I recently used social media to offer a pastoral word about hate. Recent rejections of refugees from Syria and the suggestion that we should “register” people based on their religion and/or ethnic background seemed to me to have a whiff of hate, a familiar odor of evil. So, I offered a pastoral word about the danger of keeping silent when people begin to use fear, anger and hate to gain advantage or power. I condemned the registration of Muslims, the surveillance of Mosques and other actions to make scapegoats out of human beings so we can assuage our fears. I identified the political candidate who has tried to profit most from this fear and course of action. As I said in my post on Facebook, in Nazi Germany countless German Christians – and pastors – failed to speak out against the “reasonable” measure to register Jews. We all know where “reasonable” dehumanization leads. Acts that are wrong, but seem small and “reasonable” because of our fear, start an avalanche of hate that eventually carries a death toll. That is just not acceptable in the reign of God revealed in Jesus. For some, it might seem that my call to reject fear and hate in favor of welcome and love has political ramifications, and this is probably true.
It would not be the first time that someone thought I was being political in my preaching or pastoral ministry. Frankly, I have always been surprised people might see what I say as political. I am not much of an activist (as some of my more active colleagues would note). I don’t tend to march in marches or protest in public. The whole partisan political process in our country actually makes me irritable, embarrassed and feeling like I want to throw up. I am, for better or worse, more of a theological and biblical nerd than a political junkie.
I think folks might think me political for a couple of reasons. First, I am called to talk about justice, love, humanity, sin and other sundry theological matters. Stuff like that can sound political. God-talk can ruffle political feathers and even seem to support one view over another. However, when I preach or teach about the call of the gospel to make sure the hungry are fed or the cause of peace is paramount, I’m doing theology. I’m doing faith. I’m responding to what God seems to be saying in our world and I honestly don’t care one hoot about which politician or party dislikes what I say. Second, I am called to always lead with my theological commitments and my faith. I begin with God-matters, not with political commitments to any party or candidate. If others start from a political view they will necessarily need to fit God into a political box or category. That may mean you are misunderstanding me from the get go. I’m never sure what to do about that.
The call of a pastor to preach about the matters of this world is very clear. In the constitution of our congregation (C9.03.a) it says:
“Consistent with the faith and practice of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, every ordained minister shall:
- Preach the Word;
- Administer the sacraments;
- Conduct public worship;
- Provide pastoral care; and
- Speak publicly to the world in solidarity with the poor and oppressed, calling for justice and proclaiming God’s love for the world.
It goes on to instruct pastors to: “Strive to extend the Kingdom of God in the community, in the nation, and abroad.” (C9.03.c.1)
Jesus himself set the tone and direction of not just every preacher, but the whole church, by preaching and acting in ways that led to his execution as a political threat. Paul, all the apostles, Martin Luther and Martin Luther King Jr. all demonstrated that preaching Gods love and grace, proclaiming God’s justice, and pointing out the slavery of human sin would get one in political trouble. I insist however, that they were not being primarily political. They were being faithful, centered in the gospel and accountable not to party, but to God alone. I guess I feel I can do no less.