Making change


There are many ways in which the world is changing, and it’s interesting to see where the religion fits into the adaptations.

Religious institutions often resist the changes in our culture. But even as some fight strong and hard to oppose, there are others, in the forefront of change, coaxing the culture to extend freedoms to more and more people. In the United States, we have a history, chock-full of spiritual radicals, who worked to make things different.

It was, after all, a pastor who led much of the civil rights movement in the sixties.

Christians have upheld the rights of the working poor.

Women theologians are challenging the ways in which we think about our households, our society, and God.

It was a Presbyterian woman who worked hard for the rights of the elderly.

And there have been pastors at the forefront of the movement for civil rights for LGBT persons and same-gender relationships.

Here are some things that I hope will become different, during the next 30 years, while I’m a pastor. These are the things I pray about and work toward:

I hope that the religious movement for peace will grow stronger. That the church will continue to find ways to protest against our nation’s continual wars, and that we will influence our government find new avenues for diplomacy and nonviolent resistance. That our voice will become more forceful and authoritative as we lift up the horrors of genocide and torture, and speak out against human rights violations. I hope that the dialogue between Christians, Muslims, and Jews will become more fluent, and lead to new paths of understanding in our world.

I hope that we will increase our nation’s support networks for the poor. That everyone in our country could have access to housing, food, and education, and that each person could seek the mental health services that he/she needs. Even in rural areas. I hope we would be a society in which even those who cannot lift themselves up by their bootstraps can still live with dignity.

I hope that we can reverse our course of environmental destruction. We can decrease our petroleum dependence and energy consumption. That our churches will begin to build wiser, more efficient structures (Churches are, after all, the largest landowners in the world. We could make a tremendous impact).

I hope that we can wake up to the economic situation of young adults. That we can begin to see the damage that we cause when we heap debt onto younger generations through high student loans, high rents/mortgages, predatory lending, no health benefits, and low wages.

I hope that we will move toward supporting same-gender relationships. That we would confess our history of deadly discrimination against gays and lesbians, and allow for LGBT ordination and unions.

I hope that there will be room for an entire spectrum of beliefs within our congregations. I’m progressive, but I’ve learned an incredible amount from people who are much more conservative than I am. I don’t want conservative evangelicals to leave the church, but also I don’t want them to force me out, or pressure me to keep silent, or limit my ministry.

I hope that more opportunities will arise for women in the church. That female pastors will keep up with their male colleagues (in positions and pay) after ten years in the ministry. That more women will be called as Heads of Staff. And that our denominations will begin to sort out some affirming, creative solutions for clergy couples.

That’s seven–a holy number–so I think I’ll stop. What’s your top seven? What would you add or amend? What do you hope will change in your lifetime?

4 thoughts on “Making change

  1. I share most of the hopes you have listed here. But I wonder…. Is the Christian faith validated because it has proven useful in the achievement of a number of progressive social goals? Or is the Christian faith validated because it just happens to be true? I know that we don’t have to pick between those two alternatives. And I would actually submit that because the Christian faith is true, it can have a transformative effect on communities and socieities and nations. I’m not arguing against that. I’m just wondering if we in the church sometimes let the wolrd set our agenda, and if that’s always a good thing. Suppose the Green party were successful in achieving all its political objectives (I voted for Nader in 2000!), and there were no more progressive objectives to work toward. Would there be any reason to remain Christian (other than to sustain the spirituality necessary to continue the progressive trajectory)?

  2. It’s good to hear from you, Jonathan. I keep checking your site to see if you’ve posted anything. Are you back in action?

    I agree that the Christian faith is true, and has a transformative effect on communities, societies, and nations. These hopes come out of living the Christian faith, from loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. Our church won a federal court case concerning this one. The neighborhood association fought our homeless kitchen, but we ultimately won because of our first amendment rights–the freedom to exercise our religion. Feeding the homeless is practicing our religion.

    I noticed as I was writing this, that many young conservatives I know are hoping/praying/working toward some of the same goals–especially peace, environment, and poverty. They’re not just progressive movements. What a wonderful thing! A friend of mine who has been working on the hill with domestic issues for the PCUSA for many years said that issues around the environment radically shifted when young evangelicals became involved. Suddenly, legislators were listening.

    Is the world setting the agenda? Hhhmmm…I guess I don’t have an “us against them” notion of things much. There is of course, the Scripture that tell us to be in the world and not of it. But, we’re not living in a time of persecution. We’re not like the first century Christians, worrying about the lions in the coliseum. Most people in the US say that they’re Christians, and I believe them.

    But no. I don’t look at the left-leaning talking points to live my life or form my ministry. I do have to admit, there was a time when I would have. Since I grew up conservative and became progressive, I spent some time wondering, “Is this what a real feminist would say?” Tee hee.

    Of course, there would be reason to remain Christian, even if all the people were fed, even if there was complete equality, peace, and envoironmental sustainability! For me, personally, I pray about every step that I take. I couldn’t live without that.

    It’s just that with some of the abuse that I’ve witnessed within the church, I have questioned the big “C”–Christianity. And for me, the thing that keeps me in the profession and the way in which I see often sense God, is when I can look around and see people striving to love their neighbors.

    Gheez…this is a long response….

  3. I’m back, at least for a little while, and I posted something today about Hiroshima. I’m glad to hear about your successful case against the neighborhood association. Will Willimon wrote about the same thing happening with a Methodist congregation in Alabama here. One alternative way of narrating that story would be to say that you won the case not because of your first Amendment rights, but because of the sovereignty of God’s grace. How you tell the story can make a difference, and I would suggest that this illustrates that we don’t have a cozy relationship with the world, over against the claim that most people are Christians, a claim my theological education taught me to describe as Constantinian. This is the influence of Stanley Hauerwas on me. Interestingly enough, the word which critics of Hauerwas use to describe his anti-Constantinianism is “tribal.”

    Thanks as always for the interesting discussion.

  4. Constantinianism makes a lot more sense. I can understand that we might be in a situation like Kierkegaard’s when he wrote “Attack on Christianity” (although, of course, Christianity’s not our state religion).

    I don’t understand Christians who act like they’re unduly persecuted. They sound paranoid, when, in fact, we live in a culture where political candidates have to pass Christian litmus tests to have a shot at the presidency.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s