Tag Archives: vision

Pastors and Politics, Part 2: Hidden Issues of Love and Justice

Our divided American political world offers peacemaking opportunities for local churches. As leaders and congregations committed to Biblical authority and the timeless moral and spiritual convictions of historic Christianity, we will never please everyone or always win over our opponents. This is why compassionate, intercession-infused courage and wisdom are vital for leading God’s people in to maturity and kingdom influence.

The obvious “hot-button” economic, moral and social issues must be confronted: divisions of class, gender and race, abortion and infanticide, marriage and sexual ethics, peace and war and many more. These require deep study, discernment and humility.

There are, however, hidden issues of love and justice that the local church is uniquely equipped to address. Convening partners and confronting particular barriers to flourishing will enhance peace among diverse groups and offer a shining witness of Christ in a world darkened by moral inversion and spiritual confusion.

One day in Nashville, TN, a group of pastors met to learn more about connecting Sunday faith and Monday work and infusing integration into their worship service, discipleship plans and outreach efforts. In the midst of a lively conversation of church and community flourishing, an African American pastor stood up and spoke, his voice trembling and full of pathos: “I am not an angry man. I have been a pastor in my church and neighborhood for over thirty years. Your church [here he pointed to a young church-planting leader] just set up your franchise two blocks away. No one called me. No one thought to talk to the people of the neighborhood. What you call gentrification and opportunity we call exile. Aren’t we supposed to work together? Where will my people go when they can’t afford to live in their neighborhood?”

There was a holy silence. The church planter humbly apologized and with tears, both leaders agreed to work together. The hidden issue? Gentrification. What some see as a positive transformation of blight is often displacement of generations of residents. What can the local church do?

Pastors and church have unique convening ability. Creating space for shared vision, dialogue and forging alliances among business, cultural, educational, social service, religious, and political leaders for the common good is a prophetic opportunity. Asking the question, “What does a flourishing neighborhood look like…and how can everyone be a part of the future?” and hosting people with the influence, skills and wisdom to forge a just answer is part of our calling as a church. One of the great critics of the early church in the 2nd and 3rd century was a man named Celsus. He was particularly indignant that the communion table welcomed all classes, cultures, races and both genders. Pastors can bring wise believers and people of conscience in all domains so that a community can improve without scattering generations of residents.

The second hidden issue is deeply connected to the first: How can we help foster true equity and create opportunities for sustainable work so that all classes and cultures flourish in a rapidly-changing world? Put another way, how do we empower folks that are left behind in the name of “progress” or the “gig economy”?

The local church, in cooperation with other churches and agencies, can shine brightly as she empowers congregants and the community with the spiritual, emotional, relational, vocational and occupational support and wisdom people need. Immediate emergency aid is good, but long-term, relational investment in people will yield much better results. The 21st century global economy demand workers with clarity and stability in their vocations and great flexibility and nimbleness in their daily occupations. Pastors can help create disciples able to understand and respond to the local and global changes. Local churches can convene forums for community growth that is inclusive and just.

One growing local church recently sold some property. Instead of either building a bigger church building or sitting on the funds, the congregation fostered ten new initiatives that help the community flourish, including new business incubation, life skills training and compassionate outreach programs offering hope for many.

Jeff Greer, senior pastor of Grace Chapel in Mason, OH (in the Cincinnati metro area) has articulated a vision he calls, “Biznistry.”  The local church can be an incubator of economic, social, and spiritual transformation as she empowers and equips men and women in creating sustainable enterprises that in turn contribute resources for future entrepreneurs.

The third hidden arena of love and justice concerns the unseen populations often overlooked in our conversations on flourishing. These include ex-prisoners and their families, and people with disabilities. Our neighborhoods and our nation are missing out on these divine image bearers that have much to offer as opportunities for meaningful work and service are made available.

