Faith in a Time of Politics

Do you ever wake up and wonder where you are? If you travel a bit, it's a common syndrome--but all of us wake up and wonder, "What day is today? What do I need to do today?" Sometimes when a death, divorce, or tragedy hits, you wake up, and it takes a minute to remember the source of your inner sadness.

Lately, I have had a few mornings where I wake up with a certain feeling of dread. Then I remember that the campaign for president of the United States has descended to new lows and daily reports of violence around the world are deeply disturbing. Global warming looms while naysayers waste precious time.

As a global leader for Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC), I have learned that it is easy to let these negative realities bog us down. To make matters even more challenging, sometimes out of our sense of powerlessness, we take our frustrations out on each other--whether in worshipping communities or our families.

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Sometimes the frustrations come close to home. In my beloved denomination, Metropolitan Community Churches, we really struggled at our recent global conference to come to a consensus and elect my replacement as MCC's leader. Instead, we opted for an interim leader and process. We experienced a range of feelings--hurt, disappointment, confusion, hope, and resolve--as we navigated this major transition.

Our world is full of such moments. Each time, we have to clear the sleep out, face the sadness and joy of life, and keep moving toward the good we are called to create in the world. We strive for good even while a surge of racism, sexism, and classism is being unleashed by political rhetoric and abuse of power. When the prison-industrial complex feeds off desperate people, we have to wake up. Even as pundits say the next hurricane or torrential rains is just bad luck, we go to work for the love of God.

As a person of faith, I am called, in a counter-cultural way, to be fearless and strong through an unshakeable confidence in God's calling in my life. I am not here to serve myself or even save myself. I am not even here to save or serve people who are close to me--although all of us are included. I am here to respond to God who created the whole world--people of every religion and hue.

This past Sunday, a woman deacon in my home church stood up to give thanks for her husband's long recovery from a serious heart attack, and gave thanks for the people from other faiths who prayed daily in the hospital for her and her husband. She focused on the Muslim janitor who spoke to her daily of her prayers as he cleaned her husband's room. In tears, she recalled thanking him and hearing how afraid he was every day because of anti-Islamic hatred. She was fierce and unequivocal in her stance against that hate and made me glad to be in my home church. I wondered whether other churches in my community could be so clear about justice and interfaith collaboration.

I am called to God's holy service to those who have no home, voice, or power--those who need justice and hope. All people of faith must press on and help our communities to stop breaking hearts through persecution of people in other religions, exclusion of sexual minorities, racial bigotry, or subordination of women.

Loving God and serving the world is not the sole purview of Christians. Waking up through salvation, enlightenment, nirvana, or any other kind of revelation can lead any one of us to compassion and service. Wisdom in any tradition helps people wend their way through life to do the greatest good and the least harm.

In the documents of Vatican II, the Roman Catholic Church proclaims, "We reject nothing of what is true and holy in [other] religions," and often that truth is about how we treat one another in the name of whatever God we name and serve.

This calling does not stop at political borders. We are called to serve the whole world and to treat people of all classes and races like we all belong to the family of God. We cannot give into the fear mongering that is used to consolidate power into the hands of "strong men" whose goal is to fill their own coffers and massage their own egos.

More than anything, we dare not sleep through our lives and ignore the realities of the world. We have to wake up, move through that moment of dread, and serve the world. With eyes wide open, we must realize that we humans have a tendency to think our own perspective is the best one. Whether it is an individual, tribe, religion, or nation, we too easily succumb to self-righteousness. Nationalistic extremism is just the political version of fundamentalist extremism, which can supplant the faith, hope, and love that leads to God.

Today, a deadly brew of nationalism, religious fundamentalism, and violence threatens so many people, but we do not live alone on this planet. Globalization, for good and sometimes for evil, is here to stay. How can we create a more just and transparent way for us to live together on a shrinking planet? How can we work to do less harm and more good?

The door is unlocked and we are engaged with people around the planet.

Just as a local church cannot close its front door and say, "We are just going to focus on the people in our pews," and thrive, we will not thrive unless we are passionate about throwing open our doors and getting to know our neighbors. No peace treaty is needed. It is already happening.

To do this well, it will not be easy. We must be humble and have an unshakeable confidence in the greater good that we are seeking. As flawed people we must ask for and offer forgiveness with frequency and sincerity. We must be willing to hold each other accountable, even when it is uncomfortable, and to listen when it is difficult.

There is a way forward.

Politicians are hell bent to divide and conquer us as they try to accumulate positions and power. Can we be heaven bent on building community and relationships to tear down walls that divide us?

Find projects to share. Community comes from working together. There will be challenges, both large and small, but the world is waiting for leaders and average people to risk getting to know each other. Use technology, but gather face-to-face as well. Everywhere diversity is thriving. Be bold; reach out!

Are you an immigrant? Reach out to people who are long-time residents. Are you LGBTQ? Be bold about sharing your family with colleagues and the world. Are you Christian? Find a mosque or synagogue and attend an event where you can meet new friends.

How are you unique, and who do you need to get to know? Take a risk, reach out, make the world a better place. Cross the barriers of different and indifference with a sense of joy and adventure. The world is ready.