KANSAS CITY, Mo. — While some may avoid politics at a family reunion, several pastors faced the issue directly on the Fourth of July at the Mennonite Church USA convention.
Many preachers are called to speak against injustice but feel pressure to avoid the label of being too political, even in an age in which everything in culture is politicized. A panel of four pastors shared their thoughts on what it means to be prophetic from the pulpit.
Melissa Florer-Bixler of Raleigh (N.C.) Mennonite Church said congregations shouldn’t let fear of alienating people with certain beliefs stop them from taking stands against injustice.
“I deeply believe the gospel is partisan in the sense it is for some people and there are powers of this world against some people,” she said. “Until we agree that there are vulnerable people in this world who have enemies, we can’t have unity.”
Amy Yoder McGloughlin of Frazer (Pa.) Mennonite Church said there is an understanding that pastors are supposed to be nice, but if they are using a Bible for their job there will be times they have to speak about things that aren’t nice. It can be helpful to look at Jesus’ ministry, living under a powerful empire — just don’t get comfortable picking sides.
“During the Obama administration I fell asleep because Obama was cool, right?” she said of his brand of hope. “It wasn’t until toward the end of the Obama administration that I was becoming involved in immigrant communities and I learned that his nickname was ‘Deporter in Chief’ and we had so much drone warfare.
“I had been lulled into a false sense of hope that wasn’t scriptural or biblical, but American optimism, and that was a real wake-up call. . . . It’s not about Democrat or Republican because nobody’s doing a great job. The reign of God does not look like Obama. It’s way better than that.”
Scott Peterson echoed those thoughts in his seminar on engaging the political world as an Anabaptist.
Peterson, leadership pastor at Trinity Mennonite Church in Glendale, Ariz., said it had become too easy to select one of two political packages and then find a Jesus rationale for it.
“We have dueling Jesuses in our churches. They just go at each other,” he said. “I’ve never seen a fighting Jesus like a political Jesus, and that’s because our world really is broken and we really want to change it.”
Aware he was being provocative, Peterson proclaimed the means of Christ as incompatible with the means of government, because Christ’s means are nonviolent.
“The government’s only means is anti-Christ, and the government’s only authority is on its ability to inflict violence,” he said. “. . . Government cannot eradicate evil because its only power is evil.”
He did not recommend Anabaptists disengage from politics, because otherwise governments left on their own will become still more coercive and fallen.
“I think we can create things that are more just, even though they are still evil,” he said, recommending Christians pursue not the lesser, but the least, of political evils. “. . . I think almost any political action is available to us if we are sincerely taking this action in a manner that is reflective of Christ. It may not be the most efficient way.”
Speaking six languages
Wes Bergen addressed those “dueling Jesuses” July 5 with an intergenerational seminar offering tips on conversations that cross the liberal/conservative divide.
“At all times you should be moving people toward love,” said Bergen, pastor of Morgantown (W.Va.) Church of the Brethren. “You will have convictional conversations, because one person’s idea of love is different than another.”
He acknowledged a conversation will almost never change someone’s mind, but it might move one side one step.
This gets easier if everyone’s speaking the same language. Bergen identified six: Care, fairness, loyalty, authority, sanctity and liberty.
Sitting around tables, groups acted out how these languages work by picking a controversial topic and articulating both sides in each of the six languages.
“If you hear someone using fairness language, respond in fairness language,” he said. “Even if you disagree, maybe someone will move just a little bit.”