This week I have had to ponder the question, do we as leaders in the Christian church have anything at all to say in a polarized society to the issues that shape people’s lives?
It hasn’t been the most comfortable week. My state and my community are in an uproar over the actions of the governor and the legislature regarding workers’ rights. There is no doubt that this is the main issue of the day; nothing else even comes close. This is where most of my parishioners are this week.
There is also no doubt that there are basic moral issues and kingdom issues at stake in this raging debate, which puts it right in a pastor’s wheelhouse. How can I not bring my education and experience to this issue and meet it head on?
And yet this situation is a mess and it is fraught with peril for the working preacher.
I understand that my call here at my church is to preach the Gospel. I try to be especially careful not to use the power of my office to engage in partisan political activity. I bend over backwards to avoid preaching my personal political views from the pulpit. It is crucial to my effectiveness as a pastoral care-giver to respect the views of all in my congregation, regardless of what I privately think of those views.
There is, however, one important exception to this neutrality. When public policy or political activity clearly and expressly contradicts the most fundamental teachings of Jesus Christ, I have an obligation as an ordained servant/leader to affirm those Christian teachings.
Is the Budget Repair Bill in Wisconsin such a case that contradicts the most fundamental teachings of Jesus Christ?
I have to conclude that it is. The clear evidence of Scripture is that the number one concern of Jesus regarding public policy was justice. As Christians, we have an obligation to advocate for justice and equity, and to stand with the powerless and victims of injustice. What is going on here in Wisconsin strikes me as exactly the kind of injustice that the prophets and Jesus railed against. I have no doubt that dignity of the individual is being compromised, that the rich and powerful are imposing their will and trampling on human rights with their proposals to widen the unprecedented gap in this country between the wealthy and the rest of our citizens by giving more to those who have the most and taking away from those who have less.
That doesn’t mean I’m out of the woods, though. You may disagree with my assessment. Members of my congregation may disagree. I certainly run the risk that those who disagree will see my public involvement with this issue as an unconscionable imposition of my personal political beliefs on those who come to hear the Gospel. I understand that if that happens, I run the risk that my stance may diminish my effectiveness as a pastor to some people.
I don’t want to diminish my effectiveness as God’s servant. And truth be told, I don’t like being at the center of controversy. Besides, I could be wrong. So what is a pastor to do?
It would be so easy to just keep my mouth shut. But in the end, I have to go back to my call to the ministry. I am called to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In this case, I hear the voice of God compelling me to stand against injustice. It is wrong to choose not to speak the clear message of Scripture for fear that doing so might offend someone. As Jesus showed us, people need to hear the Gospel even if they react violently against it.
So I am searching this week for the best ways to address the issue, to preach the Gospel in a way that is responsible, compassionate, considerate, persuasive, and accurate. I would appreciate your prayers as I go about this, and I will be happy to pray for anyone going through a similar trial.