In the midst of so much going on, so many institutions and things crumbling, democracy receiving the biggest test it has in quite some time, it can be hard to stick with the basics, to just keep going in the midst of everything around us. Sometimes things look worse than they actually are, sometimes things are just bad – either way, panicking, while a seemingly natural response, is rarely helpful. So give yourself a few minutes to get your feelings out, and then remember who you are, whose you are, and your plan to participate in building and revealing God’s realm in the world. This work continues on anyway, but as God’s people we have a particular responsibility to participate in it. And I don’t know about you, but I find that keeping my goals in mind and keeping myself busy helps a lot, and helping people to understand the importance of their personal involvement in community life and decision-making (aka politics and voting) helps me to feel like I have done what I can. Not a one of us on our own can make things right, but if we stick together we have a shot of making lasting change.
As we move closer to the election, and as I talk politics as a minister, the question inevitably comes up: what about the separation of church and state? Shouldn’t the church stay out of politics? There are so many opinions on this and I encourage you, as always, to do your own reading, thinking, and come to your own conclusion about this. The answer from my perspective is both yes and no. The thing I most think about when considering the role of the church and politics is who Jesus was and what he did in relation to both the religious and governmental authorities of his day. He stood up to both of them – which of course got him into trouble. And he stood on the side of love – which was too often over and against religious and governmental authorities.
As Jim Wallis puts it, “I believe in the separation of church and state but not the segregation of moral values from public life. So how do we bring the prophetic character and qualities of faith but not its parochial or partisan interests?” (p. 139) As religious congregations generally have 501(c)(3) status, they are allowed to devote a certain amount of time to non-partisan, values and issue-based (rather than candidate-based) political activity. The Disciples Center for Public Witness has put out a short and excellent resource for churches about election and other political activity in and around church life called “Elections 2018: Resources for Churches“. Included in the guide is a link to the UCC’s “Our Faith, Our Vote, Our Voice” “Guidelines for Congregations on Political Action” that gives very specific guidance as to what types of activities are and are not permissible under IRS guidelines. (Insert obligatory disclaimer that I am an ordained minister and theological librarian, not a tax lawyer or IRS expert, and while I recommend these resources as coming from authoritative sources, I or Think! Pray! Act! am not responsible for any issues that arise from using these resources.)
This week is a whirlwind tour through the end of Micah, and then the entirety of both Nahum and Habakkuk. Is the thought of reading through multiple books of the Bible (even if they’re small) over the course of a week strange to you? It is to me, especially since we’re mostly only doing a chapter a day. Elizabeth Rice Achtemeier challenges us in Nahum–Malachi (Interpretation) to take a closer look at the Minor Prophets of the Bible, as “there are multitudinous riches to be found in the books of Nahum through Malachi … Having studied these books closely for several years now, I have become convinced that they should be called the Not-So-Minor Prophets.” (p. xiii) Specifically, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah prophesied during Judah’s twilight years in which Judah had a brief independence, and then fell back into being ruled by Egypt and Babylonia. “According to the prophets, all of these events were intimately connected, however, with the will and working of Israel’s God.” (p. 1)
This reminds me of one of those formative books I read in seminary, Mighty Stories, Dangerous Rituals, which encouraged my classmates and me to imagine the ways in which the stories of people’s lives, pastoral care, ritual, and worship could be linked – and that, indeed, they should be linked. As Anderson and Foley note, “We comprehend our lives not as disconnected action or isolated events but in terms of a narrative. We conceive of our lives as a web of stories – a historical novel or miniseries in the making. We think in stories in order to weave together into a coherent whole the unending succession of people, dates, and fact that fill our lives. … Stories hold us together and keep us apart. We tell stories in order to live.” (p. 4) And continuing on, “Stories are not simply heard or read or told; they are created. We use stories to construct meaning and communicate ourselves to another.” (p. 4) It is not just people, but also communities that do this. It strikes me that not only do biblical prophets read the signs of what’s going on in a community or society and give their interpretations of that reading and those signs – in our written record of their reading and interpretation of those signs, in their consideration of how God moves in their situations, they created narratives based on their understanding of God and life that we continue drawing wisdom from even today. This is why I both love the Bible – for its richness of story – and read it analytically as well, because stories are never just bald facts – they’re always written by people for people, none of whom are completely impartial.
