so Funny 'Bout Peace,
Love and Understanding?
6 “With what shall I
come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
8 He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
34 But when the Pharisees
heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35
And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher,
which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You
shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul
and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment.
39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
I know many people may find this
hard to believe, but I seem to have the ability to really tick people
off with some of the things that I say. I have the uncanny ability to
step on toes during sermons or during panel discussions, or even just
In seminary, I just knew that one night I would be jumped in the parking
lot by a band of angry divinity students after I had the temerity to ask
them this question during one of my classes. You see, my degree was in
theology, not divinity so technically at that time I was on track to be
an academician - not a preacher. They were on track to become Methodist
So, I asked them: "When you get out of seminary and you're pastoring
a church, will you preach about the things you've learned here? Will you
preach about justice, about social change, about how the church can be
involved in the world? Will you make your congregation members think and
act? Or, will you give them candy coated sermons meant to keep butts in
seats and you in a career?"
There was an audible gasp in the room. Obviously, I had touched a nerve,
but I believe it's a fair question. Too many preachers are giving their
congregations pabulum - bland sermons filled with nothing more than congratulatory
nuggets meant to make their members feel good about themselves and the
religious choices they've made. It's like walking into a religious bookstore
and finding only books that affirm that you've made the right choice being
a Baptist or a Methodist or a Presbyterian or what have you. There's nothing
there to challenge you - to make you think, to make you want to walk out
the door and turn your faith into action in the world.
I swore that if I ever got a chance to be a preacher, I would not be
that kind of preacher. I would be the kind of preacher who challenges
listeners to grow in their faith, to explore the depths of their beliefs,
and most importantly, to ask questions of their spiritual leaders. Now
that I'm here - I'm finding the task a little daunting. I want to challenge
you, but I don't want my sermons to become screeds - unbearable to hear
because all I do is talk about what's wrong and never about how to fix
it. I always want to be fair and balanced (a phrase that needs redeeming
if there ever was one!). I'm still searching to find the right way to
talk about two things we're warned never to talk about together - religion
and politics. My job description here spells out my ministry focus as
social justice because that is my passion.
But, I often feel like Henry David Thoreau who was once warned that
he should not speak of religion and politics in his lectures. Thoreau
replied sadly, "I can't speak of anything else." And this is my dilemma
as well. If I cannot speak of politics and religion in the same breath,
then I cannot speak - I have nothing else to say.
Do not get me wrong. When I talk about politics, I'm not talking about
partisan politics. I don't think it's any big secret that I'm no fan of
the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. I disagree with his
policies. I believe they leave behind the poor and disenfranchised in
favor of lining the pockets of his rich friends.
I believe we are in an illegal war that did not have to be fought and
that diplomacy and non-violent strategies would have brought down the
dictator with no bloodshed. I believe our country has squandered the good
will of the world that we had after the attacks of September 11 because
we have arrogantly gone it alone. I think we have worsened the terror
threat in our world because of our actions. But, I would say the same
thing if the resident of the White House was a Democrat and these were
also his policies.
It was German theologian Karl Barth who advised preachers to have the
Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. Barth wrote during the
rise and reign of Hitler when many German churches stood with the Nazis
and turned a blind eye to the Holocaust. Barth and others were highly
critical of the German church and I think they would be highly critical
of many churches today who believe the church's politics should favor
one party over the other.
But, the role of the church, and therefore its leaders, is not partisan
politics. The role of the church is to be prophetic - to speak truth to
power, to hold the government's feet to the fire when they are neglecting
any segment of society. What does God expect of us? The prophet Micah
makes it plain - to love mercy, to do justice and walk humbly with God.
We, as the church, are called to speak out against oppression wherever
we see it - whether a Democrat or a Republican perpetuates it. The church
is not called to be among the power brokers. The church should never seek
the seat of power, but should always be outside the centers of power,
providing a prophetic voice, calling the powerful to do justice, love
mercy and walk humbly with God.
This is our task as the church. This is our task as people of faith
- to realize that our faith is always political and to not be afraid of
mixing the two. Let us then meld our faith and our politics into what
editor Jim Wallis calls in his new book God's Politics.
"God's politics is never partisan or ideological. But it challenges
everything about our politics. God's politics reminds us of the people
our politics always neglects - the poor, the vulnerable, the left behind.
God's politics challenges narrow national, ethnic, economic, or cultural
self-interest, reminding us of a much wider world and the creative human
diversity of all those made in the image of the creator. God's politics
reminds us of the creation itself, a rich environment in which we are
to be good stewards, not mere users, consumers, and exploiters. And
God's politics pleads with us to resolve the inevitable conflicts among
us, as much as is possible, without the terrible cost and consequences
of war. God's politics always reminds us of the ancient prophetic prescription
to 'choose life, so that you and your children may live,' and challenges
all the selective moralities that would choose one set of lives and
issues over another."
Certainly no one understood this more than Jesus. In Matthew, he spells
out quite clearly what those who heard him understood as an incredibly
powerful and radical political message. A Pharisee tried to trap Jesus
by asking him what the greatest commandment was. Now, remember, the law
in this time was the politics of the day - religion and politics could
not be separated, they were one in the same, so Jesus' answer would have
great political implications.
