OK, I admit it. Sometimes I hate being a pastor.
Because sometimes I just can’t say the things I want to say.
There are times, for instance, when I’d love to jump into the political foray. But here’s the thing. America right now is a deeply divided nation. About half of us lean liberal, and half of us lean conservative. So if I come down on one side or the other, I give about half the people in the country an excuse to stop listening. That’s the mistake the Episcopal Church has made. In the end, our staggering decline may be as simple as over indentifying with a political position. For a church that prides itself on being welcoming, that sure leaves a lot of people out.
I believe the larger message of the Gospel—that we need to love God and each other and treat all people right—is too important for that. In other words, if I am to exercise the kind of love Jesus commends to his followers, then I need to consider how my words and actions will effect others—especially those who are different from me. If those words are hurtful for the purpose of furthering my own cause, getting attention, somehow boosting my own ego, or allaying my own insecurities, then I need to value my brothers and sisters highly enough to find a better way ahead.
This doesn’t mean we don’t weigh in with our view of things. It does mean that there is a thoughtful, kind, and respectful way of doing so that is increasingly absent in America right now (and certainly on Facebook). Actually, I love being a pastor, because when I am true to my calling it forces me to speak and act from the perspective of putting others before myself (although I don’t always succeed in this, obviously).
The fictional narratives of both political parties not withstanding, life is complex. There are two sides to everything, and it’s the wise person who sees that instead of using the party line as an excuse to stop thinking, whatever your party may be.
There is always a reason people believe what they do, no matter how wrong-headed it may be, and it is the loving person who remembers that. As a pastor, I can tell you that nine times out of ten, that reason can be traced to people who have hurt them. This does not justify a belief that is wrong, but if we are ever going to really change it—instead of making ourselves feel superior, witty, and brilliant—we must first understand why they see the world as they do. Then we must stand with that person in their pain, whatever is causing it. Perhaps then, together, they will be able to walk out of it.
Maybe during an election year we’d all do well to pray the prayer of St. Francis every day. Maybe we’d do well to post it on our keyboards. From my perspective, at least, St. Francis--like Jesus before him--had it right.
Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.