Bishop Will Willimon of the United Methodist Church recently participated in a political demonstration in his home state of North Carolina. He even managed to drag several of his conservative parishioners along too.
They were standing up to the Governor’s recent decisions regarding voting rights, cuts to social programs, and the repeal of the Racial Justice Act.
Maybe the good bishop and his flock imagined they had struck a blow for truth and justice, and made a difference in the lives of those affected by the policy changes.
Well, that was until Governor Pat McCrory dismissed the protests as “just a bunch of aging hippies from the sixties.”
McCrory was completely unmoved. And unbowed.
That was when one of Willimon’s parishioners said this,
“Preacher, we don’t need better politicians; we need a better class of voters. Maybe you should stay home and work on your Sunday sermon rather than protesting in Raleigh.”
Think about that. We don’t need a better grade of politician. We need a better class of voter. And according to Willimon’s friend, in order to enhance the class of voters, preachers need to work as hard on their sermons as they do on their public demonstrations. We need voters who’ve been shaped by God’s word and who cast their ballots to reflect the biblical values of justice, reconciliation, wholeness and peace.
Industrialists and career politicians don’t like the kind of Christianity that has a commitment to social justice at its heart. If they like Christianity at all they prefer the kind that focuses on personal piety and individual conviction. Individualized faith doesn’t threaten the state. Personal piety doesn’t shake the status quo. When preachers like Will Willimon prepare the kind of sermons that shape disciples to fight for justice, to aid the downtrodden, and to bring peace and reconciliation to their cities, powerful people feel threatened.
I’m pretty sure very little will be achieved by this current raft of marches, rallies and demonstrations (even though I’ve participated in them). They hardly ever do. Life goes on after all the bluster and speech-giving is done, and the legislation we disagree with will still stand 5bcfiee.
But if preachers devoted themselves to the long, slow work of teaching congregations to embrace the full counsel of scripture, and to embody all the values of the kingdom of God, change could be possible. Because a better class of voter would be emerging in the hundreds of thousands of churches across the country.
Will Willimon recently wrote this:
“I have met the political enemy, and he is me and my fellow Christians, who find it so hard to embody our convictions, and who, even in our protests, unintentionally give credence to political scoundrels. If we are going to worship a Savior who is determined to tabernacle among us, to show up and thereby disrupt our settled arrangements with Caesar, then we can’t avoid the mundane, corporeal work of having meetings, forming a congregation that becomes in its life together and its way in the world a visible, breathing, undeniable bodily presence of Christ.”
If the church could do that you’d have an entirely different kind of voting going on. And eventually you’d get a different kind of politician. We need to become the kind of disciples who vote according to all biblical values, not just those expressed as personal piety. We do need to pray more, study more, and repent more. But we also need a fresh vision of God’s intended plan for human society. We also need to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, and work to change societal conditions so there are less hungry, less naked, less imprisoned citizens.
Maybe it’s a distinctly radical political act to enter the pulpit and reveal God’s will to God’s people, and to pray that God’s reign will come on earth as it is in heaven, in society as it is in our hearts.