I liked you when you were preacher at Duke Chapel. But now that you have gotten political, you are an embarrassment. Shame on you for your work against HB2! – A concerned Christian
I’m in the middle of grading papers, and so have little time to respond to individual emails. But here is how I would generally answer such a note:
Dear concerned Christian:
I have never met Gov. Pat McCrory, though I did see him eating a halftime hotdog at the Duke-Carolina basketball game. He looked rational.
Then came the governor’s “bathroom bill.” I’ve been forced back into politics – as a Christian. I’ve attended rallies and signed statements and was interviewed on NPR about this misguided, meanspirited bill.
Of all the things that need doing in our state, why did our governor sign a law that vilifies and makes life more difficult for some of our most vulnerable citizens? Why has the legislature taken time out from protecting ballot boxes from voters and keeping children safe from quality schools to protect people from non-existent threats to restrooms? What’s next?
I’ll admit that Jesus was notoriously disinterested in sexuality, though he was tough on heterosexual adultery. Jesus was adamant that his followers take responsibility for those who were vulnerable. Jesus commanded us to love others, welcome strangers, forgive enemies and pray for those who persecute us. I feel certain that Jesus would not have approved of vilifying someone for misusing a restroom.
I’ll also admit that Jesus took little notice of politics. Judea was occupied by the largest army in the Near East, at least before our occupation of Iraq. But it didn’t take politicians long to recognize Jesus as a threat. In a vain attempt to shut Jesus up, it was a politician who ordered that he be tortured to death.
Since then, Jesus’ followers have caused political trouble in just about every society where they have been located. Politics is about power, and Jesus commanded us not just to think good thoughts but actively to do good deeds. When politics works, it does something radical: assume responsibility for people who are neither in my family nor who look like me, people with whom I have no relationship other than Jesus.
That’s why I joined with the Catholic and Episcopal bishops of Alabama in suing the governor of Alabama for his meanspirited immigration law. We bishops won.
During his campaign for governor, McCrory promised to keep undocumented workers out of our state but never pursued that. We bishops didn’t have to go to court.
In one sense, you have a valid objection that I, as a clergyperson, have “gotten political” in my criticism of our state’s politicians. Christians are “political” in that beliefs, including religious beliefs, have political consequences. We believe that Jesus Christ reigns, not Caesar; that God, not nations, rules the world. God’s peculiar answer to what’s wrong with the world, God’s showcase for creative social alternatives, is the church.
Our sweeping biblically based political claims mean that, when we are confronted with something like HB2, we’ve got to try to speak up like Christians.
Returning from a Moral Monday demonstration in Raleigh, where hundreds of us had gathered to once again protest the actions of our sorry politicians, I was rather pleased with myself for my courageous (though uncostly) political activism. Our protest got them told.
On the radio, McCrory dismissed our demonstration as just a bunch of aging hippies from the ’60s. Ouch! He bragged that polls show close to 70 percent support from North Carolinians for his policies.
“Preacher,” said the layperson whom I had dragged to Moral Monday with me, “sounds like we don’t need better politicians; we need a better class of voters. Maybe you should stay home and work on your Sunday sermon rather than go get arrested in Raleigh.”
I have met the political enemy – me and my fellow Christians who find it so hard to live our convictions. That’s why maybe my most radical, politically significant act is to stand up this Sunday and preach that God’s will be done, God’s reign will come on earth as in heaven, whether we like it or not.
Will Willimon, for 20 years dean of Duke Chapel, served as United Methodist bishop in Alabama and is now professor of the practice of Christian ministry at Duke Divinity School.