The Pastoral is Political: Critical Thinking

Last week was a rough one in the United States. The Republican National Convention displayed for all the world to see just how easy it is for us humans to be persuaded by appealing to our fears and prejudices. And the Democratic National Convention is starting off under a similar cloud this week.

Last week, when a friend wrote on Facebook that zie couldn’t imagine why anyone would who had a choice would be watching the Republican National Convention, I responded with a flippant and off the cuff comment: “Opposition research.” You see, I would like to believe that there’s an “us” and a “them” in politics right now. The “us” would be smart, woke, anti-racist, anti-ableist, anti-sexist, anti-heterosexist folks who, if we just were given control of the United States would know exactly what to do to best promote the common good. And the “them” would be, you know, those other people. I’m afraid of “their” vision of the United States and of what is good for our country. I imagine them all as selfish, greedy folks who care only about themselves.

It’s not that simple. Those of us who are as woke as we can be and who are doing the best we can to spread the gospel are still part of a system the benefits white people, able-bodied people, heterosexual people, and male people. Rev. Emily Heitzman wrote eloquently about this for last week’s Pastoral is Political. And many of those on the “other” side are people who care deeply about their communities and families. The economic system in the United States is not working for them and they are running out of hope and they long ago lost faith in our political system to fix anything.

The fact that this is not simple is annoying to me. I prefer simplicity. I thrive on order. I actually LIKE to color within the lines. I want to know who is good and who is bad. I want to know who is right and who is wrong. But that’s not how it works. My faith requires that I do a whole lot more critical thinking than staying within the lines. And critical thinking, especially when my dander is up, is hard work.

Jesus made his disciples do this hard work, though. He didn’t just heal people with physical and mental illnesses. He healed the hearts of corrupt tax collectors and religious officials. He did it by being consistent in his ethic of love, and by not being afraid to turn over some tables when the situation warranted it.

So that’s what I’m trying to do during this dystopian political season. I’m working hard to remember that there are more than two sides to everything and to avoid demonizing whole groups of people. I’m also working hard to not shy away from calling out racism, sexism, ableism, heterosexism and all the other -isms when they happen, even when I’m complicit in the systems that allow them. I’m working on becoming more aware of all those -isms and the ways in which I am complicit in perpetuating them.

And to keep me grounded in love, I’m holding on to personal moments of hope, like when my family of choice shows up to church with me and the eight-year-old spends the service snuggled up to my side. It is for her, with her pigtails and glasses and wise blue eyes that I will continue to stay engaged, even when I’d rather not.


Marie Alford-Harkey is the President and CEO of the Religious Institute, a national multifaith nonprofit dedicated to advocating for sexual health, education, and justice in faith communities and society. She met her amazing wife, April at their beloved alma mater, Episcopal Divinity School. Marie, April, Chaplain Dog Sandy, and cats Memphis and Emily Jane live in Connecticut. Marie will be ordained as a pastor in the Metropolitan Community Church on August 27, 2016. She blogs sporadically at Love is Strong as Death.

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One thought on “The Pastoral is Political: Critical Thinking

  1. I have heard that it is a good strategy to get on the mailing lists of those you support and those you don’t support in order to understand tactics and points of view. I am trying mightily to keep my fingers off the keyboard when someone posts (or forwards) something I disagree with . . . and to be judicious about replying when someone posts something I do agree with.

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