10672361_10152417983237987_4971039832493004559_n“So, what are y’all saying about… all this?”

It’s the question of the day in clergy groups: how do we, as clergy, as the Church, address what is going on in our nation, especially to often-divided congregations? What’s the role of the Church in the political – not partisan: political – sphere? When do we take a stand? When do we speak out? When do we gather as the Church to stand on the steps of the Capitol in witness for or against policies?

The answer is often rather ambiguous: preach the Gospel. Speak out as individuals, but not as the Church. Protest or lobby as members of a congregation, but not on behalf of the congregation as a whole.

Be careful what you say, and in whose name: you might offend someone.

Several years ago, my church began putting a rainbow flag over the front doors during Pride Month. We’d been Open and Affirming for some 12 years at that point; it seemed a natural thing to (finally) do. But then it got pulled down. We replaced it. Two days later, the replacement got pulled down. One frustrated Facebook post later, rainbow flags started appearing from all over the world. Enough that we gave them to local churches, so they could stand in solidarity. Enough that we hung 45 on the sides of our building for a week, and still had spares. Enough that we could say, loudly and clearly, that we stood with the LGBT community, even in the face of pushback.

Enough that people left the church.

Members were offended that we were singling out one group – the LGBTQ community – for welcome; that we didn’t fly a flag to welcome straight people.

Be careful what you say, and in whose name: you might offend someone.

I understand completely the concern with hurting and offending those who sit in our pews; I love my congregants deeply, no matter whom they voted for. I understand the feelings of failure that arise when church members leave, the fears of shrinking membership; the discouragement of empty seats on Sunday morning. I understand the desire to be careful.

But I understand as well that we cannot compare the hurt of calling out privilege to the hurt of systematically being denied rights. We cannot compare the offended sensibilities of the privileged to the injustices perpetrated upon the marginalized. We need to stop operating within this false equivalency.

Most of us believe that we would have preached racial justice in the 1960s, or against fascism in the 1930s. But most of us forget that hindsight is 20/20, giving us the privilege of glossing over how many would have been offended. Most of us in white churches – in the 30s, the 60s, or now – are more concerned with the comfort of those in our pews than with the lives of real people outside of our particular communities.

Most of us would invite debate on the worthiness of the Samaritan woman at the well; would allow the argument that the man, left for dead on the Jericho road, should have known better and deserved what he got; would weigh the practicalities of searching for one sheep out of a hundred, and let that one go. Most of us would ignore that the Samaritan woman is now a Syrian refugee; the man on the Jericho road is a woman leaving a party; the sheep is someone struggling with addiction. Most of us would forget that these are stories of real people, whose lives are not ours to debate.

So many in our churches want to hear the Gospel stories as feel-good narratives about how good God will be to us all, and are offended when that is not the Gospel we preach.

But the Good News is not good if it does not put food in the bellies of the hungry, or give shelter to those left in the cold. The Good News is not that our individual lives are enough in themselves, but that we are enough, as we are, to bring God’s Realm here on earth; to be the Body of Christ. The Good News is that refugees, young black men, trans women, those struggling with substance use… the marginalized, the disenfranchised are enough, just as they are, to be worthy of our support, stated loudly and clearly.

So yes, we do need to preach the Gospel in this time: loudly, clearly, lovingly. We need to state clearly, as Jesus did, that people are not problems to be solved, or topics for debate. We need to be clear, as the Church, that we will not deal in the false equivalencies of offense; that we will set aside our privilege to stand with those whose lives are threatened, here and now. We need to preach a Gospel that is, indeed Good News, and will continue to be so, even in hindsight.

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Rev. Eliza Buchakjian-Tweedy is Senior Pastor of First Church Congregational, UCC, in Rochester NH. She blogs at sermonizing.wordpress.com.

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6 thoughts on “The Pastoral Is Political: False Equivalencies

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