Have the holidays laid bare strong differences in your family? I suppose it is inevitable that in the wake of the most divisive presidential election in our lifetime many families would evidence those same polarizing fault lines.
There is, I have heard, a small subset of humans who relish disagreement. I am not one of them, and neither are most of you. And of all public places it is church where many of us imagine and hope that these painful divisions might be set aside. It is not uncommon to hear folk opine that “politics” have no place in church. Typically this conviction is based on the belief that church should be about personal (private?) morality; that church should be a place where the individual and her relationship with God is the focus on attention and where the messiness of politics and public policy is not addressed.
But I cannot agree. On Christmas morning I was reminded why this cannot be so. In the place where I worshipped the text for the morning was from Matthew 2 – the story of the visit of the Magi. And as beautiful as is this story of these renowned figures coming to offer homage and gifts to the Christ, the story ends on a jarring note – they must leave by a different road and the child and his parents must flee as refugees to a far-away place. Why is this so? Because Herod – the political ruler – wants the child dead.
Was Herod mistaken about the threat represented by this child? I think not. Even though Jesus never threatened this particular despot, Herod was exactly right in suspecting that all human authority would sooner or later be challenged by Messiah – by the intervention of God into human affairs. Herod knew – knew rightly! – when God intervenes into human affairs, human authority will be called to account!
Followers of Jesus can only avoid the hard and vexing messiness of “politics” by selling our collective birthright. We are heirs, after all, of the one whose coming spells trouble for the wealthy and deliverance for the poor (how else can Mary’s hymn – the Magnificat – be honestly read?) Certainly it is true that the gospel demands that individual humans “get right with God,” but to privatize the Gospel – indeed all of Holy Writ – and expunge it of social and political implication is to take a scalpel to countless texts – an activity to which we must not be party.
At different times the exigency facing the church has varied. At the time many of our Iowa congregations were being formed the abolitionist movement was hot, and some of our churches are directly descended from the missionary activity of abolitionist preachers. This is but one example of a social and political issue which demanded the church to speak.
None of us possess a crystal ball about the future, but each of us has a moral responsibility to wonder about those social and economic issues – political issues! – which our grandchildren will either praise us for addressing, or condemn us for avoiding. I am convinced that systemic racism and quiet acquiescence to structural systems which privilege some to the disadvantage of others may well be the issue that my grandchildren will look back at to see where I stood.
For me this demands attention to something called “white privilege.” You may or may not grasp what I reference when I speak of “white privilege.” The leaders of the United Church of Christ have produced a curriculum to assist congregations in studying this concept. Surely we have a responsibility – to Christ! – to inform ourselves so that we can be sure that we are on Mary’s side – on Christ’s side – in God’s cosmic program of justice and equality.
With hope for the now and not yet Realm of Christ!
The UCC in Iowa
For more information about the UCC White Privilege Curriculum please visit: http://privilege.uccpages.org/