I don’t believe it’s possible to be a follower of Jesus without the path having numerous political implications. I think this holds true for pastors and laypeople alike. And I believe this holds true for whole congregations as well.
In this regard, I am not speaking about endorsing candidates, which is illegal for clergy speaking in their churches, (although as private individuals this is everyone’s right.) Rather, I am speaking of how the life and teachings of Jesus can’t help but influence our collective views on issues of all kinds in the public sphere. If we, as congregations, are ever to do more than feed people and provide emergency shelter; if we are ever to address the issues that create so much hardship among those who struggle the most; if we are ever going to stand up directly to injustice and discrimination, we are going to find ourselves confronting our government and all the politics and policies that are shaping it.
For me, what we are challenged to do as followers of Jesus overrides the authority of the government. In fact, in Jesus’ day and thereafter for quite some time, he and his followers were a counterpoint to government authorities who, as a matter of policy, exploited and oppressed so many people. It has been the stuff of relatively recent perversions of Jesus’ gospel message that have espoused the idea of God favoring our nation over others; that God would want our country to close its borders to refugees and asylum seekers; that God would want our nation to arm its people with a plethora of weapons; that God would have us threaten and destroy our planet in the interests of monetary gain for those who are already overly advantaged; that God is not concerned with the basic safety of women and GLBTQ persons. Absolutely none of these ideas is supported by Jesus’ teachings.
My point is simply that faithful followers of Jesus do take his message seriously. And that message is first and foremost “love your neighbors.” He did not say love neighbors who qualify in certain ways. He did not say love only those of a certain race or religion or sexual orientation and gender. He did not speak of borders. Only neighbors.
This commandment to love our neighbors can often place us at crossed-purposes with popular opinion or public policy. In some circumstances we may find ourselves being civilly disobedient in order to draw attention to injustice. In some cases, our actions may make some people very angry. To confront injustice and, dare I say hate, causes trouble. It is not an easy path.
The congregation I serve is learning how to do this. In addition to feeding and housing people, we show up en masse with signs at the student gun rally in downtown Corvallis. We show up on behalf of immigrants. We gather with others who are concerned about Native Americans land rights, climate change, hate crimes and so much more. We sign petitions and write letters and make phone calls and post yard signs- even around the church building. The colorful banner above our front door reads “Challenge Hate — Trust Love.”
Together and as individuals, we are learning to love our neighbors. We have discovered there is no way to do this thoroughly without being political. So, this is our work as individual followers of Jesus. This is our work as a church. And this is work that we gladly do with people of good will from all faith traditions and community organizations — for there is strength and courage in numbers. We will gladly join hands with you.