CHURCH LEADERSHIP AT THE INTERFACE OF CHURCH AND STATE by WTS Prof. Norma Cook Everist

Excerpts from comments given February 2, 2017 at a meeting of the Wartburg Theological Seminary community.

We are called to be leaders of the church in the world at such a time as this.

To speak or not to speak? Not to speak also speaks loudly.

To march, to network, to organize?  In the name of the congregation or agency I serve? In my own name? To not act is also an action.

The ELCA’s approach to church and state is institutional separation and functional interaction.   This is important in a pluralistic society.

Note the First Amendment of U.S. Constitution, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” We are free to interact politically.  It is part of our religious calling.

So many issues. The tweet versions, the executive orders, the consequences, and the broader, global implications.

“Alternative facts” of inauguration attendance, sets the stage for justification of even more voter restrictions.

Walls, borders “make a nation.” America always and only first.  The Idolatry of nationhood.

Cabinet nominations. Listen and question, “Does the right of ‘my family’ over-ride concern for my neighbor’s child and public schools?

Climate change. Do we lead the world to save the planet or again deny?

Immigration.  Refugees. What is our theology of sanctuary? Even the “We all came from somewhere else” misses the facts and faces of first peoples.

Affordable health care. Changes that have real life and death consequences here and globally.

People say, “You can’t mix religion and politics.”  We cannot separate them.

My political commitments were formed in confirmation class and in public high school; later shaped through engagement on the streets of inner cities.

So, what do we, as resurrection people inspired by the Spirit, do?

  1. Five million of us gathered for the Women’s March. No guns fired. No one arrested. No one hurt. We moved from despair into action.
  2. Create communities of trust, conversation circles, like this one tonight. Learn to listen to each other so we have the courage to act.
  3. What if we work on different issues? Fine. There are more than enough right now. What if we walk in different directions? We may. But when we return to the Eucharist, we are one.
  4. What if we don’t know enough.  No excuse!  Find out what’s really going on.
  5. What if I get into trouble? You will. I have. When you do, make sure it’s for the sake of the Gospel.
  6. Have a Persistent voice. Those we think are not concerned may find their voices too.
  7. Be wise, centered, in the Word and prayer. Seek strength, support; strategize. God is at work through you.

I was theologically formed by being a community organizer so I quote from a speech by another former community organizer given in Chicago earlier in January. He said, “It was in neighborhoods not far from here where I began working with church groups. There I witnessed the power of faith, and the quiet dignity of working people in the face of struggle and loss.  This is where I learned that change happens only when ordinary people get involved, get engaged.”

He concluded, “Our democracy needs you.  If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the Internet, try to talk with one in real life.  If something needs fixing, lace up your shoes and do some organizing.  Grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself.  Show up.  Dive in.  Persevere.”

 

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