When we read the latest news from Washington D.C. these days it may seem quite clear where our church should be with regards to our government. In seeking to follow the way of Jesus Christ we will almost certainly be in conflict with the current president and Congress. Standing with refugees, Muslims, Native Americans, and others defined as strangers is core to our mission.
But what if Hillary Clinton and the Democrats had carried that Tuesday in November? Would our church’s mission and ministry be any less vital? If the answer to that question is “yes,” then I fear we have lost our way as a community of faith. If our goals and objectives can be captured in the platform of any political party, even a progressive one, then I believe we are aiming way too low.
Religion and power have such an unhealthy relationship. History argues that every time a religion gains political power it is ultimately bad news for the world. And we as people of faith should know that. The prophets showed us. Jesus lived as an example for us. Our place is not in a seat of power, but confronting power, standing with the powerless, and as scary as it sounds, being purposefully powerless.
Power’s ability to twist religion is insidious. Consider a simple example – the Lord’s Prayer. It’s the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray, right? So why do we end it with “For thine is the Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory forever?” Why is that line added even though it is not in the Bible? Why does that line get the big music, the finale? Kingdom, power, and glory – three things that Jesus refused to pursue, three things that he repudiated. Even in our prayer we wrap our Savior in imperial robes and crown him with jewels.
I certainly am not arguing that followers of Christ have no place in politics. I vote. I marched with many you through Seattle in January. But I believe that our collective calling as people of faith must go farther than that.
Consider the presidency of Barack Obama. One might argue that our nation acted more “Christian” in those good old days, but that argument ignores a few inconvenient facts. Our country dropped bombs and fired missiles nearly every day of Obama’s presidency, killing some “bad guys” but also with “collateral damage.” In our name, drones routinely target weddings and funerals in parts of the world that we’ve never seen and will never understand. We continue to spend well over half of our national budget on the military, with enormous chunks of that money flowing to arms manufacturers and their stockholders (which includes a lot of us). Our economy continues to thrive not when we meet the basic needs of everyone, not when we care for “the least of these,” but when we convince those of us with more than we need to spend our surplus on more stuff and services that we don’t need.
As followers of Jesus, we are called to do better than that. As Seattle First Baptist Church we have done better. We ordained a woman before she could vote. We stood with Japanese Americans when they were imprisoned by an executive order signed by a Democrat. As a gay man I was welcomed at this church decades before marriage equality became the law of the land.
If our church ever feels like it is “in step” with our government or our society as a whole, then I believe our church will have lost its way. We will have stopped boldly going where others cannot or will not go, and we should question why SFBC even needs to exist.
Our mission as a church is no different today than it was on Monday, Nov. 7.
“We are a community of faith united in exploring what it means to follow the way of Jesus Christ, to be a people of God, and to love and care for our neighbors. As a church we will know no circles of exclusion, no boundaries we will not cross, and no loyalties above those which we owe to God.”
That, my friends, will never be the platform of a political party. It is our call to radical hospitality, radical service, radical acceptance of “the stranger,” radical powerlessness. And if we ever think that we’ve achieved it, that we’ve arrived, or that some politician is going to do it for us, then it’s time to reassess, because chances are we’re missing the point.