A friend recently wondered, “Is it possible to be a religious conservative and a social liberal?” The comments varied. Some considered it a hypocritical position. Others described it as, “honest.”
Recent surveys of public opinion regarding the use of torture reveals yet another arena where the Church, especially the conservative Evangelical stream, has lost the prophetic position, if not the prophetic voice. Maybe this is traceable to the way conservative Christians have yet to extricate themselves from the disastrous alignment with the Moral Majority in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.
Attempts to influence political powers ignored the reverse influences that come with such an alignment. Consider it a requirement to turn a blind eye to what you know to be troublesome if not outright wrong. Evangelical Christians have their own intra squad illustration with the recent Mars Hill/Mark Driscoll event. Those who knew for a long time found in Driscoll’s popularity its own sword of Damocles. Books sales and conference tickets created wealth, despite what some knew but kept quiet about.
Those in positions to speak about this did not, former associates and leaders once very much a part of the machine. And, I do not mean those employed by or with Driscoll. My aim are those who shared the stage, the green rooms, and late night conversations on a more personal basis. Voiceless.
So, when the CIA report was released I am told many in my Tribe disagreed with Dr. Russ Moore. I am hoping Alan Cross or Marty Duren will supply the links to the Twitter squabble. Moore’s position on the torture issues, again based on second hand information, was met with disapproval and derision.
Moore also faced derision when he took a stand on the Eric Garner matter. On this matter, I believe Moore found the prophetic position and learned it unpopular. I also believe he is well aware and accepting of such a role. I am glad, even if I disagree with his current position on pastors as agents of the State regarding marriage.
The presenting issues for the series, An Uneasy Agent of the State, were prayer at City Council Meetings and solemnizing marriages as a State Agent/Actor. But, those are not the only two issues where the spheres of human experience could use helpful prophetic voices. Immigration. Torture. Economic injustices. Climate Issues. Even on the role of the US and Saudi Arabia in the destabilization of the Russian economy in the ongoing battle over oil.
Every pastor cannot always be on the ready to speak to every one of these issues. But, if on any issue one is afraid to speak for fear of personal implications, then their voices on other issues may be muted by the inconsistency. And, I fail.
The risk of the prophetic is unemployment. Saying hard things where human beings have become accustomed to a particular form of life, a specific way of managing life’s details, will certainly be me with not just a few that would prefer you find a pulpit elsewhere, if at all. For too long the reference of teaching that tickles the ears has been a reference used to bracket out others. Many of us may need to revisit the ways our lack of speaking prophetically is as much tickling the ears by avoidance as those accused of only offering pablum for sermons. I am not sure there is much difference.
An Uneasy Agent of the State is a beginning for me, not an end. Its staggered parts may have lent to eventual disinterest. I needed, and still need, to work through the implications of my own musings. But, I would like company. So, if you are still reading but have not read the entire series, here are the links to each post with the opening paragraphs for each.
Push back, pull apart, but by all means join me in offering a word, as Brueggemann puts it, that re-describes the world for the benefit and blessing of all.
An Uneasy Agent of the State – A Series
Hello, my name is Todd. I am a professional pray-er. Once it is discovered I am a pastor, no matter the event, I become the de facto pray-er.
Once a month I am expected to pray at our regular City Council meetings right after the Pledge of Allegiance. The symbolism supports a bygone era, maybe even one the Church should have resisted long ago.
Marriage as solemnized in the United States, in most cases, may disturb me more than the wrangling over marriage equality. It would be wrong to assume I believe the discussions over marriage equality should be muted as somehow unimportant.
Instead it would be accurate to read that opening sentence as recognition that once registered with the County, thus the State, every pastor adds to his or her resume, Agent of the State. And, this additional role comes without compensation for the services rendered.
“You can’t be Christian and support torture,” writes Brian Zhand. And, you can’t pastor if unwilling to be prophetic. Despite the continued effort to make chaplains of pastors, there comes a time when one must wake from slumber.
Yes, I am more and more convinced the way forward is for pastors to wake from the slumber associated with an uncritical eye toward the State and its free use of our services. Many of my co-religionists have thought about the matter of marriage and the State. A good many disagree with me still holding out hope that continued engagement will somehow have an effect upon a State that retains the right to absolve a contract most often solemnized by a minister. I no longer see this as possible.
Where would we be had we taken seriously the reality that marriage as practiced is indeed a civil union? The purview of the State would be clearer and the role of the Christian community would be evident. States may set the guidelines for the legalities related to civil unions, but the State does not possess the apparatus, outside the don’ts of the law, to influence character within those unions.