This was the title of an article in the October Living Lutheran magazine and it began with four quotes of varying perspectives. Of the four, which one of them would you be most likely to say?
• “Pastor, I was really upset by Sunday’s sermon. You’re meddling in politics, which you have no business in doing. I also hear that you participated in those recent protests. Don’t you understand the separation of church and state?”
• “Some of us are frustrated that our church won’t take a stand. Aren’t we named for a protester, Martin Luther? Don’t we point with reverence to martyrs like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who took a very political stance?”
• “As a young person, I am deeply concerned about social justice, and I find little to no support for my convictions in my church.”
• “I don’t want my church to tell me how to vote, but I would welcome some guidance on how to prayerfully cast my ballot.”
As your pastor I can honestly say that in my 28 years of being ordained I’ve heard all four statements from various parishioners in the congregations I’ve served, including Our Savior. Of those, I’d say I hear statement “A” more than the others, and have heard it more in the last few years than ever before. For a long time there’s been this myth we’ve convinced ourselves is true that the church should not say anything that smacks of politics.
But then how are we to understand the last promise we make in our Affirmation of Baptism; that we will strive for justice and peace in all the earth? Doesn’t that mean we will be at least engaged, let alone striving, in working toward justice and peace in our little corner of the world? The justice and peace part of our baptismal promise has to do with advocacy in issues of human rights violations and the oppression and suffering that comes from it.
When Jesus commands us to love God and love neighbor it includes the work of human rights advocacy, which in our current climate have been politicized thereby making it seem speaking out on human rights violations and their suffering is aligning the church with one political party or another. It’s not. It’s aligning the church with humanity and those who are suffering among us. And when we engage in advocating for those who are suffering from human rights violations or oppression it will include our engagement with the powers of this world that play a role in that change becoming a reality. And that means our elected officials, or politicians.
I will admit that this is new territory for me. Advocacy was never my passion in seminary or in my first decades of pastoral ministry. Maybe that’s because like so many Lutherans growing up in the 70’s and 80’s it was not a major focus of many congregations’ ministry. We have a variety of committees to address the other promises we make in our Affirmation of Baptism; such as Worship and Music, Christian Education, Evangelism, Stewardship, and Social Ministry, but how many also have a committee on Justice and Advocacy? Maybe that’s the first change that needs to be made. Maybe there needs to be a Justice and Advocacy Ministry Team or Committee that exists in every congregation so the concerns of those who might voice the other three statements above will have a means to address those passions and concerns. Isn’t addressing the issues of Anti-Racism, Climate Change, Immigration Reform, and Poverty (to name a few) the work of justice and advocacy? Just how are Lutherans to be involved in addressing these issues in a politicized world that might try to exclude or prevent God’s kingdom and will from coming and being done at this time and in this place?
I invite you to dig a little deeper than this article. I invite you to check out the ELCA Social Message found on the ELCA website as well as learn more about ELCA Advocacy. Check out the article in the October Living Lutheran and the study guide that is also available online at www.livinglutheran.org and clicking on the “Spiritual practices & resources” tab. Most of all I invite you to spend some time truly reflecting on that last promise you and every other baptized disciple in the Lutheran church made at our confirmation or when we joined a Lutheran congregation by the Affirmation of Baptism rite. Answer this question for yourself. “How will I strive for justice and peace in all the earth?” If you can answer it without it also including being engaged with our elected officials in bringing about change please let me know how. There is to be a separation of church and state, but Jefferson never intended for there to be a wall between the two. He went on to say individual citizens are free to bring their religious convictions into the public arena.