I remember vividly conversations held time and again while I was in college, seminary, and then amongst colleagues. Well, perhaps I shouldn't sound like my memory is infallible for I do not remember vividly the details of said conversations, but I do remember a theme which has been prevalent--especially with those who believe Christians should work to influence the political process and seek laws which are in accord with biblical theology:
We must speak truth to power!
In my particular denomination, this phrase connotes a strong prophetic theme. Just as the prophets confronted the rulers of Israel and Judah for their injustices, we too must be prophetic. We too must convince our rulers to seek justice: to care for the widow, the orphan, and the needy.
My schooling was heavily influenced by liberation theologians of one flavor or another, and this theme ran prevalent in all of them as well. Those in power must be confronted. We must speak truth to power!
The Church indeed must wrestle with a very important question: how are we to live together? Many argue that this is the nature of politics. How do we live and move and work with one another. This is a question that the Church must enter into regularly as we engage Christians, non-Christians, religious and secular. We are not isolated from our surrounding communities, and ethics always plays a role in the midst of our daily lives.
Yet, how do we engage the powers of our day? How do we engage the leaders in our respective cities, states, and nations? (Obvious American bias right there.)
One of the most interesting things, at least to me, regarding Christianity is how it has managed to thrive under just about every type of government imposed by humanity. It has survived monarchies, democracy, communism, socialism, and everything in between. No government has been able to squash it fully--although some have managed to repress it severely.
Sometimes, Christians have the privilege of engaging governmental powers without fear of reprisal. Sometimes engaging governmental powers is a life or death matter. It depends upon which type of government you engage.
Which leads us to the point where we must ask: how should we engage our government? How should we seek to influence the political process? How should we "speak truth to power?"
For I think the phrase is well worth using, but perhaps in a not so conventional way.
Len Sweet at the Theological Conference I attended a few weeks ago nailed the group with a question. It was a question yours truly has wrestled with previously and made an argument for. "When you hear the word Truth, what picture do you get in your head?" Sweet asked.
In my head, I saw Jesus. "I am the way and the truth and the life," He said.
Sweet followed up, "For we believe truth is not a concept but a person."
A definite point of agreement here.
Truth indeed, for the Christian, is not a concept but a person. I think we tend to forget this when we seek to influence the writing of legislation. We tend to focus on getting certain laws passed thinking that in so doing we are proclaiming the truth. We are not. Laws do not proclaim Jesus.
Interestingly enough, Scripture provides a fascinating look into the early Church and its engagement with the powers that be. I encourage readers to take a look at Acts 24 and following.
Notice how Paul handles himself as he comes before the powers that be of his day. See what he is trying to accomplish. Pay particular attention to Agrippa's statement in Acts 26:
Agrippa said to Paul, ‘Are you so quickly persuading me to become a Christian?’
Paul replied, ‘Whether quickly or not, I pray to God that not only you
but also all who are listening to me today might become such as I
am—except for these chains.’
Speaking the Truth to power.
Speaking Jesus to power.
That all may become as we are.
I have to wonder about my denomination's "advocacy" office in Washington, D.C. Are they operating like St. Paul or like the prophets? Are they speaking the truth to power or speaking The Truth to power?
One of these things is not like the other.