It’s part of the game. Or the dance. Or whatever it is you call the interview process in our field. Or, I mean, the call search process in this vocation. However you want to say it, we all know it is there and we all contribute to it.
Politically correct church lingo.
That obnoxious stream of vague, meaningless words we pastors and congregations learn to use to carefully two-step around offending or upsetting anyone by directly stating where we really stand on the political issues facing the church and society today. We say we’re “welcoming”, “inclusive” and “biblically based”. We say we’re passionate about “justice” and “hospitality” and are committed to “witnessing to Christ” in “our neighborhood” the “world”. And those are all great things. But what do they actually mean?
When I was job hunting, or no, when I was discerning a call, I learned quickly to navigate with and through all of our very churchy-safe phrases. It’s how I sometimes cut churches out or kept them on my interest list. I joined the dance and played the game, and I used a lot of those words myself, in describing my theology and my passions. And then I read 1.4 million job descriptions, I mean, ministry information forms, and had some preliminary polite politically correct conversations, but then hit the hard questions like Miley Cyrus twerking in our faces when I got to the in-person interviews.
Because in the end, I didn’t like the game or the dance, and I wanted more than polite church talk from myself and from the church I might be called to serve. From the church in general, I suppose. The church, sorry, the ministry setting where I ended up was the one who put it right out there. In the first contact I had with this congregation they asked, in writing, directly, “If a member’s same sex partner was diagnosed with a terminal illness, how would you provide pastoral care to them?” Boom. It’s out there, it’s real, and you’ve got to address it.
Another church I interviewed with, though, wasn’t so upfront. When I asked how they were handling political controversies within their very diverse membership, they responded by saying that they avoid political issues at church. They don’t bring them up, so it really isn’t an issue for them. Church, they said, was a place to get away from all that. They wanted to focus on being together in Christ, not divided by politics.
And they had a point. Our country is as divided on political lines as ever. Statistics and articles keep pointing out how red or blue we are and how our political color choices impact everything from where we shop and what news channel we trust. Bringing that up IN CHURCH and asking people to discuss it IN CHURCH and to be okay with disagreeing IN CHURCH is dangerous.
So, I thought about that church this week as I was laying on the fancy marble floor of the Missouri State Capitol at a clergy-led die-in protest for racial justice and Medicaid expansion on the first day of this legislative session. I thought about that church as I read of the murders of political cartoon satirists in Paris by alleged religious extremists. I thought about that church after receiving a prayer request for a local homeless shelter that our city government just voted to shut down. As I thought about the people who would be put out. I thought about that church after talking to the neighbor kids about their experiences at the public school down the street. The one I won’t send my kid to. And I think about that church often when I stand in the pulpit preaching on what’s happening in Ferguson and notice some in the pews with tears in their eyes and others with eyes glued to the floor.
Sure, politics are messy and divisive and force us to define and “un-pack” (my favorite seminary word!) good, safe church words like “hospitality” and “justice” in ways that make us uncomfortable. Yes, my job would be easier and safer if I avoided some of these headlines in my sermons, newsletters and conversations. But if we want to be real with what is happening in our world, with how God is calling us to engage in our world, with the issues people in our congregations are wrestling with, and how we need Jesus to come and help us address it all, don’t we owe it to God to bring some faith talk into our politics and some political talk into our houses of faith?
A couple of weeks ago, I invited our congregation to stay after worship for a conversation about Ferguson. A small group of us gathered in a circle for this first talk. The only rules were that you had to be honest, you had to speak only for yourself, and you had to listen to others. We were on all sides and backgrounds and opinions and ups and downs and insides and outs about the situation; how we felt, what we thought, and what we wanted the church to do about it. Even I, Ms. Let’sConfrontEverything, had been terrified of this conversation. Could we be honest? Would people blow up at each other? Would this make a tense time worse? But we said a prayer and did it. And no one used safe church words. It was heated and raw and real. It was also beautiful, powerful and holy. And God was with us. And the church survived.
And when I got home… rejoicing… I did a little dance.
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