That got your attention didn’t it! I’ve heard that statement a few times in my ministry, and yes, even since coming to Indiana. Sometimes people say it because they look to the church as a place of refuge from all the division and fighting in the world. Sometimes they say it because they just want a break from the bombardment of political news that is hard to escape these days. I resonate with both of those feelings. But often it gets said when an idea that is presented (or felt to be presented) is in disagreement with the position a person holds.
I’ve often had people tell me, “Rob you should preach about….” And they go on to share some issue they feel is a clear “Christian position” on a topic of importance to them. But if anything gets presented on other topics that are at odds with their politics, the same folks will say to me, “The church is no place for politics!” Go figure.
Now why am I even raising this today? It comes from our recent Luther/Reformation trip in Germany. I can’t wait to start this series marking the 500th anniversary of The Reformation, started on October 31, 1517. (Of course, we’ll learn in the series that statement is not true. Reformation had been building for centuries!) But one part of our trip that will not be a focus in the series was particularly impactful, a visit to the Nazi Concentration Camp—Buchenwald, outside Weimar, Germany. Many of you have visited similar places on trips to Europe. It is not for the faint of heart. It leaves you in a somber place that takes a few hours to absorb and wonder “How could this have ever happened?” How could people have allowed such acts of inhumanity toward others simply because they didn’t like their religion, sexual identity, or their place in life? (We actually stayed in the hotel that was defacto headquarters of the Nazi regime. Hitler stayed there some 30-40 times. That added to the haunting factor of our visit)
Coming away from our tour I remembered a story from theologian Helmut Thielicke. He told about a soccer match during the Nazi rise in Germany. An old man in the stands stood and shouted, “Jesus Christ is Lord!” Several soldiers gave him a peculiar look and turned back to the game. Then the man shouted, “Down with Hitler and the Nazis!” The soldiers immediately pounced on the man, beat him and dragged him out of the stadium. Thielicke says the church will always be safe when it does nothing more than announce its beliefs. It becomes faithful when it interprets its beliefs.
Many people say the reason places like Buchenwald happened was because of the failure of churches to speak out in time to prevent it. Were pastors silent because they agreed with Hitler? No. Many were simply told “the church is no place for politics.”
Now trust me, I’m not making comparisons to now! If your blood pressure has risen, please reread the last sentence! What I want to encourage is not only a tolerance for addressing current issues, even if political in nature, but a welcome of it. I will do my best to see that whenever we deal with divisive matters at St. Luke’s it is fairly done, and in a way to show respect of varying positions. But what we need is bringing the perspective of faith to the issues of our day. If ever you disagree with something said, I hope your first response would be, “I disagree with that. I like the fact that our church is willing to address matters going on in our world, but here’s my thought…” And then offer another perspective that seeks to draw on scripture and the church’s beliefs and practices. Too often our politics inform our faith. As Christians we are called to live the other way around.
The point really isn’t whether there should be politics in the church. It is that the church must be in the midst of our issues today whether that is national security, healthcare, immigration, or others. I write this today not because anyone is nipping at my heels. I’ve managed to go a few months without drawing the ire of anyone—at least not that I’ve heard about! But I offer this because St. Luke’s is a special church NOT because we avoid difficult matters, but because we are an open community. Our denomination needs the example of churches that can demonstrate openness and tolerance of people who think differently. We can’t seem to accomplish this at the General Church level. But I have never really believed that the hierarchy of the church is the hope of the world. I believe it is the local church living out what it means to be a community of Christ-followers.
Let’s choose now, even before we hear something we might disagree with, to be glad to be in a church that is willing to wrestle with the tough matters of our day, so the errors of history might not be repeated!
See you Sunday,