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When Politics Meets Spirituality
Speaking Truth to Power
Up through the turn of the millennium, I was quite apolitical. It's not that I didn't have political opinions. It’s that my outlook was cynical and defeatist when it came to change in America.
I believed monied interests ruled everything politically, and if you didn't have the backing of an insane amount of money, you weren't going to have any real effect. So, I believed my vote really didn't matter. So, why bother?
But, around 2003 something changed. A realization dawned on me. I thought about Jesus' message.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to set free those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Jesus' message was not an individualistic message about me and God. It was not a message about how I could receive a personal get-out-of-hell-free card. Rather, his message was clearly one of hope for the whole of humanity.
Okay, that’s not really what dawned on me. Technically, it’s stuff I already knew, at least at a certain level
Now, here's the part that was new…
That meant that the Gospel was inherently political.
In fact, I've heard at least one person say that the Gospel is so political that if the Gospel we proclaim isn't political then it isn't really the Gospel of Jesus. (Unfortunately, I can't remember the source of that comment.)
When this hit me, it hit hard. And it transformed my perspective. The significance of saying "justice is what love looks like in society" had finally sunk in.
That's how I became politicized.
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The cry for justice
God is love.
That is the Gospel we proclaim.
Experiencing Divine Love personally is a vital part of my spirituality. Much like many Americans out there, I am a strong individualist. So I emphasize personal responsibility when it comes to spiritual growth. I emphasize personal responsibility when it comes to improving life in everyday relationships. And I emphasize personal discernment in all matters while navigating one's way through life.
So that sense of personal connection with the Divine moves to the forefront of what I tend to talk about. For me, the Gospel is indeed deeply personal.
But Divine Love isn't just about a personal relationship with God, a personal sense of connection with the Divine. It's also about how we relate to others in the social sphere. Love is also a social phenomenon as it builds quality relationships among diverse individuals.
I'll say it again…
Divine Love manifests in society as justice.
This is why you often hear progressive Christians harp on the importance of various forms of justice. It is impossible to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in its fullest if we are not pushing to make the world a more just place. In fact, as Walter Wink has said,
“Reduction of conflict by means of a phony ‘peace’ is not a Christian goal. Justice is the goal, and that might require an acceleration of conflict as a necessary stage in forcing those in power to bring about genuine change.”
Progressive Christians live under no delusions that somehow we can make the world perfect. We know there will always be issues of injustice in our society that need to be challenged. Even if we were to fully address all of the issues on the agenda right now, we know tomorrow will bring new ones.
But for now, my call is to incarnate my spiritual values (the values of the Kingdom, as Diarmuid O’Mucrchu described it) in the here and now. So I want to talk about how I align my political life with my spiritual values, much like I did last week with my dog-training business.
Let’s break out the political issues that are near and dear to my heart.
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
Orphans and widows. Symbols representing those who have been marginalized.
I side with the LGBTQAI+ community as it struggles with discrimination in American society. Winning the legal right to marry whom they loved resulted from hard-fought political and legal battles. With the recent shift in political power, it is possible that this right may be revoked in the near future if the religious right has its way.
In fact, the Supreme Court recently opened the door for business owners to deny their services to LGBTQAI+ community members on the grounds that serving them in certain ways would go against their religious beliefs.
We have come a long way, but we have a long way to go.
A woman's right to choose
So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
With the overturning of Roe v Wade, women have lost the right to get an abortion across the United States. Now, it is up to the states to decide whether or not abortion will be legal within their boundaries.
Meanwhile, a 10-year-old in Ohio was raped, became pregnant, and denied the opportunity for abortion care in her home state. Why? Because "pro-life".
As the decision moves to the states to decide whether abortions will be legal, I expect those wanting to prevent abortions to try to rig the system and prevent the populace of the States from actually deciding, as we saw in Ohio. There, legislators recognized that if the issue came up for popular vote, abortion would likely be legalized. So they tried to change the rules for voting to prevent it. They failed.
I value life. I understand that those who are pro-life see themselves as being defenders of a life that begins at conception. I get that, and I don’t agree because…
I also value science. And what science is showing us is that life does not begin at conception. So, attempts to prevent all abortions do not truly serve a “pro-life” agenda.
In fact, attempts to prevent women from choosing what happens with their bodies and forcing them into a parenting future are actually life-diminishing for them. This is the very opposite of what a true “pro-life” stance should be.
I support a woman's right to choose because I value life and I value science.
And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me.’
The Civil Rights Movement did not bring racial equality to America. It only opened the door a bit more for that to become possible.
Unfortunately, systems exist that prevent people of color from getting the same shots at success that we find among whites
For example, people of color have more difficulty getting hired for the same jobs when they have the same qualifications. A study revealed that a black-sounding name on a resume decreased the chance of getting an interview by about 50%, compared to a white-sounding name.
Thanks to redlining, black communities have struggled to get financial assistance through loans that could be used to improve property values.
Thanks to the way wealth is handed down from generation to generation, whites tend to have significant social and economic advantages right out of the gate.
We do not live in a land of equal opportunity for all. I believe we need to address the systems that empower racism in our society.
Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh. …
“But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
“Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
“Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.
Systemic poverty overlaps with systemic racism. Our economic system in America is designed so that the people at the bottom of the economic ladder generate wealth for those at the top. The system is further designed to keep people at the bottom in their place.