What are the stories you tell about yourself about your life and God’s role in your life?
This week we’re in Part I, Chapter 11, “Relationships” of The Lifelong Activist. Relationships are right there at the core our lives and FBCO. Dennis Jacobsen says that “Gregory Galluzzo, founding Director of the Gamaliel organizing network, says that organizing is ‘a commitment to lead an interesting life’ and that ‘issues are just an excuse for building relationships.'” (p. 15)
Rettig encourages us to examine our relationships, considering how those with whom we are in relationship either support us or drag us down, and to find supportive relationships. Then as it applies to activism, “your effectiveness as an activist is tied directly to your ability to create and manage quality relationships with other activists, your audience, and even your opposition.” (p. 34)
How are your relationships? Do you have supportive people around you? How do you create and manage your relationships? Join the discussion here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/peopleofthebooks/
Have you completed MCU’s calls to action yet? Here they are again if you need them:
1 Check your voter registration her: https://s1.sos.mo.gov/elections/voterlookup/ and VOTE on NOVEMBER 6!
2. Join the Amendment 1 and Prop B campaigns to knock on doors (canvass) and call people to get out to vote. Email Dietra Baker at [email protected] for more information. MCU will be doing phone banking next Saturday, October 27 (https://www.facebook.com/events/293373261496909/) and the Saturday after that, November 3 (https://www.facebook.com/events/2447976798548373/) at the MCU office. Come on by and call with us to get out the vote!
3. Attend the Break the Pipeline Orientation on Tuesday, November 27, 6:30pm at the MCU Office. More info here: https://www.facebook.com/events/180245889534904/
4. Attend the MCU Annual Membership Assembly on Thursday, January 31, 2019 at 5:30pm. More info here: https://www.facebook.com/events/169844147259502/
5. Join MCU’s e-mail list by e-mailing [email protected] (or your local FBCO organization; find yours on the map below)
Thanks for being a part of living democracy! We don’t have to do this alone – and when we organize, we can create long-lasting people-powered community change!
Check out the Find Your FBCO Map to find your local faith-based community organizing affiliate and connect with the people who are working together to live out their dreams of a more just world! What’s going on in your living of the Gospel? Let us know in the comments, in our e-mail discussion group, or on social media.
- “Disciples Public Presence Conference.” Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), n.d. https://disciples.org/event/disciples-public-presence-conference/.
- “ELECTIONS 2018: RESOURCES FOR CHURCHES.” Disciples Center for Public Witness, n.d. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1KQxUxq-1_EODSZFWXGXmoGzYp23yHqmmjkRQGhAqk0A/edit?usp=drive_web&ouid=110856375193941890387&usp=embed_facebook
- “Justice Primer & Study Guide.” Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), 2016. https://www.discipleshomemissions.org/about-us/disciples-advocate/justice-primer/.
- Brueggemann, Walter. “The Minor Prophets (1)” in An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003.
- Disciples News Services. “Disciples Public Presence Conference Kickstarts Conversation.” Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), 18 September 2018. https://disciples.org/general/disciples-public-presence-conference-kickstarts-conversation/
- “Guidelines for Congregations on Political Action.” United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries, n.d. http://www.uccfiles.com/pdf/ofovguidelines316.pdf.
- Luther Seminary. “Enter the Bible,” n.d. http://www.enterthebible.org/.
- Rettig, Hillary. The Lifelong Activist: How to Change the World Without Losing Your Way. New York, NY: Lantern Books, 2006.
- Rettig, Hillary. “Relationships” in The Lifelong Activist: How to Change the World Without Losing Your Way. New York, NY: Lantern Books, 2006. http://lifelongactivist.com/part-i-managing-your-mission/relationships/
- Rice Achtemeier, Elizabeth. Nahum–Malachi. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1986.
- Wallis, Jim. The (Un)Common Good: How the Gospel Brings Hope to a World Divided. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2014.