There was a knock at my office door. In marched a couple ready for battle. “You are the most political pastor we have ever had,” they began. I was completely caught off guard. It turned out that the tipping point for this couple was a comment that I had made in a sermon that I would like to sit down for coffee with Jimmy Carter or Bishop Tutu. They thought that I should have said “Martin Luther,” but to be honest, Martin Luther was not on my list of desired coffee partners, or more correctly mochas for me. The couple ended up leaving the congregation.
Many years later I used that situation in a sermon in another congregation. Shortly afterward a respected, retired member of the congregation came into my office and said, “You are the most political pastor I have ever had!” Now the statement became a teaching time for me, for it was said in love and not anger, said in support not attack, said in encouragement and not an attempt to prove a point. I learned how my “one-liners,” though never specifically talking about politics, were always from a certain political persuasion. I will forever be thankful for this “elder” of the congregation who invested in me, one of his pastors.
Now in retirement I ponder deeply the political situation of our nation and our responsibility as followers of Christ. Unfortunately feeding the hungry and taking care of the stranger, assisting the immigrant and supporting families pulled apart for political advantage are often not understood as rooted in our life of faith as Christians. It petrifies me that political leaders proclaim statements that are not based on truth, but are in fact lies, and millions of people believe such falsehood.
It greatly saddens me that so many people, even Christians, demonize opponents rather than learn from those of a different political or religious persuasion. I have heard of verbal attacks upon Muslim Congressional leaders simply because they are Muslim. What is the responsibility of the Church and of followers of Christ to confront such vilification? Can a Christian confront legal authority? Even more convicting, I ask myself, “How can I say and do nothing?”
Our President usually characterizes the people coming to our borders from the South as rapists, killers and drug peddlers while also saying in a tweet, “And some I assume are good people.” I make the opposite assumption: most are good people fleeing violence, seeking peace, and seeking life-giving employment and I assume that some are rapists, killers and drug peddlers. This is the same tension that is within me as I walk down any street in the United States. There is a tension, a quandary in which I find myself, for I assume that there are people of good repute and others with evil intentions, and I am called to be discerning while at the same time to reach out to all, to love all, and to see Christ in all.
I have recently come across the poem Easter Morning by William Stafford.
Maybe someone comes to the door and says,
“Repent,” and you say, “Come on in,” and it’s
Jesus. That’s when all you ever did, or said,
or even thought, suddenly wakes up again and
sings out, “I’m still here,” and you know it’s true.
You just shiver alive and are left standing
there suddenly brought to account: saved.
Except, maybe that someone says, “I’ve got a deal
for you.” And you listen, because that’s how
you’re trained – they told you, “Always hear both sides.”
So then the slick voice can sell you anything, even
Hell, which is what you’re getting by listening.
Well, what should you do? I’d say always go to
the door, yes, but keep the screen locked. Then,
while you hold the Bible in one hand, lean forward
and say carefully, “Jesus?”
We are left with a tension, even a decision. As followers of Christ I cannot simply stay safely behind a locked door because it is the best for me and mine. No, I am called to open the door, perhaps with the screen locked, but I lean forward to be a servant of ALL PEOPLE, for in all people I see Christ.
And now if someone is to say, “Stan, you are being too political,” I can answer “You’re right. I am political and so were the prophets of old and so was Jesus and so were his followers as they proclaimed that they were to follow God and not what the governing authorities proclaimed.”
My position might not always be safe. Nor perhaps my assumptions and even my beliefs might not always right, but my choice is to open the door and see Jesus in the faces of people on our southern border.