One thing that the pandemic revealed to us was the extent to which corporate greed is what guides our economy.
During a time when people were struggling financially, we saw large corporations jack up their prices and make record profits. They said they had to do it because of business costs, but the record profits reveal otherwise.
No, they did not need to add undue financial stress on households.
They chose to do that when they did not have to.
We must create a just economic system that benefits all.
God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”
We have one planet in the universe that can sustain us. Yet, we seem hellbent on destroying it.
As our planet's population increases and technology advances, we need to become more mindful of how we interact with our environment, and we need to be more intentional with how we care for the Earth.
We’re not separate from the Earth. We are part of it. And, we are expressions of it.
Unfortunately, it appears that our growth in the capacity to create and destroy has far outpaced our growth in wisdom.
We need to find ways to care for our planet and reverse the damage we have done to it.
The rise of Christian nationalism
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.
When I think of Christian nationalism, I imagine a group of people getting in a room saying, "Hey, let's start a religious movement that's all about everything that Jesus stood against. And then, call it ‘Christian’."
That might sound outrageous, but I think it's far less outrageous than it may at first seem.
Recently, Russel Moore (editor-in-chief of the evangelical Christianity Today magazine), revealed that pastors were telling him that their church members were rejecting Jesus' message (including such passages as the Sermon on the Mount) as too “weak” and too “liberal” for them.
On top of that, we're seeing what’s happening to people in Evangelical circles who disagree with the Trumpism that seems to have consumed right-wing Christianity. Despite the fact that they believe everything that evangelicals do, their voting preference, democratic, has led their communities to consider them to be non-Christian.
It has gotten to the point that if you vote for Democratic candidates, some far-right Evangelical authorities say you cannot consider yourself to be a Christian.
Apparently, in right-wing Evangelical circles now, one's integrity as a Christian is not determined by what one believes or how one treats one's neighbors. The litmus test for whether one can be a Christian in these circles is their voting record.
When Christians say that they don't care what Jesus said, it reveals that they do not care about participating in the ministry of Jesus. They only care about political power, and if Jesus gets in the way of that, they will simply cancel him.
I stand against Christian Nationalism and the way it seeks to achieve power in order to oppress groups of people who are not like themselves.
Many peoples shall come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation;
neither shall they learn war any more.
O house of Jacob,
come, let us walk
in the light of the Lord!
To be honest, war is the hardest one for me to wrestle with on this list.
Right now, I'm torn.
On the one hand, I'm a pacifist at heart. I believe violence only begets more violence, and it doesn't really solve anything.
Yet, I also recognize the responsibility of those in power to protect people from harm.
As I look at what is happening in Ukraine, I've discovered that my pacifism has limits.
Let's face it, war is truly insane. It really benefits no one, except those who have great power already.
It is nothing but senseless death and destruction.
As long as sane people are in positions of power, we seem to be able to avoid war. We know there are better ways to deal with our differences than blowing each other up.
But, then, someone comes to power who is not as stable and decides what they have is not enough. The next thing we know, war has broken out.
I stand against war…but I also stand against allowing people to be murdered senselessly in the name of ego.
I don't know what that means for me.
Simplifying and aligning
Back when I talked about theological thinking (as opposed to biblical thinking), I mentioned the importance of theological concepts. Those concepts—or theological themes—help us to make sense of the Gospel and guide us as we seek to embody it.
In this particular case, I have talked about my personal political stances as expressions of my personal spirituality. Now I want to quickly look at how these stances are derived from my own theological thinking.
When we look at them, certain themes run through all of my assessments and responses. Let’s break them out.
Making space for others to be themselves. Each and every one of us has been given a "kingdom" by God. This metaphorical kingdom is sacred space in this world to embrace our destinies and become who we were truly meant to become. When people are marginalized and oppressed, they are having their kingdoms stolen away from them by those with more power. And, to top it all off, those who have stolen their kingdoms proceed to rig institutionalized systems to solidify their conquest and prevent reclaiming.
Respecting boundaries. When I was young, I learned that in America my liberty ended for another's liberty began. Another way to put that is to say the borders of my kingdom end where the borders of another's kingdom begin. I am free to do as I will in my own kingdom, but I am not allowed to cross boundaries and encroach upon the kingdom of another.
Emphasizing the interrelatedness of things. The simplest answer is often not the best. Everything around us is interrelated. We are not individuals who live in a vacuum that happens to have other individuals in it. We are all part of highly-complex, networked systems that work with a certain rhythm and flow. Sometimes systems are life-enriching, and at other times they are life-crushing (and usually something in between). If we truly want to address issues, then we need to seek to understand how all the parts are interrelated.
Emphasizing not only life, but quality of life. There is a difference between "existing" and "living". Many people are trapped in situations that force them into survival mode, which is simply existing. I believe human beings were meant for more. We are meant to thrive with abundant life. That doesn't mean that life won't have its downside from time to time. But that does mean that systems that prevent this thriving need to be dismantled and rebuilt.
These themes help guide me on the issues I’ve listed above. Other people may emphasize other themes. And that's where the wonderful world of dialogue comes in where we can discuss and learn from each other.
The reason why I emphasize these themes so much is because I want you to see that once you discover what your themes are, they can help you with discerning not only your personal path in this world but also what you're going to stand for in society
Identifying your themes will help you to live with authenticity and integrity. And living with authenticity and integrity is what I want to tackle next week.
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