Jesus tells the Pharisee that all the laws and prophets hang on two
commandments, love God with all your heart, soul and strength and love
your neighbor as yourself. We've heard this passage so often that we are
numb to its radical message. In our world of continuing war, poverty and
greed, we tend to scoff at people who talk endlessly of peace, love and
understanding. We laugh at them because the idea of peace, love and understanding
seems like a pipe dream in our world.
We no longer hear these words of Jesus as a call to transform the world
in a very fundamental way - by embracing the idea that we can bring about
peace, love and understanding by following these words. But, make no mistake,
the Pharisees heard him loud and clear and it was this message that ultimately
got him hung on a cross because he was a threat to their power. The Pharisees
of our day hear him just as clearly, which is why they would like us to
remain numb to this message.
Let's reexamine this passage and try to understand just how radical
this teaching is. Think about what you really want for yourself - a good
job, financial security, a good, loving relationship, full equality. Now,
imagine someone you don't like very much. When you have that person in
mind, imagine wanting for this person all those things that you want for
yourself. Imagine doing all you can to make sure that this person has
a good job, financial security, a good, loving relationship and full equality.
Want that for this person just as much as you want it for yourself. It's
tough, isn't it?
But, if we truly love our neighbor as ourselves we must want for them
everything we want for ourselves with equal passion. Only then do we transform
the world. Think about it, if we embrace, in our hearts and minds that
we must love our neighbor just as we love ourselves, what becomes of greed
when you love your neighbor as yourself? What becomes of superiority when
you love your neighbor as yourself? What becomes of power over when you
love your neighbor as yourself? What becomes of oppression when you love
your neighbor as yourself? What becomes of war if you love your neighbor
The political implications of this message are enormous. If the hearts
and minds of the people are changed and they demand that people love their
neighbor as they love themselves and they begin to design society in that
manner, then naturally their government will change.
Those who are using government to enrich themselves and have power over
people they consider lower then themselves will find themselves out of
luck if suddenly the people who have learned to love their neighbor as
themselves demand the same from their government. Or worse, in the mind
of the Pharisee, what if Jesus' message takes hold in the hearts and minds
of those in power and they begin to change the government from within
- to a power structure based on loving everyone else just as much as you
Do you see how radical this idea is? This is a revolution of ideas and
values - a revolution that causes people to change their government! Those
in Jesus' day and those in our day understand this and they fear it! They
don't want Jesus' ethic to take hold because they can no longer oppress
others, or give in to their own greed because the people will insist that
the government love the neighbor as they love themselves. That means striving
for peace. That means being a peaceful people. That means spreading an
ethic of equality and justice for all people. That has huge political
Imagine what the German church would have done if it truly embraced
the ethic of loving your neighbor as you love yourself. If the German
church had recognized the Jew as neighbor it never would have supported
the Third Reich. But, instead it became a cheerleader for the government
and complicit in the Holocaust because it was blind to this radical teaching.
So we must teach in all places and in all times that we must love each
other as much as we love ourselves because that is truly the only ethic
that can become revolutionary - that can change hearts and minds and can
change world governments.
Those divinity students never did jump me in the parking lot like I
expected after I asked my impertinent question. However, at the risk of
having the congregation jump me in the parking lot later - I'd like to
modify the question just a little bit and ask you all a couple of questions.
Will you insist that your church be a body of faith that speaks prophetic
truth to the world around us? Will you insist that your church be on the
forefront of social justice issues like poverty, war, homelessness, unfair
tax structures and corporate greed as well as gay, lesbian, bisexual and
transgender rights? Will you support your church as it goes forth into
the world speaking in a prophetic voice to the powerful no matter which
party they belong to?
Will you insist that your church prepare you as an individual to speak
prophetically to those in power? Will you insist that your spiritual leaders
give you opportunities to learn about these issues and learn about how
you too can develop your prophetic voice so that you too can speak truth
to power - not in a partisan way but in a way that calls all sides of
the political spectrum into line with God's clear instruction that we
do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God?
I bring you this challenge, my brothers and sisters - that you embrace
the role of the church as prophet, and the role of the church leaders
as well as church members to take on that prophetic role individually
and work for justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God. Dwell on what
it means to really love your neighbor as yourself. During this coming
week, every time you think of something you want - think about wanting
that for someone you don't like very much. Let it sink in just what a
deep, radical, political message Jesus outlines for us. Because until
we embrace Jesus' instructions for how to change our world, then the idea
of peace, love and understanding will remain a quaint, dare I say, queer,
idea that we'll never be able to realize.
Chellew-Hodge is a recovering Southern Baptist and founder/editor
of Whosoever: An Online Magazine for
GLBT Christians. She is an ordained minister and holds a master's
in theological studies from the Candler School of Theology at Emory University
in Atlanta, Ga. She currently serves as assistant pastor at MCC
Columbia. She is also a spiritual director, trained through the Episcopal
Diocese of Atlanta. She has worked for the past two decades in journalism
and public relations. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Copyright © by the author
All Rights Reserved
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