Christian Ways to be Public

02Mar13

“After thinking it over, I brought charges against the nobles and officials; I said to them, “You are all taking interest from your own people.” And I called a great assembly to deal with them…” – Nehemiah 5:7

Lent is a time of introspection and a time of letting go of the things that stand between us and God. A group of Yale Divinity students have organized a campaign called “Lent without Borders.” This campaign aims to take up immigration reform at the state level by harmonizing Connecticut’s posture with respect to I.C.E. deportation requests. They are holding public actions to move the issue forward. In what ways do our borders and immigration rules stand between us and the community to which God calls us?

Abel_con_banderas

Pastor Abel Duarte, of the Tabladas Church in Buenos Aires, demonstrates the flags of Paraguay and Bolivia, which he displays to help immigrants from those countries feel welcome in his church.

In Argentina and Paraguay, I often wondered how the church might involve itself more in the public sphere. Of course, I was coming from the Congregationalist tradition in New England, where we have always felt called and welcome to speak our mind. I realize that in predominately Catholic Argentina and Paraguay, there might be pressures on Protestants to keep to themselves.

All the same, when, for instance, President Lugo was removed from office in a lightning-quick trial by Parliament; or as the Administration of Personal Incomes under President Fernández de Kirchner increased its micromanagement of the financial lives of Argentineans; I wondered where the church was.

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This graffiti reads, “Out, traitors!” and refers to the members of Parliament who voted to remove then-President Fernando Lugo without time for a sufficient trial as specified by the constitution.

But there are limits to what the church can do or say. Sometimes opinion is divided. Sometimes we are not educated enough about the issues. Sometimes we wisely realize that we cannot align ourselves too closely with any political party or any particular quasi-political movement. Sometimes there is danger.

Yet I have come to believe more and more that we are called to public witness. Our witness does not need to be overly theoretical. We can come, we can pray, we can say what we believe. All the better if we come with lots of people. And what we say does not always need to be a simple pro or con. Complexity should not be an excuse to stay inside our sanctuaries. Rather, it should be an opportunity for us to bring to the public discourse our core principles of faith, hope, and love. Respectful and compelling participation in public life, through prayer, can help us overcome secular criticism of religion, as well as the fears that keep us in our sanctuaries.

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Some young people pose with letters that spell out, “Everyone” at Resistencia’s sculpture event.

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