“The strength of a political system depends upon the full and willing participation of its citizens. The church should continually exert a strong ethical influence upon the state, supporting policies and programs deemed to be just and opposing policies and programs that are unjust.” – The United Methodist Social Principles: “Political Responsibility”
Upon reviewing the Social Principles for my United Methodist Doctrine class, I was surprised that the Church challenges us to not only be concerned for, but also involved with the application of public policy and ideological discourse.
This idea is at odds with the way I developed my concept of what role the institution of religion (or the Church) takes. While growing up, I constantly heard the maxim: “Don’t talk about religion, money, or politics; especially at the dinner table.”
It’s fascinating, however, that the United Methodist Church (UMC) encourages us to become invested in local, state, regional, and global politics despite the growing of trend of people leaving Christian denominations by the droves.
More fascinating than this call to action is recent studies show that, while the reasons why younger generations are leaving the greater Church are many, political ideology is not a leading cause of this exodus by far.
By no means do I believe this section of the UMC Social Principles asks the United Methodist to use these social paradigms as tools to oppress, control, or harm non-Christians (other faith traditions are doing a good job of that already).
No, I believe the Church calls us to use our social capital/resources/privilege to give voices to those who do not have them.
An example of this would be providing platforms for discourse and understanding for those have been wrongly targeted, vilified, or oppressed by unlawful legislation that blooms out of the poisonous roots of fabricated dichotomies, racial prejudice, and the overarching culture of fear of the Stranger.
What does this mean in practice? When the Oscars aired in March, rapper Common and singer Andra Day performed a song from the 2017 movie Marshall. During the performance, the two musicians invited activists on the state. Among them was 14 year old Alice Brownotter, one of many Standing Rock reservation leaders. Common and Day used their privilege and social capital to bring Brownotter’s cause to the spotlight.
Do most Christians have access to this amount of clout, money, and resources? No. However, in this age of information, many of us do have access to our social media platforms, organizational websites, and offline social networks (i.e. our friends and family).
The United Methodist Church’s founder, John Wesley, had an understanding of God’s grace, love, and justice that calls us to action- actions in which our daily discourse and discussions must extend into those ‘taboo areas’- from the dining room conversation to the front steps of the capitol.
Protest unethical laws.
Hold your leaders accountable.
Develop healthy theology.
Use your voice and space so that others may have a chance to use their own.
For while God is not partisan, God is political.
No one ideology holds the monopoly on the Christian faith, regardless of what narratives are being constructed. Our obligation as those who are called to “love your neighbor as you love yourself” is to “learn to do good. Seek justice: help the oppressed; defend the orphan; plead the for the widow.”
Not taking those three concepts at face value, I believe inspiring action and strengthening the spirits of those who are at the margins of our society.
Those who have been made to feel less than should be our priority as not only as political leaders and/or Christians, but fellow human beings to protect, provide, and invigorate our neighbors with the Divine’s unconditional and everlasting love and passion.
Furthermore, what about caring for those around you? Who among you is in need of justice?
Who in your life is in need of grace, love, or mercy? Among those who you interact with daily, do any of them feel abandoned? Depressed? Alone?
How would you know if you do not take the courage to ask?
I encourage and challenge you to attune yourself to the pain of the world. To look into the eyes of your loved ones and treasured friends and find vulnerability.
Seek opportunities to use your prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness to help mend this broken world.
We must do better, and demand that those who hold the power in our world to do the same.