We had a great time this past Monday at the Wheaton College Stupe as eight of us discussed the relation of faith and politics especially as related to issues of social justice and ministry to the poor. We were especially blessed by the presence of Jane Fitzjerrell of Mission:USA, an urban ministry to gang members and inmates, providing a bridge for them to escape a life of crime. Her experience working with these issues in downtown Chicago brought a first hand perspective to much of our discussion.
We began by asking the question whether the emerging church (or perhaps the church as a whole) ought to concern itself directly with political issues. We all seemed to agree that the church has a responsibility to serve the needs of the poor and disadvantaged in the world around us, though opinion was diverse on whether this is best done through small, grassroots efforts or through working for change on the macro level (i.e. through politics). We all agreed that as Christians it's not enough simply to hold the poor at arms length and expect government or parachurch programs to help them. We must be involved in the intimate work of being among them, loving them and learning from them as well. However, some in the group felt that any kind of political involvement on the part of churches was an ineffective distraction from this kind of work. There was a sense that churches that focus too much on political issues can become too polarized and compromised by this agenda. Andy from Sojourn made the excellent point that pastors, especially when speaking with authority from the pulpit, should not abuse their position by telling the congregation what to think about particular political issues (for example the War in Iraq). Rather we should help people learn to think on a deeper, theological level about such issues so that they can reach their own conclusions.
On the other hand, several in the group made the point that fixing some problems require deeper structural, systemic change than can be achieved simply through church ministries or small communities. As Martin Luther King Jr said, "We are called to play the Good Samaritan on life's roadside... but one day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be contstantly beaten and robbed. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that a system that produces beggars needs to be repaved." And several of us pointed out that this kind of work will usually involve working with political powers and trying to influence the structures of society.
As with any good discussion, we didn't resolve all the tensions or differences of perspective, though we did all agree that whatever else we do, we must be doing something to work for justice and compassion in this world, and not just talking about it at groups like up/rooted. If you would like to get connected to one such ministry I highly recommend contacting Jane Fitzjerrell at Mission:USA.
Also, don't forget that up/rooted will also be meeting this coming Sunday at North Park University from 5-7pm to hear from Dave Tomlinson. Check out the up/rooted website for more details.
Our next up/rooted.west gathering will most likely be Monday, March 20 at the usual time. The topic and location is still to be determined (we've have an option to meet at the Caribou Coffee in Glen Ellyn instead of Wheaton College) so if you have thoughts on either of those questions please let me know.