I remember one day in high school chemistry lab. My lab partner and I, along with the paired-off remainder of the class, were conducting an experiment under the tutelage of our teacher. All I remember about the experiment was that it involved sulfuric acid. We all had our beakers over our Bunsen burners when I poured in the next addition to our "brew." Suddenly, it exploded, bits of brown stuff hurtling across the classroom. Wherever these bits landed, they ate holes into the material -- books, clothes, and more. Needless to say, class ended immediately as everyone fled the room. Thankfully, no one was hurt; the outcome could have been much worse. It’s not something anyone would want to cause, not even accidentally. It was certainly a learning opportunity.
As I grew up, I began to hear the old adage most of us have heard. It goes something like this: "Religion and politics don’t mix."
If you were having friends over to dinner, those were the two topics you didn’t want to bring up if you wanted a fun time with friends. For a long time, we have recognized that these are two "visceral subjects;" they are so much a core of our being that, if someone brings them up, it almost threatens the core of who we are. Not only didn’t you bring either of the subjects up, individually, but you really wanted to avoid mixing them; that would produce a deadly cocktail, much like my chemistry experiment.
We carry on this unspoken prohibition even today. The vast majority of American finds politics despicable; only 10 percent approve of Congress, and the President doesn’t fare much better.
Few and fewer of us are going to church; some polls suggest only one in five Americans attends church on a regular basis. It seems like we’re running from both politics and religion like the plague. And there are plenty of preachers who rant about the separation of church and state, at least when it serves their agenda.
We are so wrong!
We have been lulled into a spiritual complacency by rich people and the companies they run, the elite who figure that if they can keep plying us with material gods (oops, that would be goods), we won’t turn back to the fundamentals of our faith. Economic growth, more jobs, more iPhones, that’s what makes us comfortable and secure. If we’re busy playing with our toys, we won’t have time to think about the ugly parts of life. The parts where babies die of preventable disease, people starve unnecessarily, where forced slavery is called a "job" in the developing country.
Things haven’t changed much in thousands of years.
In pre-Christian Israel, the rich got richer and the poor got poorer. Justice was purchased, and the courts were manipulated by the wealthy. The poor suffered unspeakably, and yet no one showed concern for one’s neighbor. Even back then, and later confirmed through the ministry of Jesus, justice was the pillar of faith, not American-type justice, the balancing of the scales, but God’s justice, where the scales were intentionally tipped in favor of the weak, the poor, the marginalized, those with no voice. Israel produced prophet after prophet who called out king and people alike to turn around and return to their faith.
There are prophets in the world today; yet, for the most part, we continue to hear the same pulpit pablum that’s supposed to quell our outrage and focus on the "life to come." But that’s not our call.
We need to become an integrated people, intentionally living out our faith every moment. If we go to church (or synagogue) once a week for an hour, and then return to our "normal" lives, we are the most hypocritical and dis-faithful. We need to listen to the prophetic among us who are willing to mix that deadly cocktail of religion and politics, to risk that explosion of transformation that changes everything and redirects our lives to the most important of all callings. And we need to lift up and offer courage and support to those preachers who will dare to challenge the system, week in and week out, raising their voices together, leading us and showing us the way of justice in the world.
A respected preacher once said that if he preached the true gospel of Jesus Christ, people would flee from the pews.
So, what do we do, preach lies? That’s what the right-wing fringe is doing, preaching hate, exclusion, and feel-good riches (and of course, tithing from your bounty.)
It’s time to reclaim faith, make the hard commitments of our lives, and mix aggressively that cocktail of life, religion and politics.
Rev. John Ransom is a non-denominational minister of peace and justice. He is the author of a prayer book and an upcoming book on global social justice, to be published in the Spring. He lives in Readsboro with his spouse Michael, and may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his website, www.EmergingSpirit.info.