A Political Church?
While walking the line, talking with workers and organizers, and networking with the community, people were surprised and excited to see faith represented at the demonstration. Some people that knew me as an activist-member of SEIU Local 925 gave me raised eyebrows when they noted that I had traded in my "purple for a collar." (Purple is the signature color of SEIU, and I've taken to wearing a clerical collar to demonstrations, pickets and rallies.)
Of course, they hadn't heard of the Community of Christ - not even people who I learned lived within blocks of my home congregation in West Seattle. But they were enthused by my description of us as a "peace church," and by my seeing part of my job as standing up for workers and people who are disadvantaged and ill-treated by our present system. And it seems the yearning for reaching out to the faith community is great. Everyone I spoke to was encouraged to see a connection being made beyind just the labor movement, to see someone making equitable work/compensation standards a faith issue. I think my involvement with JwJ may be groundbreaking in the Puget Sound - opening the way for those of us to put our bodies where our words are, who confess with the prophets of old that social justice is the true worship of God. And I can see people interested in a church that would put one of its own so publicly on the side of the dispossesed.
The Community of Christ doesn't have a name for itself in many of our communities. Since (thankfully) abandoning our old name, we've been given a new opportunity to remake ourselves in whatever image we choose. Sadly, it seems we have not taken advantage of that opportunity, and so wandered anonymously in our neighborhoods and communities, literally almost invisible (I've spoken with several people already who have literally walked in front of my home congregation's building and who live in that neighborhood who didn't know it was there, or that it was any kind of church at all.) Getting ourselves into the streets, involved in actions and organizations that are actually out there doing something about injustices, can be a transforming undertaking, not just for ourselves personally, but for our church, our faith community (D&C 151:9).
The Community of Christ needs to be given a face in many of our neighborhoods. What face will we give it? By not doing anything, the face is blank, expressionless, passionless, and fatally uninviting. By choosing a ministry - or several ministries - to be actively engaged in, we can make a name for our community. And a good name is to be chosen above even great riches (Prov. 22:1).
Our church has for over 100 years avoided taking any overtly political stance, for fear of alienating membership or becoming the target of outside criticism. And yet, our traditon from its very beginnings has been overtly political: we've been about the transformation of the world we live in - the just and equitible distribution of resources, the elimination of class distinction, a fervent confidence in peace and the ability of people to live harmoniously with each other in goodwill, and the profoundly personally transforming nature of the gospel in us as individuals and a polis or community.
Our community stands at the precipice of a tremendous time, when citizens of the world (and Americans in particular) are yearning for a community that translates high faith claims into concrete actions. If we can become that church, if people hear our name and think of social justice activism driven by confidence and personal transformation through the gospel, if people hear our name and think of a community that puts the "go" back into gospel, then I think we'd find ourselves with renewed vigor, dedication, resolve, confidence, and perhaps... maybe, a few more people willing to join us in becoming transformed so that we might transform the world.
Instead of running away from political engagement, let's reclaim that territory for our God.