The election’s over, and now Congress and the President actually have to govern, but the discussion over faith and politics won’t end anytime soon. I’ve posted an article and a number of comments on that topic already, but looking back, I realize I left a lot unsaid.
In seminary, I did field work with an anti-racism organization. I got along really well with my supervisor, partly because we thought alike. We were both committed to the mission, so we didn’t have to explain ourselves to each other. We could just concentrate on the work.
That was great – until it was time for my mid-year evaluation, and we each had to analyze what I learned through the experience and how it connected to some idea of “ministry.” We hadn’t talked about any of that stuff because we were focused on getting a job done.
When I’m out among new people – like my first night at ballet class – someone will ask what I do or where I work. And there’s usually a raised eyebrow or a pause in the conversation when I say that I’m a minister.
More people these days know religion and clergy through the media rather than personally, and I carry the baggage of TV evangelists and conservative protesters even if I’m nothing like them.
My FAVS bio says that I’m a “liberal/progressive Christian.” Some may ask, is there such a thing? There is, and for decades it was a prominent style of Christianity in our country. We just don’t get as much press anymore. Why is that?
Partly, it goes back to my seminary field-work experience. When my “brand” of Christianity was the dominant style, we didn’t talk much about faith. People raised their children in church and expected those children would do the same.
We were well-represented in our society’s Establishment and had the ear of powerful people and a voice on public policy. But when the culture shifted, we didn’t know how to make a compelling case for what we believed.
It’s been suggested that liberal/progressive Christianity actually has left a significant mark on our society because so many of its ideas have been adopted as social goods – equal rights regardless of race or gender, progressive taxation, programs to address poverty, broad access to education and health care, etc.
But because liberal/progressive Christians have been quiet and non-confrontational about their faith identity, some believe that faith is unimportant to them. It’s not the case, but it seems that way. So here are a few things about faith that are important to me.
“Faith” is not a list of things to believe; it’s being committed to a particular vision of what life ought to be like. As a bumper sticker from my denomination said, “To believe is to care, to care is to do.”
I take the Bible seriously, but not literally. I don’t “believe in” the Bible; I believe in the God – and the relational life – the Bible wants to point us toward. For me, that life is best demonstrated in the life and teachings, the compassion and companionship, of Jesus of Nazareth.
But I respect and honor people who have found other paths to an authentic, compassionate life. After all, the Bible says that God recognizes those people, too. (Deuteronomy 4:19 and John 10:16)
The Bible also suggests that the people we’re quick to label as “other,” as strangers or different or alien, are just as important to the future of the world and are just as loved by God – see the stories of Ruth and Jonah for examples.
That’s part of the reason why I’m so committed to dialogue and cooperation – not because my faith isn’t important to me, but because “I” am not as important as all of us together and the most powerful person is nothing unless the most vulnerable have their needs met.