Ben Wideman is the Campus Pastor for 3rd Way Collective, a ministry of University Mennonite Church at Penn State. He blogs regularly for The Mennonite online.
On Monday, January 30th, I joined a delegation of State College and Penn State community members for a quick trip to visit Senator Pat Toomey’s regional office in Johnstown, PA. We went for a variety of reasons – first and foremost, the President’s many Executive Orders and other recent political maneuvers have the chance to impact our local community in some very harsh ways because of our growing racial, economic, and religious diversity. But more than that, I felt called as a credentialed minister to speak to my United States Senator because his political silence and avoidance of critiquing the first two weeks of this administration felt morally significant.
Like me, Toomey comes from a faith background rooted in his family traditions and values. Like me, Toomey sees the value in building bridges. He has worked across the political spectrum on a variety of issues to attempt to create bi-partisan efforts that help all people.
As a Canadian-born American, deeply committed to my peace-church tradition, I struggle to categorize myself in our political landscape.
My faith and commitment to the ways of Jesus also inspire me to speak out when I see injustice occurring. I am far from perfect, and admit that I have not done enough during my adult life to speak peace into politics.
I went to his office because deep down I believe that while I disagree on a variety of political issues, Toomey is capable of faith-based empathy for marginalized people in the world. His silence during the first weeks of an administration which has, in my opinion, been aggressively prioritizing the desires of American big-business while effectively working to exclude the most vulnerable people of our nation and world, is troubling. So I got in a car with a group of people, and went hoping that my voice would be heard.
After our return I posted a quick reflection on my Facebook wall in which I outlined some of my thoughts. I was struck by how unprecedented this moment felt to the staff members we spoke with. Their phones (both office and cell) and fax machines rang the entire time we were there. They talked about getting more mail than ever, and how this fervor and length of time felt like no other moment in Toomey’s tenure. Other people noticed my post. This short reflection has now been shared thousands of times on social media, as people, hungry for some guidance on how to speak into our political reality, scramble for practical advice.
It made me wonder how our Mennonite churches, far-too-often content to be silent and let our lives carry our voices, need to adjust our posture in this moment.
In the book, God’s Politics, author Jim Wallis explains that politicians have their fingers constantly in the air, checking for the changes in wind patterns, the voices of their constituents. How are we influencing that wind?