Thursday, November 10, 2016

How to be a Christian (and a Pastor) after the Election

The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade

My colleague, Dr. Dale Andrews from Vanderbilt Divinity School, and I sat with students at Wake Forest University Divinity School (North Carolina) the morning after the election for what was supposed to be a conversation about the intersections of race and environmental justice.  We were there for the school’s Prophetic Ministry Week and were prepared to talk with them about what prophetic preaching looks like in the face of eco-racism and related issues.  But that morning as the tears flowed and audible sobs were heard throughout the room, the feelings of shock, confusion and utter despair meant that we needed to process with these theologically-trained Christians – some of whom were preparing for ordained ministry – what had transpired for our nation. 

How are we supposed to go into our churches on Sunday morning?  What are we supposed to say and do?  How can we face those who are going to gloat over this victory?  How are we going to endure the pain of those who are devastated by the outcome?  What does it look like to be church in the midst of all this?” These were the kinds of questions they were asking.

My first response was to remind them that ensuring people’s safety is top priority.  Given the rhetoric of the man who is now president-elect, a significant portion of this country is experiencing alarm and legitimate fear about their physical and emotional safety, or for their family members, friends, fellow students and co-workers.  Women, people of color, immigrants and their children, people of differing sexual orientations, people with disabilities, those who rely on health care from the Affordable Care Act, and Muslims are among those who are desperately worried about their safety and health as the new administration comes into power.  So if you are a pastor or leader of a congregation, it must be clearly stated that no kind of hateful rhetoric or disparaging remarks about those who are now threatened will be tolerated in God’s house of worship. The church is called to be a place of refuge.   And if you are a Christian, you are part of the body of Christ, which means that you are to refrain from that kind of talk even outside of the church.  You represent Christ in the world.  Behave in a manner that reflects the one whom you worship.
The Rev. Dr. Leah Schade and The Rev. Dr. Dale Andrews

Dr. Andrews astutely reminded the students that this is exactly why they are called to be Christian, to preach, to minister. “For such a time as this,” he said, invoking Mordecai’s words to Esther when she was faced with going into a place of potential danger for herself, carrying the burden of her people’s safety in her hands (Esther 4:14).  In other words, this is exactly the time when pastors are needed, even if they are feeling devastated themselves.  God is already in the tomb even after it appears sealed forever.  Jesus has already gone ahead to Galilee to meet you.  The Spirit is already at work in ways that may not yet be evident.  So you are called to be a pastoral presence and to use all of your skills in pastoral care for reflective listening, empathy and silent but attentive presence.    

And if you are a Christian (including a pastor) who is celebrating the results in this election, now is the time for restraint.  Do not gloat.  This is not like the Sunday after the World Series, or after the Superbowl.  This was not just some political game where the victors can good-naturedly rib the losers.  For half of this nation, this loss represents a crumbling of the basic foundations of decency, respect, and the means by which to preserve the common good.  For those who are concerned about the environment and climate change and have worked so hard to protect God’s Creation, the thought of the new administration rolling back every protection is terrifying.  For those whose very lives are threatened by people now empowered to strip their rights from them, the results of this election are panic-inducing.  So if you are celebrating after this election, remember – if it had gone the other way, you would be understandably disappointed and angry.  But you would have had no reason to fear for your health and safety. 

Thus refrain from insisting that people need to “come together.”  Avoid using words like “unify” and “move on.”  You cannot expect or even ask people to unify with a person whose words have authorized homophobia, misogyny, xenophobia, gun violence, sexual violence, racism and white privilege.  Or to “come together” with someone who has supported those values by voting for the person who encourages all of that.  So if you are coming to church Sunday with feelings of elation, exercise compassionate restraint. Even if you feel like sidling up to your fellow Trump supporters during coffee hour and giving a knowing wink and sly high-five – resist the urge.  I would have given the same exhortation to Clinton supporters if the election had gone the other way.  Being a Christian during this time requires space-giving.  Eventually we will need to talk about where we go from here.  But understand that this is a time of deep grief for many.  Especially for those “blue dots” in predominantly red churches.


"Women at the Tomb" by Claire Elam
Which is why some people may not even feel comfortable going to church this Sunday if they cannot bring themselves to face what they fear will be the triumphant jeers of their fellow Christians.  That is perfectly understandable.  But if you are a pastor, you don’t have the luxury of absence.  So I reminded the students that the day after the crucifixion, the women did something that we need to do.  They showed up.  The women were confused, angry, anguished and in deep grief.  But they went to the tomb because they were faithful.  They went to perform the rituals – the sacred actions and words – that were part of their people’s faith for centuries.  We, too, are called to show up.  We are called to be faithful.  And we have actions and words – rituals – that are designed to hold the vast range of feelings experienced by the congregation.  Rely on that pattern of worship that is so ingrained in us – gathering, hearing God’s word, breaking bread and sharing wine, and sending out into the world.  Let the liturgy minister to you and your congregation.  Let it gather in all who will come.  And trust that the Spirit of God through the compassion of Jesus Christ will indeed be in our midst.

The Rev. Dr. Leah Schade is the Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship at Lexington Theological Seminary (KY) and an ordained Lutheran minister (ELCA).  She is the author of the book Creation Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology and the Pulpit (Chalice Press, 2015).

8 comments:

  1. Thank you for writing this! I'm going to share it on Facebook. I am one of those blue dots in a huge red church.

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  2. As I work on my sermon for Sunday, I am thankful for your reflections. Peace.
    Rev. Jane C. Johnson PC(USA)

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  3. Perfectly said, Pastor Leah. God is speaking through you, thank you.

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  4. We pastor like the one we follow and trust, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. His love and compassion has not changed at all, for thousands of years. Jesus went through many temptations and face challenges and still shared his love and ministry with everyone, as Christians this is what we do and need to do everyday, no matter what. That is what makes us Christians and that is with us wherever we go and is larger than any country or what happens in the world. I identify first and foremost as a Christian.

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  5. Filled with grief at this time, but strengthened by your wise words. Thanks.

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  6. I'm a blue dot with many more red dots than blue in my family and in my church. I couldn't make myself go to church today. I've asked for time to grieve. Thank you for the excellent words of wisdom.

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