Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Jesus and Politics

When I was a pastor, I would occasionally receive phone calls, letters, messages from members who were disappointed in me because I hadn't taken up the latest political issue in the pulpit. They wondered if I had enough courage to "take a stand for what is right."  My predecessor was known for that:  the marquis issue of the day would be the theme of his message on Sunday--a message meant to stir up the base, rally the troops against moral decadence, reminding the religious right that we were righteous in our cause.  People had grown accustomed to the war drums and they missed the beat in my sermons.

What I had decided to do in my first year as their pastor was to focus on Jesus and the kingdom of God.  Consequently, I spent a lot of time in the Gospels, working through Jesus words and works, reminding us all of the one we want to follow.  That approach frustrated several members; one (a retired minister) was so disappointed he set up a meeting with me to talk about why he didn't leave worship on Sunday inspired to take up arms against the ways of the world.

He said (I can't remember his words exactly; but it went something like this): "Why don't you talk about the evil of our world?  Abortion?  Homosexuality?  The absence of prayer in public schools?  I miss a good, rousing sermon about these important issues.  We used to leave Church ready to take on the world every Sunday.  Now, . .  well, . . . I don't know what you're doing up there.  It's very discouraging."

He offered his critique in a very kind way--wasn't mean-spirited or angry. An older, experienced preacher, I got the impression he was trying to help out a younger man. When I tried to explain, telling him of my intention to continue to preach from the Gospels, he became even more exasperated:

"Is that enough?"  I said, "Shouldn't it be?"  To which he replied, stammering, trying to string a sentence together, "Well, . . . don't you think? . . .  I'm not sure . . . what you're doing is . . .   Look!  All you're doing up there is preaching God's Word."

Searching my face to see if his words hit the target, I just smiled backed at him.  Then, a look of horror fell over his face as he took in the irony of his critique.  He paused, looked down at the floor, grinned to himself, and said, "That didn't come out right.  Doesn't sound like much of a criticism does it?  Of course, you should preach God's Word.  But, . . . I'm not sure . . . do you know what I'm trying to say?"

I assured him that I understood, and I wondered out loud whether my sermons were doing any good.  But then I asked him a question--one that I think every Christian needs to ponder as they banter about their politics these days (again, I can't remember exactly what I said, but it went something like this):

"Why didn't Jesus consistently, constantly blast the Romans for their reprobate politics?  Why didn't he take on the important 'political' issues of his day, addressing the problems of infanticide, child abandonment, violence in entertainment, Roman aggression, military expansion, sexual promiscuity?  If we're supposed to follow Jesus, shouldn't we pay careful attention to what he said and how he said it?  Shouldn't we preach the same gospel?  Live the same morals?  Pursue the same kingdom of heaven on earth?  That's what I'm trying to do.  I'm trying to follow Jesus."

And so, as I think about our current political climate--realizing the stakes are just as high as back in the late 90s--I can't think of a better politic than that.

1 comment:

Justin Tapp said...

An encouraging and wise word, thanks for sharing.