The photo that accompanies this blog is an attempt to re-create the scene the night Jesus and his disciples talked in the Upper Room about a new covenant and, ultimately, betrayal just before our Savior was arrested, convicted and crucified.
I think it’s an appropriate image for a blog about issues and theology from a lay person’s perspective because the people surrounding the table that night were not theological leaders, at least not as we view them today. Indeed, only Jesus himself could command the title of “Rabbi.” The others were fishermen, tax collectors and zealots, among other backgrounds. Yet, they helped forge a change in the world by proclaiming Christ as the risen Lord of all!
I believe that is the responsibility of the laity in the 21st century. While we may not be called to ordained ministry, we are most definitely called to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world today. So, in future commentaries, I hope to share a little bit about what the laity are doing in the Great Plains Conference and beyond.
I hope to give a perspective from a lay person’s point of view on issues our denomination is facing. I may even venture into some politics – at least providing analysis from a Christian guy’s perspective – from time to time.
In fact, it’s politics that I want to talk about today. No, I’m not talking about “Super Tuesday” and the primaries going on right now. I’m not going to get into statements made by Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton’s email server.
Instead, I want to share some thoughts I have been pondering since attending the Nebraska Wesleyan University Mattingly/Wilson Lecture presented Feb. 29 at First United Methodist Church in Lincoln. The speaker that night was Dr. Stanley Hauerwas, a longtime professor at Duke University who has written and lectured extensively on Christian pacifism, ethics, Christian living, prayer and, yes, politics.
Hauerwas’ stance on the state of Christianity in modern society is complicated to say the least, but he believes strongly that the church has an important role to play in taking back the concept of faith from being a lifestyle choice within society to be a driving reason behind how people – particularly Christians – can shape society to live out the instructions given to us by Jesus to love God, love our neighbors and make disciples.
He framed his argument that night by explaining that the church has become neutralized because of its ongoing efforts to “fit” into society.
“Such a way of life was exemplified in President Bush, who suggested that the duty of Americans after 9/11 was to go shop,” Hauerwas said.
Because the church has tried to fit into the American political framework, Hauerwas sees the church as being caught in a “ceaseless crisis of legitimization.”
I think what Hauerwas was saying is that the church is trying too hard to fit in with the “in crowd.” Think back to junior high or high school. Did you do some things to fit in with the so-called cool kids, at least minimally? Some people bend a little. Others bend a lot and lose who they really are. I think that’s what Hauerwas laments, that Christianity has molded itself to fit the politics of the world instead of sticking to the truth we can proclaim as followers of Jesus.
Throughout the lecture, Hauerwas drew from other well-known theologians and commentators: Alasdair MacIntyre, Raymond Williams, David Bentley Hart, Karl Barth and Timothy Gorringe, to name a few.
Hauerwas seemed, at least to me, to be particularly interested in Barth’s comments from the 20th century.
“The problem, according to Barth, is that the church of the pious man … became the church of man,” Hauerwas said. “The result was the fusion of Christianity and nationalism.”
And that’s where Hauerwas’ lecture really started to hit home with me. He challenged the crowd by urging us indirectly to analyze when we started to put our country above our Savior in order of importance. Using the example of the word “sacrifice,” Hauerwas pointed out that it now is a term (and justified, in my opinion) used to describe members of the U.S. military. The problem is it is used for describing people who gave their lives for the good of the country more often than it is used to describe the actions of Jesus, who died for everyone for the redemption of the world.
It’s a deep thought, but it is one I think we should consider in this political season. We may love our country. But should love of country come at the expense of love for our Savior? And do we truly but God at the top of our priority list over policies and ideologies that come out of Washington, D.C.? Or Topeka, Kansas? Or Lincoln, Nebraska?
I don’t have an answer for that, at least not yet. But thanks to attending this lecture associated with Nebraska Wesleyan and hosted at Lincoln First UMC, I now have more things to ponder.
Todd Seifert is communications director for the Great Plains Conference of the United Methodist Church. He can be reached via phone at 402-464-5994, ext. 113, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Opinions expressed are the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Great Plains Annual Conference or the United Methodist Church.