Saturday, September 10, 2016

Memo to my evangelical critic

I value irony.  Imagine how much I appreciated the irony in a column by Pastor Emery Hurd. (“How to be pastoral when talking politics” September 7, 2016)

Pastor Hurd attacked my ministry in a guest column even as he assured “the citizens of Cheyenne that most pastors in this community” do not attack other faith leaders.

Without any sense of the irony, he suggested I’m an outlier among clergy, conducting ministry in a questionable manner, even as he asserted it was wrong for me, as a pastor, to tell folks “how they should feel about another pastor.”

Pastor Hurd contrasted Rev. Franklin Graham’s Cheyenne speech with my recent column urging Wyoming’s elected officials to withdraw support for Donald Trump. The column asked them to consider Mr. Trump’s racist, Islamaphobic, and misogynist views, beliefs I thought would earn the wrath of all Christian clergy. Apparently not.

Pastor Hurd objects that I stated those views publicly, asserting other faith leaders “refrain in all but the most private situations from sharing our personal partisan positions.” Did I miss Pastor Hurd’s column objecting to the Evangelical ministers endorsing Donald Trump?

I’m sorry if Pastor Hurd thought my column was unfair to Franklin Graham whose hate-filled comments on gays and lesbians, attacks on Muslims, and the evangelist’s claim that “progressive is code for atheist” were also unfair. Those comments escaped Pastor Hurd’s judgment.

I should’ve followed Jesus’s lead and referred to Rev. Graham and his apologists as Jesus referred to the fundamentalists of his day. “You brood of vipers,” Jesus cried out at them, “how can you speak good things, when you are evil? (Matthew 12:34).

I’m content to allow other pastors to conduct their ministry as they feel God has called them to do. My ministry is influenced by not only the Gospel but also important theological writings like Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Letter From A Birmingham Jail.” Dr. King was writing to pastors who also believed clergy should not talk about politics “but in the most private situations.”

Dr. King didn’t just write newspaper columns. He led a movement. In Birmingham that got him tossed in jail. While there, a group of white pastors bought a newspaper ad complaining Dr. King wasn’t conducting himself properly as a minister.

In language sounding relevant to my reaction to Pastor Hurd, Rev. King told conservative colleagues, “I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”

Just as Martin Luther King objected to his brethren sitting on the sidelines during important social justice fights, so do I wonder why so many fellow clergymen and women are AWOL today. Pastor Hurd and others sit silent while the state refuses to provide medical care to thousands through Medicaid expansion. Their voices are mute as the legislature eliminated several programs critical to the disabled, the elderly, and the poor. Never was heard a discouraging word from them as Wyoming continued to distinguish itself as the only state in the Union refusing to enter into a refugee resettlement agreement.

Pastor, some are condemned for raising our voices while others are condemned by their silence. I’ll choose the former.

What Martin Luther King wrote to those reluctant, conservative ministers is true today as in 1963. “The judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.”

I realize that some contemporary faith leaders are uncomfortable with those speaking publicly about social justice issues but that was exactly what was role-modeled for first century Jesus-followers.

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