30 September 2021

Politics on Sunday, part two

Abbey Thornton's "Everyday Militarism" poster. Source.

(Politics on Sunday, part one)

Back in May, writing about models and metaphors for church, I proposed "observatory" as one such model. I told how our Quaker meeting in Moscow proposed to "observe" the rapidly-moving developments in Ukraine in early 2014, and to prepare ourselves prayerfully to report what we had observed, in hopes that we could unite on a message to the larger Quaker world.

Unity was not something that would come automatically to us. Our little meeting was divided -- not just between those supporting Ukraine and those supporting the actions Russia was taking, but also divided concerning the controversial role of the USA. (And I, clerk of the meeting at the time, was a U.S. citizen.)

Most of the discussions and disputes concerning developments in Ukraine came after the end of meeting for worship, during our tea and discussion hour. However, "political" content erupted during meeting for worship as well. At one point a Friend asked rhetorically whether anything could possibly be more fascist than the actions of the Ukrainian government.

These were not trivial sentiments. Many Russian families have members born in or currently residing in Ukraine. The historical cross-currents are complex -- after all, the nation of Russia was actually born in what is now Ukraine. Much of contemporary Ukraine is populated by people whose first language is Russian. Cutting across the enduring ties between the two countries are other historical realities -- Stalin's vindictive treatment of Ukraine in 1932-33, for example, and Ukraine's disproportionately high losses in World War II.

Given all these realities, it may sound amazing to report that no rifts developed in the Quaker meeting as a result of our conflicts. The crucial factors, I'm convinced, were love and trust. We loved each other, and trusted that we were bringing our real selves to meeting, we were serving the same God, we all wanted the best for each other. Our conflicts were real, but they neither defined nor divided us.

This is really what I want to say: if there is trust and love, even politics will not divide us.

What I'm not saying:

  • I'm not saying that the power of religious rhetoric should ever be used manipulatively to imply one policy or party has a monopoly on truth, or a lock on Heaven.
  • I'm not saying that righteousness and self-righteousness are the same thing. Outrage and anger can become self-indulgent, even addictively so, even when we seriously believe that one policy or candidate is positively evil and the other one is singularly God-anointed.
  • I'm not saying that the meeting's pastor, or weightiest Friend, gets a license to advocate parties and candidates during meeting for worship. This kind of high-handed behavior has the danger of either crowding out other viewpoints, or else (equally dangerous) converting worship into a political forum where listening to the Holy Spirit is set aside.

What I am saying is that when the community is genuinely trustworthy, we can dare to bring our whole selves into the worshipping community, including our emotional selves and our political selves. We will know that even if we are "inappropriate" in our heat, our timing, even our partisanship, we will be heard in the context of relationship and prayer. The Holy Spirit, and Spirit-centered listeners, can translate even awkward vocal ministry into points for reflection and prayer. (If this would not be expected to happen, the meeting has more problems than simply an overly political participant.)

When a trustworthy community is truly pursuing the central Quaker query, "What does God want to say and do in this time and place through us?", we realize that God may ask for our participation in concrete steps to fulfill Luke 4:18-19. We won't be anxious that every possible response would be polite and moderate, or even on track. When we in Moscow set up our Ukrainian "observatory," we certainly had no guarantee of sweet reasonableness. We knew conflict might ensue. However, we (or most of us) believed that our relationships were strong enough to bear the strain, and, as it turned out, we were right.

What about meetings and churches that don't have much experience dealing with politicized Sunday morning ministry, and are new to these questions? Let's not be afraid to look straight at the issues involved. One book that has been out for a while but which has a lot of excellent content and small-group exercises, is Charles Elliott's Praying the Kingdom: Towards a Political Spirituality. Do you have any recommendations?

I was grateful for the responses I got to last week's post, both on this site and at Facebook, including the Quaker Theology group. In responding to one comment, I mentioned my memories of Beacon Hill Friends Meeting. For convenience, I'll paste in those memories here as well:

Early in our lives as Friends, Judy and I worshipped with Beacon Hill Meeting in Boston, MA. Beacon Hill Friends were located a very short distance from the Massachusetts State House, a Unitarian office complex, and a variety of unorthodox spiritual movements who sometimes apparently thought that our Sunday mornings could be a forum to pitch their ideas. Once a group of restorationist Quakers came as a team and harangued us in turn about our inadequacies. I loved the way that the meeting was able to roll with these incidents without getting defensive -- but also without getting terminally complacent.

One response on Facebook gave me a lot to think about. Here's what Rashid Darden said, in part:

I have found that things that are defined as "too political" very often have a lot to do with who, in the room, has the most privilege and power.

I am Black, and from a Baptist tradition of civil rights engagement. I could deliver vocal ministry in a Black Baptist setting that is Biblically and theologically sound and would not be considered political.

I cannot always do that in Quaker settings, and that's a shame.

How would we handle this advocacy on a Sunday morning? -- As billionaires grow richer, children go to sleep hungry. (Thanks to FCNL for the link.)

Russia's suppression of independent political voices continues apace.

Popular Christian groups on Facebook may have decidedly non-Christian origins and agendas. 

In Emily Provance's "Being the Church" series, she looks at small groups and other connection opportunities for our pandemic and post-pandemic reality.

Robert Mugge's documentary film Deep Blues (1992) is about to be reissued in the form of a high-quality restoration. Here's an article about the project, and the new trailer:

1 comment:

kfsaylor said...

# Johan

Hello Johan,

I appreciate your testimony in the last two submissions concerning your experience of how the Holy Spirit works in your conscience by leading you to minister to others in meeting through the faculty of the reflective nature; manifested in your reflecting upon other people and circumstances through political intellectual constructs. I am drawn into a different way.

Through the power and presence of the spirit of Jesus Christ in my conscience and consciousness I am drawn out of the faculty of the reflective nature to guide and inform relationships and interactions and into the faculty of the direct and immediate awareness of the activity of Christ's presence in my conscience. This different faculty guides and informs relationships and interactions through immediate and immanent awareness of Christ's active presence in and during human relations. In this faculty of continuous awareness of Christ's presence, the experience of a diminishment of Christ's active presence guides me away from a particular behavior or interaction and the experience of an increase in Christ's presence affirm a behavior or interaction.

This establishment in the continous and direct presence of Christ is become and is becoming my sole guide in matters of human relations and draws me outside the reflective nature and the agency of political, religious, educational, and economic institutions and human agents to guide and inform relationships and interactions.