I sure love it when someone else does my work for me. It doesn’t happen often, but this week an article in the Presbyterian News Service addressed the Fifth Great End of the Church much better than I ever could have.
I was preparing to dig into this fifth in the series, “the promotion of social righteousness,” when I came across the story of a congregation who did just that. Not only did it reveal what this looks like, but it also highlighted the struggle that many of our churches have with regard to stepping into “controversial” issues.
I think the term “social righteousness” could be interpreted in today’s language as right relationship, just relations, and social morality. It covers the areas of how we ought to be treating each other, the social mores that guide the character of our relationships, and the ethical principles that shape person to person and systemic relationships.
This week I am hoping that you will read this article of the Presbyterian Church of Deep Run in Perkasie, Pennsylvania that “put their money where their mouth was” and acted on the commitment they had made to the Matthew 25 Initiative. One of the three foci of that initiative is the dismantling of structural racism. They tackled it head on in their community. This is what happened and what they learned.
Read Here: Session Stands Up to Racism
In the comments this week, I would like you to reflect and comment on the following questions:
- We know that churches can’t endorse specific candidates due to their non-profit status. Does this also mean that churches shouldn’t address issues that are political in nature?
- Some people believe that when one goes to church that is should be reserved for spiritual matters. How does one determine whether an issue is purely spiritual or purely political?
- It was interesting to read that this church actually found more young people joining the church after they took a stand. Do you think this is coincidental or actually a reflection of the values of younger people?
Thank you for joining the conversation.
By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades
To believe and proclaim, “Jesus is Lord,” is both a spiritual and political act. To have ultimate allegiance to the reign of God and the way of Jesus brings one to a place at odds, at least some of the time, with values and allegiances that differ. If we follow Jesus and believe in the message that he echoed from Isaiah,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to preach good news to the poor,
to proclaim release to the prisoners
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to liberate the oppressed,
and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18-19,
we will find ourselves taking a spiritual and political stand with challenging consequences. Perhaps some will be attracted to a church that does that, but others will likely flee from such a radical message.
Although religious groups might not wish to formally endorse specific candidates, they clearly have the right to make public comment on the values, objectives, and outcomes that are important to them when making political choices during an election. In today’s political world you don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out which candidates reflect the important values of Jesus in terms of Love, Truth, Compassion, concern for the poor, forgiveness, and concern for your neighbor. Some Presidential candidates even pride themselves on having the lack of these qualities, which allows for their easy identification, however, many conservative Christian groups seem to no longer identify with the values of Jesus, and vote in high numbers for very questionable candidates.
Not every person in a church group may have the temperament for speaking out on political issues that concern them, but those persons who do feel certain important issues need discussion should have the freedom to speak out if they they feel it is important to take a stand, and to encourage others in the church group to stand with them, or to have the opportunity to ask for support of the Session or Pastor.
For many years I have had a Spiritual and Political need to be involved in the Gun Safety Movement as a member of “Cease Fire Oregon”, working to pass reasonable restrictions on the sale, use, and storage of guns in Oregon. Since the Republican Party and many of the conservative religious groups who actively support them have blocked any federal safety measures on guns, it is now up to individual states to take action, which requires the needed support at the local community level.
On several occasions I have stood up in the church service and asked for support for my trips to Salem to testify on behalf of gun safety legislation by simply asking “Who Will Stand With Me This Day”. Many in the church supported my efforts, and some people despised me for my efforts, but at least in the Presbyterian Church there is the is the freedom to voice concern on the terrible death toll that guns take in our communities, and ask people for political support to take action,, rather than just sending “thoughts and prayers” after another brutal school shooting.
Deciding what is “Political” and what is “Spiritual” is probably easier than one might think. The “Spiritual” aspect is what drives an individual or group to be concerned and compassionate about issues like people being killed, causing serious injury, or the degrading of human beings because of race, skin color, or religious belief. “Political” is the avenue for taking action on strongly held “Spiritual” beliefs. Many Christians only want to engage on the level of Spiritual or Religious thinking involving rituals, prayer, and scripture reading in a church service setting, and not have themselves and the church group involved in any actual activity to bring about change for the better. The real test is being able to have a church group that is able to respect each other and to trust and Accept each other as a church group allowing for their individual differences.
I’m not sure what “young people” think or if they are likely to join any Active Church Group taking political action. I did observe during the 1960-1970 Vietnam War era that the “Young People” 18-30 years old were those who were most impacted “Spiritually” by the United States butchering of more than a million North Vietnamese Civilians in our unrelenting bombing campaign, and the useless slaughter of 50,000 American troops on the ground, while our political leaders knew that the war was not winnable. (visit the Washington DC Vietnam Memorial to get the full effect with each name carved in marble)
These “Young People” took to the streets in protest marches which were the largest anyone had ever seen in American history to Shout Anti War Slurs at our President and national leaders.They put to shame the “Older Silent Church People” still huddled with their Priests and Pastors singing and reading scripture, with most all afraid of speaking out, while religious leaders like Billy Graham dined graciously at the White House with LBJ and Nixon, oblivious to the slaughter and suffering that degraded the Soul of America.
Perhaps at this time in history the “Young People” are the only ones left who can find a Spiritual Way out of our current National Political divisions and the cultural hate groups that tear at the heart of our democracy. If we are lucky, perhaps the Christian Churches might even help them this time around.