The idea that the church should not speak to what is going on in the political world around us is, in my opinion, in direct contrast to our call to “seek the welfare of the city” (Jeremiah 29:7). It is the opposite of what Jesus did when he challenged social and political norms on purpose by travelling through Samaria on his way from Jerusalem to Galilee (John 4), healing, albeit begrudgingly, the syrophoenician woman’s daughter (Mark 7:24-29), and sending his disciples “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
The way this gospel works, the way discipleship works, can’t be contained in box that we open for an hour on Sunday morning, but lock up for the rest of the week. This whole thing we call following Jesus demands that we order our lives around his call to righteousness, reconciliation, peace, and justice. We cannot answer that call without it touching every bit of our lives which means the church, the gathered community of followers of Jesus, the body of Christ at work in the world, has got to talk about being faithful to this call in the public sphere. We can’t just give food to people who are hungry, we have to talk about why they are hungry, and there are politics involved in that conversation. The same with sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, and comforting those who mourn. We cannot comfort them without listening to, being changed by, and acting on what it is that has brought them grief.
So, yeah. I read the comments, and maybe I shouldn’t have. But I did, and this is the one I would like to leave back, if I thought, you know, people actually read the comments – – “The gospel is political.”