By Pastor Scott Rosekrans
I read an interesting article a few weeks ago where a study was conducted regarding the political persuasion of churches. According to the report, churches that focused more on preaching salvation tended to be red and churches that preached a message of social justice tended to be blue. It wasn’t exact or one hundred percent, but such were the tendencies. I found the article interesting and noted that they didn’t discuss any purple churches and wondered if such a church was possible or a goal we should strive to achieve.
Admittedly, I preach more than my fair share of social justice, but that’s where my passion lies, and it has little to do with my political persuasion. I think my bent for social justice issues comes from my experiences as a police officer, a defense attorney, and a prosecutor, all of which exposed me to a wide range of social ills. Ills many aspiring politicians seize upon to scare you into voting for them. Don’t believe me? Stop reading, turn on the television, and watch some of these attack ads. But I digress.
I did attend church during these periods, and honestly, I do not recall any of the pastors beating the social justice drum regularly. Most did preach salvation, but they may have been preaching to the choir, as most of those sitting in the pews would tell you they’ve already been saved. It makes me wonder if our neglect of social justice issues has played a role in the decline of mainline denominations with more vacant pews as more and more people are questioning our relevancy.
It was, after all, John Wesley’s combination of salvation and social justice that propelled the Methodist Church into a recognized denomination with a worldwide membership in the millions, out of which grew major universities and medical centers that focused on the mind and body. It begs the question as to whether or not our denomination has lost that focus. A strong argument could be made that we have as we face the all-to-real prospect of a split to where we can’t really call ourselves “united.”
Ironically, over the past six years, I have had people ask me about the political leanings of our church. I tell them that I haven’t taken a poll but that in my conversations with individual members of the congregation, I can get a feel for where they may be politically and that we actually have Democrats, Republicans, and Independents in attendance on any given Sunday. And they don’t sit on either side of the aisle as they do in Congress, as far as I can tell. Many who have checked us out and have stayed tell me that they like the genuine message of social justice, which I tell them was a seed planted long before I got here. I’m just the associate gardener tending to the garden, hoping to play a part in producing more righteous fruit.
And just in case you didn’t know, I didn’t go to seminary, and I have said more than once that my knowledge of theology was not a pool you would want to dive into headfirst. And I struggle with that because I don’t want to be one of those one-trick ponies, which is why I rely upon the lectionary to provide a balanced variety of topics upon which to preach. I have noticed a sermon series often hidden within the weekly scripture readings. I also rely on my annotated study Bible, a Wesley Commentary, and another very comprehensive commentary written by three theologians, all with Theology doctorates. I take these steps so if my preaching is questioned; I can point to my sources along with the Scripture and our beloved Book of Discipline. So far, that’s prevented a massive Sunday morning walkout.
So, with all that being said, should it be a goal to be a purple church, or should we have a balanced blend of salvation and good works? I think we can find our answer in the words of Jesus’ brother, the Apostle James, who said: “My brothers and sisters, what good it is if people say they have faith but do nothing to show it?” You can’t have one without the other and to have just that right combination takes an effort on our part as we follow the lead of the Spirit, who, as far as I can tell, is neither a Republican nor a Democrat. Instead, the Spirit leads us on the independent way of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
Scott Rosekrans serves as pastor to the people of Community United Methodist Church in Port Hadlock, Washington.