Monday, September 24, 2012

The Social Implications of Our Discipleship


Dr. Colin Harris, who is a professor of religion at Mercer University, has written a very perceptive article that appeared at EthicsDaily.com titled, When Good People Happen to Bad Things (a twist on Rabbi Kushner’s book, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People”). I encourage you to read the article, but here are a few excerpts:

“Humility, of course, counsels us all not to claim absolute truth or goodness for any of our partial understandings, but it is disconcerting when people who epitomize compassion and generosity on so many levels align themselves with positions and policies that seem to contradict their basic commitments.”

“When good people allow themselves to be drawn into narratives that feature and depend on ‘bad things’ (prejudice, fear, greed, Islamophobia, homophobia and the many other forms of ‘other-phobia’), those ‘bad things’ gain a credibility they would not otherwise have that increases their toxicity in a society.”

“The silence and tacit acceptance by good people of bad things in their subtle disguises provides more fuel for their destructive work than do their outright advocates.”

Dr. Harris reminds us that when we go along with systems, organizations, policies, etc. that run counter to the kingdom of God, we are complicit in the injustice of those systems and policies.

Consider immigration reform. As disciples of Jesus, our first response should be to consider what sort of policy is most in harmony with the inclusive, grace-filled vision of God’s kingdom as embodied and taught by Jesus. If we simply go along with whatever position our political party embraces, without critique and question, we are participants in the injustice such policy perpetrates.

Our discipleship to Jesus should make us advocates of social justice issues, policies, principles, etc. that favor the common good without regard to political party. As a disciple of Jesus, I can without hesitation (based on Christ’s vision and teaching) declare that the drone strikes in Pakistan endorsed by our present Administration are morally wrong. In like manner, I can also without hesitation (as a disciple of Jesus) declare the economic plan and federal budget championed by the opposing political party to be morally wrong.

Our commitment to a larger vision and story, God’s kingdom on earth, must take precedence over all other group loyalties and commitments. If not, then we are only nominal Christians who do not take seriously the privilege and responsibility of discipleship.

I must remind myself of this frequently, for I find it no easy task (as a disciple of Jesus and especially as a pastor) living with the tension of being both priest and prophet (engaging in both priestly and prophetic work). In Israel, there was always some uneasiness between priests and prophets. Priests functioned within the established forms of religion, while the prophets ministered out on the edges and in the margins.

Churches need to maintain this balance. Too often faith communities get bogged down in priestly concerns almost to the exclusion of social/prophetic concerns. Think of how much energy has gone into forms and methods of church worship without any discussion at all taking place about just and compassionate immigration policy, health care for the poor, strategies for peacemaking, etc.

As disciples of Jesus, all our personal interests and group identities/loyalties pervaded by conventional wisdom must come under the scrutiny and discernment of our allegiance to the counter-cultural wisdom and vision embodied by Jesus.

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