April 2023

The Hot Potato 

The hottest of potatoes at present in many of our churches has absolutely nothing to do with Jesus Christ and the embodiment of his mission and ministry. It is politics. American politics have become so divisive and so thoroughly defining that people bristle about belonging to a ‘conservative’ church or a ‘liberal’ one. Many judge the faithfulness of congregations and denominations by their political stances. What does the church say about abortion rights? What does it say about issues of justice and peace? Does it stand with the military and the police? The atmosphere is combustible, uncomfortable, and downright dangerous to speaking prophetically in Jesus’ stead.

Let me be clear. The church’s task is to represent Jesus Christ, not its constituency. The church is not in our culture to make people happy, but to empower and equip them to represent the grace of God in Christ, to and in neighborhoods and communities. It is not responsible for matching the political opinions of its membership. Pastors must be free to speak the words of Jesus and represent his transformative acts. They are called to teach ways of justice and peace, as represented in Jesus.

I saw someone leave a church recently because the pastor dared speak on the occasion of expulsion of two duly-elected representatives from the Tennessee legislature. In case you don’t recall, there was another mass shooting at a school in Nashville, Tennessee. In the wake of that tragedy, three legislators decided to disrupt session protocol, with a demonstration that demanded that the legislators take action on gun control. The three were two young black men and one white woman. The black men were expelled from the legislature. The white woman was censured.

At a service that I attended, the pastor said that the debate on gun control was not at issue in the Tennessee legislature. It was not a topic of discussion or debate. That very day, the legislature was discussing an expenditure bill that included multiple riders that served districts around Nashville. The leadership refused to hear concern about guns, or school safety, or anything related to the mass shooting.

The pastor likened this approach to dealing with societal issues with a Pharisaic concentration on the rules of religion instead of focusing on real societal problems. He highlighted the lack of action by legislative bodies that have stood idly and silently by while more mass shootings have taken place in 2023 than there have been days in the year. To protect guns, they have been silent on the issue of the safety of the State’s children.

The three legislators were not heard. They disrupted the decorum of the esteemed body, with bullhorns and demonstration. For this sin, the two black men were expelled by their peers. The woman, arguably because she was Caucasian, was slapped on the wrist.

I thought the message was brilliant. It raised my understanding and inspired my passions. It allowed me to see the need for the justice work of Jesus. I imagined his voice (Jesus’) calling for something besides the hypocrisy of those who stand idly and silently by and punish the voice of those who call for action.

This is not politics, my friends, but the well applied social agenda of Jesus. I can hear the arguments to the contrary, that the church should be removed from such mundane discussion. That sounds to me like the Tennessee legislature, or the Pharisees of Jesus’ time.

I appreciate the pastor, speaking the prophetic truth. I lament the loss of another church family, of course. We live in an age when speaking prophetically costs us. I think that is enough of an invitation to join this pastor, and Jesus, in doing the same.

Return to SONKA Newsletter Page Return to SONKA Homepage