Last night, Senator Jeff Flake (R, Arizona) was asked on 60 Minutes if he could have/would have delayed the vote on Judge Brett Kavanaugh for the US Supreme Court had he been running for re-election.
Scott Pelley: Senator Flake, you’ve announced that you’re not running for re-election and I wonder, could you have done this, if you were running for re-election?
Sen. Jeff Flake: No, not a chance
Scott Pelley: Not a chance?
Sen. Jeff Flake: No, no.
Scott Pelley: Because politics has become too sharp, too partisan?
Sen. Jeff Flake: There’s no value to reaching across the aisle. There’s no currency for that anymore. There’s no incentive.
This, my friends, is a failure of leadership, and of democracy.
By no means is Senator Flake the worst (best? only?) illustration of this. He’s just the one to say it publicly. I don’t agree with him often on policy, and he seems to be slightly more reasonable, friendly, and sane than many other members of congress.
It’s possible I’m damning with faint praise, but I don’t know how else to say it. I’m certainly not going to call him a hero, as some people are doing. At the same time, I think it is appalling that he’s getting death threats because he’s making it possible for further investigation into a Supreme Court nominee. (Surely we want thorough vetting of the candidates for the Supreme Court?!)
When he said there is no incentive to reach across the aisle, to work with colleagues, to speak an uncomfortable truth, he reminded me of many pastors and elders I’ve known over the years.
They tell me that if they were to speak the truth from the pulpit, they’d lose their jobs.
If they were to confront lies with truth, they’d face hell from their personnel committees.
If they were to make a stand about something, the people who pay pledges would leave the church.
And who knows. Maybe they’re right.
I’m not wanting or trying to beat up on pastors who are already feeling beat-up-on by their congregations. Everyone has to do what they need to do.
What kind of churches are we leading if we can’t speak truth from the pulpit?
What does it say about our faith in the God who has called us and given us the words to say when we don’t say them?
What does it say about our faith in the people we’re called to serve when we try to save them from things that will make them uncomfortable, shake them up, and piss them off?
When did church (and government) become about pleasing the people who pay our salaries (or vote us into office) at the expense of leadership and speaking the truth?
For Senator Flake, his “yes” vote for Judge Kavanaugh out of the committee is still a yes vote. It didn’t end the nomination process. It is allowing it to go forward. Calling for an FBI investigation in light of recent stories about Judge Kavanaugh is a reasonable action before a man receives a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.
And Flake is convinced it would have gotten him fired by the voters.
The prophet Jeremiah knew what it was to have truth he didn’t want to say. He was being denounced for speaking God’s prophecy, God’s truth. “I have become a laughing-stock all day long,” he wrote. “Everyone mocks me.” (Jer 20:7)
Yet Jeremiah had to speak.
“If I say, ‘I will not mention the Lord,
or speak any more in his name’,
then within me there is something like a burning fire
shut up in my bones;
I am weary with holding it in,
and I cannot.” (Jer 20:9)
I once heard Professor Walter Brueggemann speak on this passage to a room full of clergy. (Festival of Homiletics, 2011 maybe?)
“There is a diminished sense of self that comes from coerced silence in the church. It is wearying to remember what not to say, all the while the words grind our guts. Take stock of the truth you have been given. I crave for you the edge of freedom that will let you witness to the full truth that has been entrusted to you.”
The room full of pastors let out a collective gasp/groan as he said those words. And this was long before President Trump took office, and our national division seemed to go from a fault line and became a giant chasm.
What are we to do?
We have to love the people. I’ve found it impossible to speak prophetically to people when I don’t have love and compassion for them in my heart. As the apostle Paul said, “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” (1 Cor 13:1-2)
And, hopefully, if they have love for me in their hearts too, we can get through our disagreements without forgetting we are siblings in Christ, united by the God who has broken down the walls that divide us.
We have to turn to God as we prepare to preach, or prepare to lead. I’ve got lots of thoughts, most days. And I’m certainly capable of confusing my thoughts with God’s truth. And so I read scripture, and I read the news, and I go to God in prayer. And repeat. I sit in silence each day for 15 minutes. And let it all percolate on the back burner as the rest of the week goes on. And I make pastoral calls, and sit in on committee meetings and gatherings, and bible studies. And when I look at scripture again, I ask what is it I don’t want to hear? Am I trying to make it say something it is not saying? What do the people God has given me to love need to hear from that text this week?
Do I get it right all the time? (most the time?) No. I don’t.
But each week in worship, we pray a Prayer of Confession. And then we receive an Assurance of Pardon. And then I get back to it and try again.
Our culture is in desperate need of leadership these days. In our own ways, may we find ways to speak truth, especially when people don’t want to hear it. May we find grace for the times we confuse our truth with God’s. May we have faith in the One who has called us and equipped us for just such a time as this. May we know there is every incentive to speak the truth.
Marci Auld Glass is the pastor of Southminster Presbyterian Church and lives with her husband and sons in Boise, Idaho. She is a graduate of Trinity University and Columbia Theological Seminary. She serves on the Clergy Advocacy Board of Planned Parenthood and the Mission Agency Board of the Presbyterian Church USA. Marci blogs at Glass Overflowing and is among the contributors to the RevGals book,There’s a Woman in the Pulpit (SkyLight Paths).
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