Carlyle Fielding Stewart III

Writings on Democracy, Social Justice, and Religion

“Politics, the Pulpit and the People.” Part III

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-To truly understand the role of the church and its people in politics, we must remember the ministry of the historical Jesus which sets the tone for understanding the practice of religious faith and life in the world.

While at times Jesus withdrew himself from the world for rest and prayer, he did not completely detach himself or his ministry from the world. He compassionately and critically engaged himself and his followers in feeding, saving, serving, liberating and healing shattered lives by transforming the ravages and shortages of man centered worldly kingdoms into Spirit centered, grace abundant, food plentiful, job available, justice driven Godly Kingdoms.

The moral imperatives of Jesus’s ministry called into account those punitive practices of the political and religious establishments which had cooperatively discarded and devalued some people and revered others. The amalgamation of religion and politics standardized institutional practices which hardened into various forms of religious and social alienation.

Jesus ministry was certainly in the world and he completely understood how the world works. That’s why he labored as “shepherd of the shattered” to eliminate daily those social and economic dis-eases which fostered chronic illnesses and sicknesses, and helped create a new sense of continuity for the despised and dislocated within their communities and instilled within them feelings of “somebodiness” (Garth Baker-Fletcher) after “permanent” defeat from personal problems and dehumanization by the larger society.

We are therefore called to do ministry in the world, to real people with real needs serving a real and living God. It is here that ministry and the church and the practice of faith have real meaning, which is “keeping it real” by addressing a Real Politik on behalf of God’s people. This is what Jesus came to do for the people.

Thus the ministry of Jesus must be understood in the larger context of the coming Kingdom of God and its present and future establishment on earth. This Kingdom announces and ushers in a new day and time where all personal and social woes and ills which chronically plague, alienate, oppress and annihilate people in society are finally abolished.

The walls separating people in the world will finally come tumbling down and transformed into bridges of peace, hope and justice, where the lion will live in community with the lamb and all swords will be made into plowshares.

In other words, Jesus did more than pay prophetic lip service to these kingdom demands and expectations. He did not have an armchair ministry. He preached and clinically demonstrated what this coming kingdom would look and feel like when he healed the sick, fed the hungry, visited the prisoners, and challenged existing customs and beliefs around what was clean and unclean,( Marcus J. Borg) who was honored and who was shamed in society (Halvor Moxnes). He gave the afflicted a taste of that kingdom through his healing and when they “tasted,” it took hold of them and they were forever changed to do a greater good in the world.

By calling into question those systems of valuation which love and worship some people and hate and reject other people, upon which the larger political society had organized itself and consolidated its power, and by creating a place at his fellowship table for the despised and demeaned folks of his day, and by offering them forgiveness, repentance and love, hope, true freedom and a full course meal, Jesus created a new sense of self identity for the hopeless and hurting, new safe spaces for their acceptance, solidarity and well-being in a world which demeaned and dislocated them from their true selves and their actualizing potential.

Rattling the basic foundations of this world by his preaching, teaching and healing, Jesus widened and extended the circle of God’s love to those who had been closed off in a society which had shunned them and cast them off and categorically condemned them as not being fully human or completely acceptable or fully worthy of God’s love as persons. Such special and open invitations to his fellowship meals evoked charges of sitting with sinners, were greatly forbidden and upset the status quo.

Why does this man fellowship with sinners? Why does He include in his circle of the “most loved” those least deserving of that love in the eyes of the patrons, prelates and some of the brokers of power in society? Why is he feeding and healing so many people? Why? Because the people are hungry and need bread; they have lost their jobs and have lost their lands; they are wounded and need healing to get well and to know finally God’s real unconditional love for them.

The continuing clash between kingdoms during Jesus times-the kingdom of the world in conjunction with and in distinction to the Kingdom of God- were often at the heart of those tensions between church and state in Jesus time and are at issue today.

The all-encompassing divine purpose of the Kingdom of God’s coming then is personal acceptance by God through love for the ultimate transformation of society through justice. Its fundamental purpose is to override the kingdom of man’s propensities for wars, divisions, hatreds and strife and supplant them with the kingdom of God’s love, peace, compassion, unity, justice, redemption and salvation for all people for all time.

This means that the continuing disparities and inequalities which lead to clashes between kingdoms must one day end, but work must be done here and now in this world, by the church, the synagogue, the temple, the Ashram, the Mosque, the government, indigenous communities, private enterprise and all other institutions and entities for the greater good of society.

For God’s love becomes the great equalizer for those who have not been loved. God’s justice becomes the great equalizer for those who have not seen or received justice. God’s freedom becomes the great mobilizer for those who have not had freedom. God’s mercy, compassion and forgiveness are the great equalizers for those who have not experienced mercy, compassion or forgiveness from society and have not themselves shown compassion, mercy or forgiveness for their adversaries or enemies.

The axis powers and their “regimes of truth” (Foucault) which determine honor and shame, and the ultimate fate of the clean and unclean are now seismically shifted in favor of all people. The cornerstones rejected have now become the chief cornerstones.

Jesus love, compassion, justice and forgiveness ultimately call into account the absence of these qualities in the politics of society, and eventually call for doing away with those current systems of violence, dispassion, degradation, oppression (Cone) disposability ( Giroux) and disregard for people needlessly toiling under the crucibles of unmitigated pain, grief and suffering in the world.

Such needless hardships insult God amid burgeoning prosperity and wealth and the tyrannies of corporate diminution of the individual. Such condemnations take away from the power of society to renew and restore itself by utilizing the least of these, those who have been tossed into the fires of no return and discarded as permanent refuse.

See Elijah’s going to the Widow of Zarapheth as God’s answer to the world’s drought and famine in wake of the King’s inability to end such blight by calling down rain. I Kings 17

The world is often uncaring and unforgiving, non redeeming and non saving those who are not favored or valued. It is God who is ever caring, ever loving and ever concerned for justice. And those who love God should also be concerned with actualizing love and justice everywhere in society.

When Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” Peter said, “Yes, Lord I love you.”
“Then feed my sheep,” was Jesus reply. “My sheep,” are every living soul.

In the words of Reinhold Niebuhr, the world cannot show love in the way that we love each other personally. The closest thing that the world can offer in place of individual love collectively in society is justice. When society acts with justice for everybody, it demonstrates the transactional value of love and concern for all persons in society.

Such justice is not just retributive-punishment, but also restorative, distributive and communal and take other forms which are at the heart of God’s concern for all people and should be at the heart of our ultimate concerns as a society.

Jesus spiritual and political ministry of redemption of the lost, as part of the renewal movement for Israel (Bruggemann), eventually broke down social, political and religious barriers and ultimately became a larger movement for salvation, redemption and freedom for the world known as the “Way” later called Christianity. The continuity and vitality of the respective faith traditions have helped lay the foundations of our present quest for peace, freedom, justice equality and well being for all the peoples of the world.

By sharing taste of the coming Kingdom of God, Jesus saved and set many people free from spiritual, social, familial, economic and political bondage which were the stumbling blocks for progressive change during his time and the roadblocks to progressive change for people in our time.

All people are persons of value in God’s eyes. Don’t throw them away. Don’t give up on them. That’s why the church should be engaged in the world today and we must work to make this world a better, safer, place for all people.

God would be pleased with this achievement and we must continue this work even in the politics of work and the work of politics. And this work can be done without losing our souls. May God be given all Glory!

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