How many times have we heard—or even used—the words, “It isn’t personal”? Usually these words are used to apply procedural and policy guidelines to everyone regardless of who they are. And there is a sense in which that is fair and a good thing.
Yet in another way, these words mean “I am not interested in hearing how this affects you.” The speaker is casting his/her lot with the rules, the procedures, the guidelines– the way in which things are supposed to be done. And that position leaves out the fact that policies and procedures are not abstract realities; they affect people.
The effect that policies and procedures have on people means that politics not only effects policies; politics affects people. As the arbiter of how power is distributed—and not distributed—the political impacts the everyday lives of everyday people. The policies and procedures resulting from the practice of power have real-life consequences for real-life people.
Image can be found at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horton_Hears_a_Who!
My own personal status as part of the policy-making majority may well blind me to how policies affect others. Policies may all seem good and fine and reasonable to me—so much so that I can even afford to be apolitical. But if I listen, I hear that for some folks that isn’t even an option. I come to understand that their very personhood demands addressing the issue of power and the policies created by power.
My best lens for how policies affect others come through my transgender daughter and my Green Card immigrant professor friend. I see differently when I hear my Hispanic immigrant and native-born students at the charter school where I taught last year–and the poor, urban, African-American students where I teach this year. These places and spaces give me “ears to hear”—insight into how policies shaped by those in the majority affect those who are not in that majority.
It is at the intersection of policy and the person affected by the policy is that the pastoral is political. As pastors, we proclaim that God knows and loves all people; that each person matters. When we know each other as people, our perspective changes. When Protestant and Catholic kids gets together in Northern Ireland as part of the Nobel prizewinning Corrymeela Community; when Jews and Palestinians know each other as people; when a congregation discovers a long-time member is gay; when the church matriarch needs a ramp to get into the church, then we are confronted with the need to place persons at the center of the practice of power, of politics, of policies—and of our pastoring.
Rev. Dr. Barbara Hedges-Goettl received a doctorate in liturgy and currently works part time in ministry and full time in education in the secular world both in Philadelphia, PA.
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