Thursday, March 27, 2003

My post of March 25, was the latest edition of a column I write for the Community Press newspapers in the Cincinnati area, a column called Better Living. I submit these columns via e-mail and as I do so, copy them to a number of family, friends, and colleagues around the world. The March 25 submission, Preachers Aren't Called to Be Politicians has evoked mostly positive responses thus far. But I thought that I would share this exchange of e-mails initiated by Pastor Heather after she read the column...

I felt numb, I guess, when I read your column. And a little sad. Just because there are different opinions on how we, as Christians, view the war doesn't mean that we are required not to speak on the issue. If that was the required litmus test for pastors then we would have little to say. I believe that the Lutheran tradition is full of people who spoke a word that conflicted with the prevailing view of the church and the world, starting with Luther himself. The religious right seems to have no problem being "political" but I refuse to allow to be the only voice of Jesus.

Clearly, we have to speak with great care and always from the position of the gospel of Jesus. I have read your column and now I ask you to read mine. I wrote this at the request of my synod and it was published along with four other pastors articles (of differing view points).

Peace Be With You and Our World,

> Passing the peace is one of my favorite parts of the worship service. I
> encourage people to leave their seats, move around, and greet as many people
> as possible. It is a visible reminder that as Christians we are called to
> share the peace of Jesus Christ with each other and the rest of the world.
> I suppose I was thinking of the passing of the peace when the reporter from
> the local radio station asked me why I was standing on the corner of a busy
> intersection a holding a sign that read ; ³Will work for peace. Will you?²
> I, of course, was participating in an anti-war protest on February 15 as
> millions more were across the world. I told the reporter the every Sunday I
> stand up and say peace, therefore, I should willing to stand up for peace on a
> cold and rainy Saturday afternoon. I also told him that, as a Christian, I
> believed that through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God
> calls us to proclaim a message of peace.
> During his life Jesus responded to violence with calls for peace, prayers for
> the enemy and teachings that tell us to turn the other cheek, go the extra
> mile, and give away our our cloak (vital for protection and comfort). During
> his crucifixion, Jesus called for forgiveness not retribution. After his
> resurrection, he continues to offer all people a word of peace.
> As a Christian, as pastor, and as a human being I am called to offer the world
> a word of peace, Christ¹s peace. In this time of impending war with Iraq, I do
> that by voicing my opposition to use of violence against Iraq and by praying
> for peace. Maybe my sign should have said; Will pray for peace? Will you?

I've read what you sent with great interest. The passion with which you adhere to your views is obvious. At one time, I felt as you do. But today, while I think that there are times and circumstances when it is right and appropriate for the Church to declare, "Thus saith the Lord" about political issues, I believe that most political questions are fraught with ambiguity. I prefer to see people's hearts and consciences enlivened by the Gospel and then trust the Spirit to help us all collectively make the right decisions.

As a Christian, I feel that I am duty bound to be an informed citizen. I have an opinion about the war in Iraq and as a private citizen, have registered my views with the President and others. But I can't claim that my opinion has the imprimatur of heaven. This is especially the case when I consider the Christian folks I know who, after prayer and reflection, believe differently than I do about this war. I have no warrant to tell people, "God is for the war" or "God is against the war." And that inevitably is what people will think we are saying simply by virtue of our being pastors. The folks at Luther Northwestern have it right when they describe pastors and other church professionals as "evangelical public leaders." As public leaders then, we must therefore exercise that office with great care, letting our answers be yes and no. To me, this means only saying what we feel certain to be God's Word.

Like you, I am frustrated by the way the right has hijacked the perceptions of the Church among the public at large. But just because, as you write the "religious right seems to have no problem being 'political'" doesn't mean that we have to make the same mistake. I believe that much church-based political activism is nothing more than idolatry. Whether from the left or the right, we can fashion images of a Jesus who buys into our isms, ideologies, and philosophies and then, like a golden calf, bow down and worship it.

Life is fleeting. It's important that we use it to declare the Gospel, good news that can change the way people live today and how they spend eternity.

I could be wrong in what I'm saying on this issue, Heather. But, I have come to this perspective after years of thoughtful prayer and reflection and as one who, in my younger years, was an ardent political activist. I do not disdain politics. And I agree with what Luther said, "If you preach the gospel in all aspects with the exception of the issues which deal specifically with your time, you are not preaching the gospel at all."

But I think it's nothing other than Pharisaism for us to attempt to micromanage people's views as citizens. All I'm saying is, "Let's trust the Spirit of God" to lead us all in the right directions.

Thanks for writing, Heather. God bless!

Yours in Christ,

Thanks for your response. And, yes, you may post our "e-conversation" on
your blog.

I agree with many of your points and I realize "that most political
questions are fraught with ambiguity" as is much of life. My question is
when, how and who decides it is time for the church to speak on a public
matter? You may not think this is the time. I feel, compeled by the gospel,
that now is the time. I also believe that I follow in the footsteps of our
Presiding Bishop in calling for peace and opposing the war with Iraq.

I, too, may be wrong about the role of the church in the war with Iraq and
politics. I have choosen to err on the side of grace and (to paraphrase
Luther) to sin boldy believing more boldy still that Jesus Christ is Lord.

In the end, I fear that the words of Martin Neimoller will be realized (in
ways we never imagined) if we do not risk speaking up.

> First they came for the Communists,
> and I didn¹t speak up,
> because I wasn¹t a Communist.
> Then they came for the Jews,
> and I didn¹t speak up,
> because I wasn¹t a Jew.
> Then they came for the Catholics,
> and I didn¹t speak up,
> because I was a Protestant.
> Then they came for me,
> and by that time there was no one
> left to speak up for me.
> by Rev. Martin Niemoller, 1945

Thank you, Mark, for this conversation....

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