The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) met last week in Detroit. Throughout the week, the voting body of the Assembly prayerfully considered and voted upon many matters that most people don’t want to talk about in polite company. They made decisions about money, same-sex marriage, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, drones, and gun violence.
Some might ask why these issues matter to the Church at all. Why should Presbyterians care about “political” matters?
I think there’s a great divorce in the how we think about faith. That divorce is based on a misunderstanding that has long been in place in Christian culture. Why does the Church care at all about politics? Shouldn’t we just stay out? Why is the Church saying anything at all about Israel-Palestine? Isn’t that a political problem?
We’ve separated these socioeconomic and political issues from our faith somehow. When we speak about politics in this country, our minds tend to go directly to what Democrats and Republicans do in DC.
But here’s the thing. Politics is never divorced from faith. At its center, politics is really about how we treat our neighbors. So is our faith.
The Assembly made 2 major decisions last week. They voted with a 71% majority to allow pastors to use their own conscious to decide whether or not to conduct same-sex marriages in states where it is legal. They also decided by a slim majority to divest PC(USA) stock from 3 American companies that the body thought contribute to Israeli oppression of Palestinians.
Both of these are major decisions, and both have much to do with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As Christ taught us, we should bless the work of peace, condemn those who make war, take active steps to work for justice for all of our neighbors, and toss aside our swords. Jesus also commanded us to love and speak up for those who have been marginalized by our culture. Jesus worked to widen the circle of God’s love. Jesus sought out the forgotten and the left behind in his own society—he invited them to his table and fed them. When he did so, he was accused of dining with sinners. Jesus practiced a sort of love that was wildly and radically accepting of all.
Following this Jesus is dangerous work. It often means taking bold and prophetic steps outward—to enfold and include those who our culture systematically excludes. Some people call this “politics” and maybe it is. But the bible calls it justice. And doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God as the prophet Micah declared (6:8) is a matter of faith, and it will not always gain us friends. Speaking up for those who our culture has left behind is brave and sometimes lonely work. But we who follow Jesus should see it as our work.
There are a lot of people who are hurt by the decisions made by the General Assembly. My hope is that Presbyterians from all across the country as well as those who worship together every Sunday in the same sanctuary can find a way to appreciate our diversity of opinions, celebrate that diversity with one another, and remember that God has stitched us together into the one body of Christ.
We share a profound faith in a profound God who sent us Jesus—the One who loved radically and spoke truth to the ways of injustice—even when doing so was costly. It is my prayer that decisions about marriage or money never get in the way of our shared commitment to one another in Jesus Christ or of our shared mission to tell the world of his radically inclusive love.