I’m going to share something very personal with you. As a pastor I dread getting up each morning and seeing what the latest headlines are. Just skip them, you suggest? Just say silent? Why ruffle feathers? Oh how I wish I could.
As a pastor, I am called to be a public witness – it is part of my ordination vows. Each day I see statements and acts that go against the Gospel and are antithetical to what it means to be a follower of Christ. My dilemma – do I speak out on these or stay silent? Silence implies agreement. Speaking out is considered “partisan.” The measure of what I speak about is this – how does it match up with Jesus? How others see these statements is out of my control.
My calling is to be a public witness of Jesus. I am compelled to make public statements – it is a part of my calling. A sermon is a public witness of the Gospel. Wearing a collar is a public witness. My prayers that I post online are public witnesses. I am compensated for studying the Scriptures and proclaiming what God has to say.
Prophets of old were compelled to speak God’s word to kings and peoples – often words that the kings and the people didn’t like. Preachers proclaimed publicly that slavery was a sin and evil from their pulpits – often facing great opposition from the people in the pews and in the nation. Pastors marched the streets in favor of civil rights – often in opposition to the popular opinion of the day.
Jesus calls pastors to certain things that we’d really rather not do many times. Jesus calls us to comfort the afflicted (that’s not the problem), and afflict the comfortable. Jesus calls us to proclaim inconvenient truths. Jesus calls us to call out sin. Jesus calls us to pick up our cross and follow him. Jesus calls us to declare that God’s kingdom, not any earthly kingdom or nation, is where our salvation lies. Jesus calls us to declare that to follow Jesus means to love our enemies, to welcome strangers. Jesus calls us to say things that are not popular and often are not welcome by others.
Martin Luther defined sin as the turning inward towards oneself. Sin is the breaking of relationship with God, with oneself, with others, and the rest of creation. Sin has consequences. People don’t like to hear about sin. Yet, as a called an ordained minister, I have a responsibility to talk about it.
So, while I’d rather not talk about these things, I’m going to – I’m compelled to by Jesus. Racism isn’t just wrong. It’s a sin. It is antithetical to what it means to be a follower of Christ. It runs counter to the Christian belief in the Imago Dei – that all humans are made in the image of God. Comparing a group of people, individuals, or an entire city to rats, or other disease carrying animals isn’t just wrong. It is a sin. It is antithetical to what it means to be a follower of Christ. It runs counter to the Christian belief in the Imago Dei. Having a politician or a group of people chanting “send them home” is not just wrong. It is a sin. It is in defiance to what Christ said when he called on his disciples to love your enemies and to welcome the stranger. Again, it is refusing to see the Imago Dei in another person. These aren’t statements that I make on my own – many other religious leaders, pastors, bishops, etc are saying the same things because of our faith in Jesus.
If you believe that these are partisan statements, then I would suggest that you stop looking through the lens of political party loyalty and start looking through a Jesus lens, or at the very least a human lens. Racism has always been wrong and a sin. It’s not just wrong and a sin based on who occupies any political office. Racism was sinful when Federalist and Democrat-Republican presidents occupied the Oval Office in the time before the Civil War. Comparing people to rats is always wrong and a sin. It’s not just wrong and a sin based on who occupies a political office. It was sinful when Republican and Democrats occupied the Oval Office as other nations did this exact same thing. Stating that people should go back where they came from has always been wrong and a sin. Don’t take my word for it, read the history of this statement. It’s not just wrong and a sin based on who occupies a political office. It was also sinful when Democrats and Republicans throughout our nation’s history have either used this or similar language or been silent as supporters have used it. It was sinful when the Know Nothing Party made this a central theme of their campaigns in the 1800’s. None of these sins are new or fresh. They are old and refuse to die. They just take on new adherents that adopt and update who the targets are. And they are still sinful.
The lens through which I see the world is the Gospel. You can believe that or not. You can like or dislike my public statements. That is your decision. You can think I am just some hack for a political party, even though I am not registered in a political party and have absolutely no faith in political parties to bring about the kingdom of God. Political parties, all of them, exist to obtain power from others. My duty, my calling, my vocation is centered on and focuses on the unfolding of the Kingdom of God. And I take that calling seriously.
We are called to a higher standard when we claim the mantle of being a follower of Jesus. All of us. Racism, telling people to go back where they came from, equating people to rodents, etc., is not living into what it means to be a follower of Jesus. There are no exceptions, no rational arguments, no excuses when it comes to these things. They simply are not in alignment with God or what God values.