There is a controversy infecting churches these days, and mine is among the many who are experiencing this.
The controversy revolves around whether beliefs that are expressed are reflections of faith or political positions.
This controversy has been gnawing away at me for the past 19 months, beginning a mere 3 months after arriving in my new parish. The first bites came after I preached a sermon about the injustices and poor treatment experienced by victims of our criminal justice system. I use the word “victim” because once an individual is incarcerated, they no longer have any control over their daily lives. They live within a regimented system that tells them how and when to do just about everything, and are at the mercy- or the lack thereof- of whatever prison system they land in.
Let me be perfectly clear about something. I believe that there are sometimes good reasons for removing people from interaction with the community. What I DON’T believe is that once they are removed they deserve to be treated with any less respect and dignity as any other child of God.
And here is my primary point. My belief about how they should be treated is primarily informed by my faith. I start with the teachings of Jesus, and use his teachings to shape and mold my convictions. It is inevitable that what I believe will shape the way I interact with the world, which is what “politics” means.
So, is it “faith” or is it “politics?” It’s BOTH. The important distinction is, which one is primary, and thus informs the other. For me, faith is primary. My political views may be obvious to people, but only because I try to be very clear about my faith. To assume that there is a way to separate the two is naïve, and we can only begin to have respectful and civil conversations if we recognize that they are irrevocably intertwined.
As a pastor, I have a deep responsibility to preach and teach from the grounding of scripture as it is understood in my church’s interpretation. We understand Jesus as having been very radical in the eyes of the religious and political establishment of his day, which put him in a position of controversy. Following the way of Jesus puts us in that same path. So I suspect that I will continue to be attacked for what I believe. I know that I will continue to love and care for all the people of the parish that has been entrusted to my care, and to pray for wisdom and the courage to preach and teach the faith as it has been taught to me.