HOUSES OF WORSHIP
One topic for the constant debate that seems to be ongoing in America involves voices that call for “privatizing.” There is talk of privatizing Social Security and privatizing Medicare. Before we ever get to those topics, it seems that a privatizing of religion is happening.
In my tradition, this is not supposed to occur. Faith is not to be co-opted in order to fulfill individual needs. The ethic of Jesus is based upon the call to share in the context of community needs.
I feel like I woke up one day and all of this got turned upside down. Faith is being used to promote that America needs to be “great” again. What kind of great do we desire? The followers of Jesus were confronted about what being great really means. It seems that Jesus offered a kind of “greatness” that is related to service. True greatness is linked to those in our community who do not feel so great: the vulnerable, children, older people, the stranger, the naked, the hungry.
A group of religious leaders recently penned a kind of affirmation, which speaks to all of this. Richard Rhor offers the following;
In light of this, I will be sharing parts of a document I helped compose with a group of twenty-three Christian leaders and elders of various denominations. We presented “Reclaiming Jesus: A Confession of Faith in a Time of Crisis” to the White House on May 24 in a pilgrimage of over 1,000 believers. As a Franciscan Catholic, I proudly wore the habit of St. Francis. For the vulnerable who have been rendered more vulnerable by the current United States’ administration, we lament and pray and promise to stand with you. We acknowledge and affirm:
We are living through perilous and polarizing times as a nation, with a dangerous crisis of moral and political leadership at the highest levels of our government and in our churches. We believe the soul of the nation and the integrity of faith are now at stake.
[As Christians,] it is time to be followers of Jesus before anything else—nationality, political party, race, ethnicity, gender, geography—our identity in Christ precedes every other identity. . . . “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35).
The part that haunts me is the statement, “We believe the soul of the nation and the integrity of faith are now at stake.” The Christian religion is not to be privatized. I have no need to bash President Trump. I am tired of watching news channels that I used to think at least tried to really offer “fair and balanced” reporting now constantly pile on negative stuff about Mr. Trump. PBS is about the only voice that tries to “report” the news rather than editorialize about it.
I am not a reporter or a politician, but I am one who for 47 years tried to offer the gospel of Christ. It is a challenging gospel that both offers grace and judgment. When we push aside the vulnerable in our land because the economy is doing “great,” we forget the words of the Old Testament prophets who condemn those who “sell the poor for a pair of shoes.” (Amos 2: 6)
I used to say to teenagers who longed for more “freedom,” that there was really no such thing as freedom. The true choice is what you shall be “bound to.” To tie yourself to unbridled freedom leads to a kind of bondage. I often used the story of Ulysses from the Odyssey where Ulysses makes the crew of his ship bind him to the mast so that he can hear the tempting sounds of the “Sirens.” The Sirens were women’s voices calling to the passing sailors to come their way only to find their ships destroyed by the waiting rocks.
Ulysses, knowing that the temptation would be too great, decides to be bound. His men are ordered to put wax in their ears, so they will not be “free” to follow tempting voices but Ulysses wants to hear them. Sure enough, he screams for his men to untie him because he wants to go the way of freedom. His bindings keep him really free to sail another day.
One root meaning of the word religion means “to bind back.” We are not free to privatize religion and make both God and faith in our own image. I am not sure what kind of great America desires but I am sure that long ago words of wisdom were shared with those who would listen:
“And what is it if you gain the whole world and lose your soul…”
Dr. Jody Seymour
Jody Seymour retired after serving Davidson United Methodist Church as Senior Pastor for 13 years and being a pastor for forty-six years in the Western North Carolina Conference. He is the author of six books and resides just outside of Davidson with his wife, Betsy.