Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Who Cares What the Church Stands For? - 'Tis the Season #19

     I have just completed two terms on my denomination’s General Board of Church & Society, our agency that strives to implement our Social Principles, through lobbying, advocacy, boycotts, and mission endeavors.  I am proud that our denomination cares enough about the realities of the world that we have an office in Washington, D.C., along with staffers and activists who do what they can to press for what they believe is God’s agenda in the real world.

     At the same time, we miss the mark now and then, and we forget what church “stands” can and cannot do.  Again I’ll turn to former Republican Senator John Danforth, who dreams of a church making a difference in every aspect of life – and yet he keeps us humble, reminding us that even if a whole denomination stakes itself out on a moral issue, that denomination isn’t 100% unified on it, and we are only a tiny fraction of the population.  Who cares what the Methodists or Lutherans think?  Is anyone listening in Washington, or the state capitol, or in Palestine or the Sudan.

     Sometimes we venture into zones where we simply have no expertise.  If the church or an individual Christian feels inclined to speak God’s word to housing or education or immigration or finance, we’d best study up on the issue and even better talk to somebody on the inside before we challenge anybody.

     And yet, even if nobody much is listening, and even if we don’t know all we need to know, as God’s people we stand up and speak, humbly, compassionately, but surely.  Maybe it’s not effective; but Vaclav Havel reminded us that “Hope is the ability to work for something simply because it is good, whether it stands a chance of succeeding or not.”  Jesus spoke, and wound up abandoned and on a cross.

     A fair test of the holiness of any Christian moral campaign was voiced by Jim Wallis:  “When the voice of God is invoked on behalf of those who have no voice, it is time to listen.  But when the name of God is used to benefit the interests of those who are speaking, it  is time to be very careful.”  Should we speak up only for ourselves, or battle for those who already have enough? or for God’s children who have no resources, and no one to stand with them?

     Danforth prods us from a different angle. As an Episcopalian, he observes his General Convention advancing positions on public policies.  They speak “many words about the responsibility of government,” but then they say “little to nothing about the responsibilities of the people, including its own members.”  Ouch.  A church that dares to be relevant, to bring God’s Word to life in the thick of the real issues of the world, had better be careful not just to talk about what somebody else ought to do differently.  We begin, and continue, with our own labor to change what we can.

     Mother Teresa was a staunch foe of abortion – but whenever she spoke of the importance of protecting the unborn life, she always added, “Give us the child.”  She and her Sisters of Charity were poised, always, to care for the life they said mattered.

     As we move into October, I want to try to say something about Christianity and how God asks us to think about race, life, immigration, marriage, guns, and a few other things – and in each instance reflecting on what God is simultaneously asking us to do.