Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Can we avoid the 'Political' ?

Today was a great day. My friend Malone got invited to join the Faith and Order committee of the Rhode Island Council of Churches and they were looking for another Baptist, so he invited me. (thanks pal!) Anyway, I prepared by reviewing the document they were finishing which attempted a theological approach to the 'immigration' issue. This is why I am excited, we get to really dig in and discuss theologically the social issue that face our state and nation.

Today was mostly a 'getting-to-know-you' meeting, but we did begin to discuss the parameters of the next project, which is 'Poverty'. And interesting and in my opinion time limited discussion followed. Part of this discussion lead some members of the committee to express their discomfort with getting too 'political' in terms of offering a theological critique of economic systems which allow or even cause poverty. But can we avoid politics?

Many churches say that they want the pastor to avoid politics, but in my understanding of the gospels, politics is inherent. Many NT scholars including NT Wright and Warren Carter, to just name two, make the point that the divide between political and religious is a modern phenomenon, and not something that Jesus or the gospel writers would have been familiar with. I recently read an essay by a scholar by the name of Clapp who noted that the very word 'gospel' was a term used in the political propaganda of the Roman Empire. The Good News would be proclaimed when the Caesar produced an heir ensuring the continuance of the empire, or when a battle had been won, or another country and people conquered. Mark's very use of the term 'gospel' to name his story about the life of Jesus would have automatically had political overtones to those who heard it read. Or take the phrase many of us pray every sunday liturgically, 'Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven' Kingdom is a political word. The Kingdom of God , as NT Wright explains so often was not the reward after death for the righteous, but a very real, very earthly, very political action on the part of God to free Israel from oppression. When we pray this, we are saying that the politics, the social organization that God has established in 'heaven' would become real on earth. That is political.

I think what concerned some present at the meeting was that we might get political in the sense of Democrat or Republican, Liberal or Conservative. That kind of politics I have no interest in. Having said that, I don't think that we can avoid the politics or the social organization of the gospel. It is what we try to establish, teach and pass on to our children, in the church. Everything we do has political implication if by politics we mean, how the life of the people is organized. We have an economy of sharing and generosity, we deal with conflict through dialogue, confession and forgiveness, we speak truthfully and honestly, our 'borders' are open to all who will follow Christ, so we have a very unique way of dealing with strangers and outsiders. This is all political, not in the terms of embracing or supporting political parties or in attempting to have our faith legislated. But we cannot, I think deny, that the way that we organize the life of the people of God is meant to be an example to the wider world and we pray every sunday that we would be an example that would day lead to the coming of God's Kingdom on earth.