So, I have to be honest, I really can’t take churches that identify as “liberal” or “conservative” anymore.
And I know that’s saying a lot since many consider the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, my church body, to be “liberal, mainline, Protestant.”
If we are that, then we’re in trouble. We will, as a denomination, die if that is the case.
And we will die because a church cannot be rooted in God but worship a principality like a party platform or a political ideology.
We need to be a radical church.
Radical churches don’t flow with any political ideology, and yet they understand themselves to have a voice in the public square.
Radical churches understand that hunger can be temporarily alleviated through food pantries, but that systemic change only happens through hunger awareness, advocacy, and systemic upheaval.
Radical churches understand that talking about violence has less to do with “rights”, and more to do with how the Prince of Peace might call a Christian to respond.
Radical churches take seriously personal responsibility and communal responsibility.
In short, a radical ethic would be: our responsibility is to our neighbor and our neighbor’s responsibility is to us. This cyclical nature of Christian ethics should lead not to a party platform but to a subversive way of living in the world. We do not separate into sheep and goats, but rather once separated, jump over those lines to stand in solidarity with those who have been unjustly labeled.
Labeled either way.
“Wall Street Fat Cats” are just as labeled as “Free-loading Takers.” Yeah, we hate to acknowledge that, but it’s true. Us/them dichotomies don’t seem to be in Jesus’ language.
So why has the church so easily adopted us/them stances?
Because we love being correct. And for us to be correct, someone else has to be mistaken. We easily adopt imperial language and imperial ideologies for this reason, and then we get sucked into name-calling, trench digging, wall building, and campaigning.
And then we count the votes of who is with us and who is against us.
What if a Christian understood their obligation to communal ethics as challenging both the label makers and those who have been given labels? What if being the voice of the poor and the marginalized also included an anti-demonization clause? That is, even those who call names cannot be labeled, lest they then become the marginalized.
Radical Christianity understands that “Those without sin should throw the first stone,” while also reminding everyone to, “go and sin no more…”
What would such a church look like?
I don’t know. I don’t know that I’ve seen one.
But I do know that radical churches don’t rely on lock-stepping with any party or ideology, and they understand that difficult topics will raise eyebrows and don’t get too anxious about it. They may disagree internally about specifics, but can agree that Christian responsibility leads us to discuss these things honestly and seek to take action on them.
And they agree that they can’t just pray over issues.
We should not pray any prayer we’re not willing to be the answer for.
And that’s scary to think about. It’s radical to imagine.
The Christian church needs a break. We need a break from “liberal” or “conservative” labels, and if you’re proud of that label being associated with your church, I would challenge you to rethink that pride.
Perhaps you’re muddying the waters.
And if you’re proud of the fact that your church doesn’t get involved in ethical arguments, I would challenge you there, too. If you haven’t been accused of being political, I have to wonder what you’re thinking when you pray for change. An ideology of non-confrontation is no more helpful than a political monicker being attached to your name. I think you need a break, too.
Perhaps you’re muddying the waters.
I’m a Reluctant Christian at times because we have become too eager to be powerful in the ways the world tells us we need to be powerful. We’ve adopted corporate business models and political platforms in the attempt to be relevant.
And we need to be radical.
We need to reclaim a radical Christianity. And maybe that means that churches don’t get a tax break anymore. After all, if we’re beholden to Caesar, we’re more likely to play by imperial rules.
And maybe that means that pastors don’t get tax breaks anymore. That’s radical.
And perhaps “faith-based initiatives” refuse government money from now on.
That’s radical to think about when so many people are trying to do so much good with that money…
And yet, we’ve muddied the waters.
Maybe we need a break.
It’d be radical…but I’m pretty sure no one ever accused Jesus of being ordinary.