My church body is generally pretty quiet about political issues. We often roll our eyes as we watch the evangelicals running around trying to protect our “Christian nation“ or the liberal mainline Christians marching in support of whatever the latest social issue is. We tend to content ourselves with preaching “nothing but Christ crucified.” That’s what we’re good at, so we try to stick to that.
Of course, we recognize that we exist as citizens of both kingdoms, i.e. we are citizens of the kingdom of God, but also citizens of the kingdom of this world. Being in the church doesn’t mean that we cease to exist in civil society. This is why Christians can run for political office, serve as soldiers or police officers, etc. So, we’ll sometimes talk about political issues, but only a few. Usually it’s life issues, gay marriage, and religious freedom issues. We don’t want to get involved in just any political issue, but these we have deemed as worthy for us to discuss publicly since they either affect our ability to preach the Gospel (religious freedom) or go against natural law (life issues and gay marriage). However, other policy issues such as tax reform, energy policy, healthcare reform, etc., we don’t want to get involved in since there are multiple ways to respond to these issues faithfully. We don’t want to become too intimately married to political issues the way the religious right or the religious left so often does.
Something is Missing
This is the logic.
However, I’ve begun to think that part of this is misguided. My problem is not necessarily with the issues we’ve deemed suitable to address. I agree that they are (to varying degrees) important for the church to address. My problem is with the issues that are missing. There are lots of other issues that we as Christians informed by biblical teaching should be speaking out about.
I fear that we’ve allowed our voice in the public square to be shaped by the religious right. After all, the issues that we’re fine talking about as the church are also the issues most important to the religious right. But what about what scripture has to say about our care for the poor and marginalized? What about scripture’s teaching about God’s creation and our responsibility to be stewards of that creation? What about what the scripture, especially the OT has to say about the welfare of the widow, the orphan, and the sojourner?
Now, I recognize that these issues are complicated. There are multiple ways to respond to these issues. But my point is that it concerns me that scripture has so much to say about these issues and we seem to have so little to say. Surely, we should have at least something to say, right? Maybe we don’t have to have the definitive solution, but perhaps we could at least point to policies and practices that clearly go against these values. Surely we can call out sin for what it is.
But I’ll be honest. My main concern right now is not with any of these issues. My main concern is with how we need to respond to our society’s race problem.
Racism is False Doctrine
Since I’ve joined twitter I’ve had the opportunity to listen to a lot of what my African American brothers and sisters in Christ have had to say about issues of race in America and how we in overwhelmingly white churches respond or have failed to respond.
In the past year there have been too many tragedies. There is too much evidence now that there is, in various ways, deep-seated systemic racial prejudice in our society. The events in Charlottesville this past weekend have not been the first instance of this sort of thing, but is a culmination of a lot of things. And I don’t think it’s at all the last.
It’s been an eye-opening moment for a lot of people simply because of the clear wickedness of the racism that was on display. It’s motivated a lot of conservative Christians to stand up and speak out against the racism present in our society. And this isn’t motivated my some kind of neo-marxist or leftist agenda. It’s motivated by the fact that God has created each and every one of us in his image. He has redeemed all of us alike through his son. He has brought freedom to the captives and justice for the oppressed. The unity of God’s holy and forgiven people overcomes all boundaries erected by this world.
That’s why God’s people cannot sit by and watch a group of our brothers and sisters face this kind of wickedness.
Because racism is false doctrine. If we Lutherans can get behind combatting anything, then surely we can get behind combatting false doctrine, right?
This does not mean that we’re going to agree with everything that those fighting racism on the left have to say. Not at all. It does not mean that we have to agree with everything any group fighting racism has done or does.
It means that we as the church need to do something. We need to say something. This is too important to sit by and watch happen.
I Still Don’t Have All the Answers
Of course, I say all this, but I also recognize that I don’t have all the answers.
How can we as the church, particularly my own church body, get involved in this issue while steering clear of syncretism or unionism?
How can we speak out against subtler and far more common forms of racism that are harder to see than outright white supremacist gatherings?
How can we do all of this while also keeping our witness focused on the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and not falling into the pitfalls of the social gospel movement?
I don’t know.
What I do know is that as followers of Christ we have a duty to love and serve our neighbor. And as for me, I’d rather “sin boldly” while trying to serve my neighbor in faithfulness and love, rather than keep myself mistake-free and watch my neighbor be in need and do nothing.
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
“Therefore they are before the throne of God,
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
the sun shall not strike them,
nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
If you’re interested in these issues check out some of the work of poet/musician Micah Bournes
Especially check out this interview with Micah on the podcast, Virtue in the Wasteland. You might not agree with everything, but you will be challenged if you listen and consider.
image credit: https://www.videoblocks.com/video/burning-torch-at-a-beach-party-at-night-with-bokeh-background-dpg5jke/