I recently sat on a panel at a Christian University and a student asked me, “How do we know if we are being too political in church?”
Given the current state of this country—and that of my agitated Puerto Rican, Afriqueña, queer, woman spirit—my quick response was, “As the church, we can never be too political. The church body is a political body.”
I went on to say that while I believe it is not our place to engage in partisan politics, I do believe it is the role of the church to hold government and society as a whole accountable. To hold ourselves accountable.
Accountable to our understanding that we are all created in God’s image. Accountable to the law that calls us to love our neighbor. Accountable to works of justice and mercy.
I reminded the audience, that as Christians we are called to follow Jesus’ example and speak truth to power—in the church and in the world. I shared with them the following story:
When my organization changed its name from Good News Community Kitchen to A Just Harvest, I received a call from a concerned donor. He said, “I have supported you all over the years because you feed the hungry and that is what Jesus calls us to do. It seems that now with the word ‘just’ in your name, you are going to be doing justice stuff and I am not sure what that has to do with the Gospel.” After taking a deep breath and making sure the caller could hear the smile I forced on my face, I responded, “Jesus fed the hungry and calls us to do the same, yes this is true. But Jesus also called out the systems and structures that kept people hungry and poor. Jesus called on tax collectors to stop stealing and rich people to share their wealth. Justice is the work of the Gospel—the stories are all there.” The donor responded, “Oh, I guess I had not thought of it that way.” Then I smiled for real.
I often remind folx that the powers that be were pretty okay with Jesus feeding people. But the minute he began to question them, agitate them, turn over tables and call them to account—that is when he became a risk—and this is what got him killed.
Jesus was political.
Breaking bread with women and tax collectors was a political act.
Healing on the Sabbath was a political act.
Turning over tables of exploitation was a political act.
Riding into Jerusalem on an ass was a political act.
Jesus embodied his faith and this was political.
I think that too often we forget that the very forming of the Christian Church was a political act.
To truly be the church today requires that we not be afraid to claim our political grounding nor our purpose and voice in the broader political arena.
Like Jesus, the church must be willing and able to take risks in order to bring about real transformation and be about the work of kin-dom building.
The church was never meant to be a hiding place from the world, but a safe space from which we could resist, persist and insist on the love of God being made manifest in our policies, our laws, our marketplaces, and in our places of worship and government.
Rev. Dr. Marilyn Pagán-Banks is a soulful, progressive minister, teacher, learner… who loves fiercely! This causes her to cuss when the liberation and light of any of her siblings are hindered. She currently serves as Executive Director of A Just Harvest and pastor at San Lucas UCC and Namasté UCC in Chicago.
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