A Question Of Balance, Justice and The Human Heart


"When Politics and Religion are intermingled, a people is suffused with a sense of invulnerability, and gathering speed in their forward charge, they fail to see the cliff ahead of them."

- Frank Herbert

I'm gonna say it right off the bat: I have a lot of questions here but no answers. I'm in that kind of space on this one - maybe you are, too.

I vividly recall the very first Sunday I started at a new church, and during the announcements I was asked to read a letter to my new congregation on behalf of my denomination, The United Church of Christ.

The letter was about obtaining 100,000 signatures to call for the end of the war in Iraq and then taking it to Washington to share with government officials. The letter is powerfully worded, and most certainly stems from a certain political viewpoint as regards the Iraq War. You can read the letter here:

A Pastoral Letter on the Iraq War From the Collegium of Officers of the United Church of Christ

I remember feeling incredibly uncomfortable reading that letter to my congregation for a few reasons. One was that it was my very first Sunday with a new church, and here I was being asked to share something about which I knew there was a deep difference of opinion. The Letter most certainly is speaking for peace, for an end to bloodshed and violence - particularly bloodshed and violence inflicted upon the innocent during war.

And yet I thought that the language and tone would be troublesome for some politically speaking , and I felt it ran the risk of alienating and angering a certain segment of the church. I knew that for some, this was going to be the church meddling into politics: that the church has no business doing so, and the minister has no right to be political from the pulpit.

I get that. I understand the sensitivities at play when we engage in issues like War, Abortion, Marriage Equality, and Race (just to name a few easy subjects).

But I read the letter nonetheless, while reminding people of our denominational polity that while the national denomination may articulate and express whatever it wishes, it never falls upon the local church to follow the denomination's lead on any given issue. That is part of the complex blessing of our autonomy in the Congregational tradition of the United Church of Christ. Additionally, we are each granted free will to think and believe as we wish. That means invariably we're going to disagree on some things; some of them crucially important and incredibly sensitive. The trick is how we continue to honor and love one another in the face of such differences; and that's not always easy.

People are often drawn to the United Church of Christ because of its Progressive, Liberal stance on theological issues; especially on issues of Equality, Environmental Stewardship, Poverty and Anti-Violence/Just Peace.

Yet look at that list again - all fundamental to the fulfillment of Human Compassion and the realization of God's Presence with us in fullness...and all powerful political issues as well.

They are seemingly impossible to approach from only one perspective while not encountering the other. Religion and Politics, if Religion is being done the way Jesus informed us, are always married to one another. Only this way will the compassionate, love-based Justice of God's Spirit come to realization for everyone.

Yet when we have such a deep-rooted polarization of our political system, married to theological issues like what the Bible really says about Homosexuality that most people are horribly misinformed about, it leads to the worst kinds of ideologies and the breakdown of any kind of healthy dialog.

And that's just between Christians in this country. I haven't even gotten into how we relate to other world religions and ideologies. But that's another blog...

It was in this spirit, then, that I received the latest letter from the current Collegium almost immediately after George Zimmerman's acquittal at his trial:

UCC Collegium Letter in Response to Zimmerman Verdict

Again, I found myself feeling uncomfortable with the letter in large part because of the sentence towards the end that reads, "We must challenge our lawmakers and court systems that continue to make racially-biased decisions."

To my ears, that was a statement that the verdict regarding George Zimmerman was a racially-biased one; ergo the jury made a racially-biased decision, ergo the jury of six women were, in the majority at least, racists.

That's quite a leap, and not one I felt particularly comfortable with coming from the leadership of my denomination. It didn't show any particular compassion to the jury and the conflicts that may have been playing out within them between what their hearts may have been screaming at them and what the Letter of The Law in the state of Florida said they had to do.

That bugged me. And there was another thing...

I remember the voices of those who spoke of Zimmerman not being a racist in any way, and I just remember thinking:

"What if Zimmerman was nothing but a guy on a gun-fueled power trip?"

What if Race truly had nothing to do with this at all, and it could have been any unfamiliar kid wearing a hood that antagonized Zimmerman? There are plenty of rough-looking Caucasian 17-year olds out there that might arouse the suspicions of an over-zealous cowboy like Zimmerman was that night.

I grant you, the chances are slim....and yet, it gnawed at me. Should my church be so quick to rush to judgments and issue public statements on such emotional issues so quickly?

Am I saying we should be silent on issues of Race, LGBT Equality, Environmental Stewardship, War, Violence, and all the horrific forms of suffering brought about by Poverty?

Of course not. I happen to be particularly proud of the heritage and history of my denomination on key issues of Justice throughout its history:

UCC "Firsts"

My issue is with the Balance, and the language we use to articulate where in that Balance we fall and why. When we raise our voices like the Psalmist, shaking our fists and screaming at God in frustration and despair, we almost always are doing so out of emotion. Jesus showed us such emotion when he observed the corruption at the Temple in Jerusalem and overturned the merchant's tables, and likewise when he wept over Jerusalem. And as Ecclesiastes reminds us, there is most certainly a time and a season for such things.

Especially in the UCC, we tend to fall on the side of risking imbalance for the sake of Justice as we discern it through Jesus' life and teaching. That calls for what we speak of as a Radical Welcome for all people, for willing to be counter-cultural and advocate for those who have no voice or are deemed "The Other", as well as to speak with a Prophetic Voice to the Powers-That-Be in loving criticism when we engage Injustice, Oppression and Evil in all its various forms.

This is a vital part of being agents of God's Spirit in the world if the Love that we know permeates all things is to be allowed to blossom into fullness. I firmly and faithfully stand behind the primary call to live this way; even in the face of profound disagreement with those closest to me.

Yet there is also time for patience, a time for collecting ones Self and gathering all wisdom before speaking or writing; especially when tempers and emotions are running high.

In this world of immediate news and the ability to immediately respond...should we? Can we better help maintain a balance between bringing people to an understanding regarding the absence of and the need for Justice as Jesus informs us, while not in our fervent commitment to seeking Justice further drive a wedge between one another? It only further impedes the ability to reach our desired end. Sometimes I wonder...none of this stuff is simple.

Its easier sometimes to recognize Racism than others. With Oppression and Subjugation, it is clearly recognizable. With language, it is clear to discern. With Profiling and what lies in the human heart, it gets far more difficult to discern clearly; especially when we're trying to look through the fog of our own private prejudices that if we're being honest we all have.

The Face of Evil showed itself that night in Sanford, but whether it was the Face of Racism or the Face of Pride, Ego, and Power that Evil wore that night I truly do not know. All I do know is that a young boy is dead, a family is in grief, a nation is angry and divided, guns continue to be an unnecessary agent of suffering in this country, and laws and those who make them often make achieving a true sense of Justice nearly impossible.

How long, O Lord, how long indeed...

What do you think?

Peace, Shawn




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