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Churches have important work to do


Progressive churches have important work to do in the four years ahead.

They don’t need to become aligned with the Democratic Party. But they do need to become political. By that I mean tending to the politics of the day, namely, change, frustration, anger, some truly awful people planning to do bad things to their enemies, and a lot of good people on all sides wondering what direction American democracy is going.

By being political, I mean paying attention to wealth, greed, economic insecurity, justice, oppression, tolerance, enabling people to live freely. Those are topics that Jesus addressed.

Churches need to listen more and talk less. Clearly, we are isolated from each other in America, living inside our safe bubbles. We need to be led outside our bubbles. Faith communities can do that leading. We need especially to seek out and listen to people unlike ourselves. The tendency of churches to serve specific and narrow tribes no longer works.

We need to drop our elitist attitude of noblesse oblige. Mission is far more than giving handouts to the poor. It is living with the poor, identifying with the poor, taking the marginalized seriously as children of God and not as objects of pity. We need to understand the forces that grind so many people down, and ask what we can do about these forces, especially when we are among those doing the grinding. For some congregations, that will mean calling out our own people and asking them to do better.

We need to reclaim the heart of the Gospel, which has been lost in our fascination with church institutions, liturgies, ordinations and hiring, and facilities. The Sermon on the Mount should be our guide, not the church budget.

We should be grounding people in Biblical ethics, not in denominational tradition. The Jesus who actually was and the prophetic literature that formed him are our road forward. Following this road will be profoundly disturbing to many people. We could find ourselves at odds. To have meaningful discussion and to embrace change of mind, we need solid grounding.

We need to become “relevant,” by which I don’t mean “trendy” or “hip,” but related to other people, caring about their lives, ministering to their needs, getting outside ourselves.

We need to stand tall against the darkness, whatever form it takes. This could entail a level of risk that we are unaccustomed to taking. We have wanted people to like us. We need them, more than that, to respect us and see in us the reality of God’s love.

We have our issues, and we care about our issues. Our church families have people who feel passionate about gay rights, women’s equality, immigrant rights, economic justice, racial justice. Going forward, I think we need to work together, not as special interest blocs, but as Gospel citizens who sense the overarching thing God has been wanting to do in us, namely, bring about a new creation.

Our Sunday services need to change. Our leadership meetings need to change. Our spending priorities need to change. We have been too much about ourselves. The world needs us to look outward and care about larger movements of the Spirit.

About the Author

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the publisher of A Fresh Day online magazine, author of On a Journey and two national newspaper columns.


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