We all know that American politics is currently in quite a state, but what I didn’t really comprehend was the deep pain of so many church leaders as they deal with the church’s relationship with politics. As we gathered with about 1700 preachers –mainly from around America –in venues thick with the imprint of voices like Martin Luther King Jr –there was no doubting the call to speak for the voiceless as Jesus would do and to challenge the politics that undermine his theology.
Just before the conference, evangelical leaders from around the US had gathered to seek a unified voice –many leaders who were at the conference, others who were in Washington for this event –like Walter Brueggemann, Cynthia Hale, Richard Rohr, William Willimon –and other names newly familiar, like bishop Curry who preached at the recent royal wedding, and old familiar names like Tony Campolo, Ron Sider and Jim Wallis. A large group of key church leaders voicing their rejection of the Christian faith being co-opted by partisan politics and calling churches to pray, study, reflect and act. “The church’s role is to change the world through the life and love of Jesus Christ. The government’s role is to serve the common good by protecting justice and peace. When that role is undermined by political leadership, faith leaders must stand up and speak out,”
The declaration addressed six of the most pressing dangers to the Christian faith: the rise of racism and white nationalism, the mistreatment and abuse of women, the treatment of the poor and vulnerable including immigrants and refugees; the pervasive lying in political and civil life that has become normal, the virtual threats to democracy from growing autocratic behaviour, and the xenophobic heresies of “America first.” It sought to return to our primary identity in Christ: and cast other false racial, ethnic, cultural, and national identities aside, calling Christians to be followers of Jesus before anything else.
And so Richard and I joined the throng to process through the streets of Washington DC in candle light to the White House, where the declaration was read aloud and we all sang This little light of mine, each holding our small candles. It was a powerful moment as we reclaimed the power of confessing our faith –Jesus is Lord, the light in our darkness. This is a city full of people making political stands, probably mostly ignored, but at least for each one of the thousands gathered there- the church was remembering to be the church.