People coming out of incarceration need the social capital of the local church so that they can grow in self-worth, learn needed skills and find open doors for sustainable work. Women and men with disabilities can be productive workers, not just objects of charity. These hidden groups can be participants in the more that 600 churches with some form of “job club.” Helping people find sustainable work in a rapidly changing economy is integral to the local church’s mission.

Whether it is the Career Actions Ministry of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church (now helping older people find and keep work in a “gig economy” that favors the young), Jeff Greer’s Biznistry for entrepreneurs or the efforts of restauranteur Tom Landis in Texas who employs men and women with autism and Down Syndrome, local churches can foster a creative and innovative vision offering hope and wisdom.

Navigating political issues will never be easy. Pastors need love, courage and wisdom as they equip God’s people for engagement – not just in voting – but in being part of the solution. Pastors can also help church and community look past the obvious issues and create fresh pathways forward so all can thrive, without capitulating to ideological extremes and the paralysis of partisan politics.

Telling the Truth: Political Realities, Part 3

People and politicians (who are the elected subset of “the people”) are full of contradictory feelings and ideas. The tendency to overgeneralize and universalize is rampant. Who speaks for “the people?” Why are we so quick to opine on what African Americans, Hispanics, White Blue Collar folks, Evangelicals, Women and even LGBTQ folks think on any and every subject? If we are going to engender consensus on vital issues and chart a prosperous future for America and the world, we must end such facile thinking and begin to regard people with more respect and expect more of the political leaders elected and supported by the people.

Each person capable of moral action and self-reflection is unique. This does not mean they are disconnected and do not share beliefs and qualities of particular groups. America’s founders understood the tensions between individual liberty and the common good, between public service and political factions. Some of the founders and framers hoped there would never be political parties, just gentleman (few could foresee the female franchise) farmers and citizens serving for a season and returning to work after their public service was complete.

This idyllic vision quickly gave way to parties and philosophies competing for voters’ attention. By itself, two or more parties are not bad for the public, provided all parties and people share enough common virtues for social cohesion.

For 2016 and beyond, catering to constituencies must take second place to framing a vision and set of values that people of many backgrounds can embrace. This is much more than a “big tent” ethos or chanting, “we have something for everyone.” Such pandering has led to the severe challenges we face today.

Progress begins with personal character being more important than perceived competencies or charisma. Back in the 1820s, a member of Congress wrote a letter back to a disgruntled constituent: “You elected me for my moral character and sound judgment, not to procure public resources.” Imagine politicians saying to the voters, “You cannot have everything you want from the hands of government.” If this kind of integrity is united with a spiritual awakening, there is hope for America and the world.

Telling the Truth: Political Realities, Part 1

Every Presidential election in the USA is important and 2016 is no exception. Economic uncertainly, global and local Islamic enemies, racial tensions, immigration debates and the values and visions of our future are all part of the mix. Conservatives feel more alienated every day, with uncontrollable federal (and some cases state and local) deficits, attacks on free speech and gun ownership and a militarized EPA declaring almost every private puddle a protected watershed. Progressives are frustrated by the lack of enthusiasm for global governance on climate change and the stubborn refusal of millions to see the light on abortion and alternative sexual identities and lifestyles.

The conservative and progressive lists above are, of course, generalizations – written to call attention to the hot button issues.

Telling the truth means that facile opining, straw man arguments and exaggeration must yield to critical thinking, examination of foundational values and principled compromise that produces proximate justice on the way to a preferred future. This will not be easy in a culture used to bumper sticker wisdom and sound bite debates.

Our “ADD” culture is not used to careful listening and critical thinking. In 2008 millions voted for “Hope and Change” and even said, “I pledge!” with little idea of the ramifications of President Obama’s radicalism and post-American global vision. Facile reflection is not the preserve of the Left. Conservatives salivate at the sound of military drums or pro-life slogans, but often turn a blind eye to cronyism and rapacious environmental policies.

How about “I pledge…to read the Constitution, study the local and national issues and demand accountability from elected officials.” That is a pledge worth making, regardless of party or positions.