Commentary by Pastor Bruce Ray
It’s the 4th of July! It seems to be a good time to answer a question that I’ve often been asked: What role should the church have in politics? Here are some excerpts taken from my sermon from July 1, 2012.
1. While we live in the US and enjoy the freedoms that come with our residency, we remember that we are Christians first. We pledge allegiance to the “Lamb”. We understand that faith in Christ extends beyond the boundaries of the US, so we cannot become nationalistic without marginalizing our brothers and sisters in Christ who live in other nations—some of which may be identified as enemies of the State.
2. However, as people of faith who happen to live in the United States, we DO have a responsibility be involved in the life of the nation. For too long, the church’s involvement has been to support of the status quo and the nationalism that has devolved into protectionism, militarism, other “isms” that deny the personhood of women, minorities, gays and lesbians, immigrants and the poor. The church has frequently become the national cheerleader when it is called to be the national conscience.
3. As the nation’s conscience and moral compass, the church must always be bold to speak the truth to those in power. The model for our role is the prophets of the OT. There are two types of prophets—the first (known as ‘false prophets’)—tell the nation and their leaders what they want to hear (Jeremiah 23:16-18). The second type of prophet speaks the truth of God–even when the truth doesn’t win the popularity polls.
Ezekiel 34:2-4 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally.”
The true prophet reminds people of God’s heart and will and calls the nation to repentance and a return to God’s ways—especially the Law which calls the nation to care for the poor and do justice for the oppressed. (Isaiah 58:9-12) The true prophets speak the vision of God for the world—a vision of shalom when wars cease, when everyone lives in health and safety, when everyone has a secure home, and when oppression and unfairness has ceased. (Isaiah 2:3-4 and Isaiah 32:16-18) The vision is always shared against the existing backdrop of brokenness, aggression, injustice and sin so that the vision becomes a clear alternative to the way things are.
4. In our national context, the prophetic church is called to speak the truth of our past and call the nation to repentance. And we have plenty to repent of. Slavery and the pervasive racism that continues to haunt us. Our genocide of indigenous populations. Our marginalization of women. Our unjust wars. Our mistreatment of immigrants. Our desecration of the environment for profit. And that’s the tip of the iceberg.
We must also call our “shepherds” to follow God’s way of shalom and justice. So we contact our leaders to tell them to stop cutting programs for the poor. On July 1, over 150,000 seniors and people with disabilities in Illinois lost their circuit breaker benefits which provided prescription drug assistance and free transportation. Our children lost $200 million in education funding. Medicaid cuts went into affect, removing health support for the poorest of the poor—people who are already at risk for chronic illnesses. The Church MUST speak the truth when the shepherds take care of themselves at the expense of the flock.
And we must always point to Jesus Christ, the True Shepherd, who will one day bring the day of shalom and justice into fullness.