In 1917 the then new Mexican Constitution almost outlawed the Roman Catholic Church from public life (no teaching by the Church, church property was now at the disposal of the State, religious orders outlawed, and priests were targeted in many ways eg. it was illegal for priests to wear clerical clothes in public ‘outside’ (they could wear their vestments in church). If such a constitution and associated laws came into force here and now, what should we do? (What should I do?)
What do you think?
Or how about this … how would we – tiny tiny ELCE react – if Her Majesty The Queen, in a moment of historical revision, believing that Henry VIII should have made the Church in his lands Lutheran (there was talk that Henry would do this if Luther supported his request for a divorce) decided to make the ELCE the Established Church (we’d be the EELCE )? How would we react and feel? (How might the present Established Church react if they were told to vacate everything so we could ‘take over’?)
What do you think?
My two hypotheticals are just that – hypothetical. Nevertheless the issue of the Church and Christians living in a society that is antagonistic or accommodating to it has been part of our lot since the beginning. Last week I represented the ELCE at the Churches Together in England Forum. This is a triennial event for 47 Member Churches and 49 Bodies in Associations (not churches as such but all sorts of voluntary associations of Christians and movements working in conjunction with the churches in the world). The ELCE became a member church in 2011. This year’s forum theme was ‘I am with you always – Together in God’s Mission’ and a constant refrain throughout the presentations and workshops was ‘the transforming presence of Christ’. One of the workshops I attended was ‘The Presence of Christ in Politics’. It looked at politics as daily choices rather than voting every 5 years. It wrestled with the tension between service (eg. food banks) and speaking (eg. why are food banks necessary?). We were encouraged to do both. There was recognition that it was very hard to represent Jesus in the public square – and made particularly acute when one group of Christians says or does something ‘political’ with which another group of Christians disagrees. The workshop was polite (of course) but you could sense differing political views and experiences in the room!
I have wondered, at times, at the earthly ‘good’ of the Christian Church – between serving those around us and also introducing them to Jesus – or reintroducing Jesus or encouraging people about Jesus’ presence. Service is important. So is speaking. ‘You can’t preach to a person who has toothache (William Booth)’ – said the Salvation Army officer next to me to which another person – on the other side of me – replied, ‘Are we sending people better dressed and fed to hell because we’re too timid to speak?’. And this is all here in England – where the state is not oppressive and society is largely indifferent. The Church here isn’t persecuted!
I have no ‘answers’. It is a tension in which we live. This world isn’t our home but it is good stewardship to leave it better than when we found it! What I was encouraged and reminded about was that our agency, activity, advocacy counts! If we see something then how does God want us to respond? There’s no formula here. But living means keeping our eyes open and seeking how to serve as we follow Jesus. And Jesus said that he came that we may have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10)! GS