I almost wrote this post three weeks ago. I am cautious about stepping into the political fray given the diversity of our presbytery, but that day I felt like a line had been crossed. At a Michigan rally President Trump had insinuated that the late Representative John Dingell might be looking up from hell rather than down from heaven as the impeachment hearings unfolded.
I am a pastor who has officiated at hundreds of funerals and memorial services. His comment violated just about everything I know about showing respect for the dead and for those still grieving difficult losses. The comment was not illegal, but the cruelty of it left me stunned and shocked…again.
But I did not write the post. It was the post that would have been published on Christmas Eve and I wanted to honor the sacredness of that night and, for at least 24 hours, put aside the reality show that is masquerading as national politics.
Now, however, it is time to write this post. The assassination of an Iranian military leader and government official on foreign soil and the follow up threats by our president call for a response from those of us who have a religious voice. Many say that the church should stay out of politics, but we do have a responsibility to call our elected officials to ethical and moral leadership, whether or not we agree or disagree with their policies.
In that regard, I believe that we have reached a prophetic fork in the road. There is no room left for neutrality or trying stay in the middle. There are no risk-free choices any longer. Anything we do will have risks. Anything we choose not to do will have risks. Anything we say will have consequences and anything we choose not to say will also have consequences.
I write this because in recent years I have heard a number of church leaders tell me something to the effect, “We can’t afford to be prophetic in our church. If we lose even one or two more key members we will likely never recover.” I understand the position. Many of our churches are in a fragile position concerned about their ability to maintain a building and support personnel. “Preach what you want, just don’t offend anyone,” can, unfortunately, become the unspoken assumption.
But I believe that we have reached a point where our silence is more likely to be the death of us than speaking up and taking a stand. We do need to remember that we follow a Jesus who spoke truth to power, who became a threat to the political and religious establishment, and who risked his personal safety for the cause of life, redemption and justice.
We need to remember that at the very center of our worship is the proclamation of the gospel. If we can’t call our own leaders to a higher standard of ethical conduct we diminish the power of the pulpit. And if we diminish the power of the pulpit the Church might as well write her own obituary.
This past weekend, President Trump threatened Iran with the destruction of 52 sites including key cultural sites. He has since backed off that—quite honestly because people like us reacted in horror at the prospect. But his natural inclination was a Taliban-like reaction that not only flexes one’s political muscles but attempts to destroy the spirit of a people. Such acts are not attempts to wrest military power, but to destroy cultures. We did it to our Native American brothers and sisters and now our president doesn’t have the moral restraint to keep from threatening the same.
Why are we at a prophetic fork in the road? Because we have reached the point where our silence about immoral, dehumanizing decisions is as destructive as direct support for those decisions. At one point we might have been able to rationalize that silence was neutrality. No longer. Silence is now complicity.
I believe we are at dangerous point. As citizens we have the power to vote. We have the power to write our senators and representatives.
But in the church we have the power of the pulpit.
We have a gospel of life.
We have a Jesus whose life shines like a light in the darkness.
John reminds us:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. All things came into being through him and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.”
Let us be the light. Don’t let the darkness win.
By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades