The paragraph below is part of reader Jenna’s very articulate comment on my post “Being Christian isn’t a good thing anymore.”
“...what about bigger problems like racism, poverty, and lack of access to education? Many churches focus on these issues at the global level, but problems like these are very present in Minneapolis…”
Boy, I know what she means. I’m going to try to respond and I’ll bet my response won’t be wholly satisfactory to anyone, including myself. So I’d love more people weighing in on this.
1. Yep, we do have to raise our voice as followers of God. The Bible consistently balances (if not trumps) the personal impact of faith with the societal impact of it. I do not think the societal (or political) is anymore important, but that God is highly suspicious of any manifestation of faith that doesn’t start reshaping the world around it.
2. Politics are dangerous in church. Here’s why. Not because we aren’t supposed to be political, but because politics tries to regroup us according to our stands on issues and stake its claim on us as its adherents. That isn’t the job of politics, that’s God’s job. Our only unwavering adherence should be to the gospel and its transforming power in us and through us. When church bodies (local, regional, national) have taken political stands on issues they have usually done it badly. They take votes that make losers and winners, dividing the unity of Christ. Losers either leave, alienated from the dialog that might have furthered understanding and growth; or they retreat until they can mount their forces to overthrow those who won last time.
3. One of the core values of Jacob’s Well is “We value unity and diversity. We focus on the mission that unites, rather than the details that divide.” How do we do that? It isn’t easy, but we already hold a large range of diversity in our community with almost no conflict. If we only do that by avoiding issues it is bankrupt, but I don’t believe that is the case. My vision is that the church is called to convict people with God’s desire for justice and compassion. The church has to be ‘prophetic’ about what the real issues are. The action, however, is a response of faith. It is individual and we are called to be tolerant of and engaged with each other despite our varied approaches. Face it, we never know for sure when we are right. It is the church’s place to say, “Racism is a problem. Here are some of the things the Bible says about it. Here are questions that we as people who carry Jesus’ cross with him are called to figure out and act on.” But it is not the church’s place to say, “This is the only right response to racism.” Or “This is the right stand on the issue of racism.”
4. I will freely admit that this is a growing area for me to learn how to walk the precarious edge of calling a community to action in the political/social sphere, but not endorse policies or candidates. We are trying to learn, however. We did a series (IMUR) some months ago working from Jesus’ “I am” statements in John’s gospel. Two weeks focused on local justice issues with expert guest speakers. One dealing with poverty and race issues in our neighborhood, and another with Muslim/Christian relationships. Two Muslim speakers helped me with deliver that message. This summer we did a series (Is God Green?) dealing with environmental issues and capped it off by having our worship one Sunday be actually working on projects that improved the environment. We gave everyone a dvd afterward with a message from me (and another for kids) to help interpret the experience. (If you want a copy of the dvd, let me know.)
5. We believe everyone should have a ministry within the church and a mission beyond it. That will be a goal for Jacob’s Well forever. That ‘mission beyond’ will be different for every person, but we will try to help everyone see that their voting, their voices to elected and appointed government officials, their volunteering, their influence over friends and neighbors, and their mere presence in the community should be understood as part of their mission.
Sorry for so long a response, but Jenna hit a hot button for me that I wrestle with a lot.