In a speaking engagement I raised two fairly recent public statements as a case study in contrasts. One was the statement issued by Liverpool pastors speaking out against homophobia in their community in the wake of the beating death of a gay teen and near-fatal assault on another gay man. The other was the Manhattan Declaration – a call to defend the truths of sanctity of life, marriage and religious liberty. The contrast, as I saw it, was the difference in use of power.
It seemed to me that the Liverpool statement used the power of the signers to promote shalom for those in their community – including those who held divergent views. It was a statement that could create some problems for them, where the pastors could potentially lose power in their constituency.
The Manhattan Declaration, on the other hand, seemed to be using power to beget power. It seemed to me an example of a desperate church trying to reestablish the realm of Christendom in an increasingly post-Christendom context. (My personal view is that I don’t think the Kingdom really comes through the establishment of Christian Empire) Regardless of one’s convictions about the positions presented in the Declaration concerning abortion, homosexuality and religious freedom, I think every follower of Jesus needs to consider how God exerts his power.
Consider this Advent reading from Henri Nouwen:
God ‘Unmasks the Illusion of Power’ Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart. Matthew 11:29
God chose powerlessness. God chose to enter into human history in complete weakness. That divine choice forms the center of Christian faith. In Jesus of Nazareth, the powerless God appeared among us to unmask the illusion of power, to disarm the prince of darkness who rules the world, and to bring the divided human race to a new unity. Through total and unmitigated powerlessness, God shows us divine mercy. The radical, divine choice is the choice to reveal glory, beauty, truth, peace, joy, and most of all, love in and through the complete divestment of power. It is very hard – if not impossible – for us to grasp this divine mystery. Jesus, in all we do and say this Advent, may we follow your example of gentleness and humility.
Well as you might imagine, I got some flack for raising this case study in contrasts. It was interesting to me that my support of the Liverpool statement was considered to be an “endorsement of gay people” (which was viewed as negative). And that my critique of the Manhattan Declaration was perceived as divisive, dishonouring, tearing down the Body of Christ, and assisting in the promotion of the ‘gay agenda’ (whatever that even is exactly….)
Now I happen to really value unity in diversity. So, in raising my critiques my goal was not for everyone to agree with me or necessarily adopt my views. Rather, my goal was to get people thinking.
I fear we are too apathetic to really think. And even more, that we are too afraid to think.
I first spoke up for justice for glbtqi people in Uganda last March. At the time I could never have imagined the draconian legislation advocating extremely harsh penalties for gay people currently before that nation’s government. As I consider the jaw-dropping developments in the Ugandan context over the last 9 months, I see a lot of scrambling (I won’t speak up …. Oh, now there’s a lot of pressure …. OK I will speak up …..). If you are unfamiliar with all the developments, check out this link for a comprehensive time line and description of events. And if you’ve been silent up till now: go think, pray and act. A first, easy step is to join the facebook group “Speaking Out Against Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009”
Friends, these are real people with real lives that are at stake. What risks are you willing to take on their behalf? After my radio interview this week, a man emailed to say that he’s just had to resign from the position of elder in his church because he spoke out and advocated loving engagement with gay people. Would you risk your position in your church to stand up for justice and shalom?
I suppose one good thing about not really having much power is that you don’t fear losing it. Janis Joplin sang, “Another word for freedom is having nothing to lose.”
When it comes to engagement, not on gay issues, but engagement with people for whom gay issues are real, personal and intimate – I want to be truly free.
I want to be free to think – and to rethink. Free to stand up and speak up. Free to follow Jesus’ example: which essentially means free to lose everything, suffer much, have people misunderstand, misinterpret, desert and betray you (apparently, especially folks in your own religion) ….
Am I willing to experience all of that to speak up for justice and shalom? Am I willing to experience all of that to challenge power politics and the church behaving like the empire?
Damn right I am.
Because the good news of the gospel begins with justice and shalom and it comes in the way of a subversive Kingdom not a power-majority empire.
It comes in the way of love.
(Personal note: For those who may be wondering, I was grateful for my sabbatical from July – September. I did begin my book – but, no, it is not finished. The last couple months being back have been jammed packed with speaking engagements. But, I am really looking forward to getting back into the swing of blogging – and hope to reconnect with y’all in the comment section.)