Sunday, November 26, 2006

clergy leadership in the public square

"Truth is above harmony. Those who fear disorder more than injustice invariably produce more of both."
- William Sloane Coffin, Jr. (from the website of Protestants for the Common Good, a Chicago faith-based organization)

Our public theology class recently chatted with Rev. Tim Ahrens, one of the leaders of We Believe Ohio. Part of the discussion revolved around how we (in our guest lecturer's words) "silence [ourselves], make excuses, or refrain from speaking because of [our] fears." There's so much truth to that. For those of us who tend to be introverts, have not had a history of being activists, and who wear multiple hats in the community, speaking out involves an element of personal and professional risk.

One quick example: submitting an op-ed (see previous post) on immigration issues to the local newspaper. While my comments had a name and professional role/agency affiliation attached, two short comments printed in today's paper had the luxury of anonymity.

  • Professional ramifications: These called-in "sound-off" responses were both in opposition to the position I took, and one stated the caller was reconsidering their support for the agency based upon my position. The callers said the comments indicated I was "in favor of illegal immigration." I would argue these callers are missing an important nuance in the article. There are probably many more of these individuals out there. However, I see it as a matter of racial justice, which is central to the agency's mission, so it was vital that we speak out - even if it got people angry.
  • Personal ramifications: In addition to the ramifications for the agency that employs me, I also have to consider (selfishly) whether those who help fund my seminary education through scholarships might object to my position, and how that will affect me in the future.
  • Clergy in the public square? I have also been involved with individuals through the years who believe that clergy should not address these issues. I have over time come to disagree. I would agree with classmates and our speaker who see an important role for social justice leadership within the local church. I look with excitement at the work of organizations such as We Believe Ohio, Chicago's Protestants for the Common Good, and the Let Justice Roll living wage campaign as positive models for how clergy can galvanize action through community work.

Local Readers (come on, I know you're out there): What might happen if clergy in our own community used their occasional space on the religion page for social justice oriented columns? So far, they seem more oriented towards individual devotions, family matters, and local church participation. What if the focus changed outward? Do matters such as the racial justice/immigration comment I submitted belong on the op-ed page? Religion page? Both? Neither? Not-so-local readers, you're welcome to comment, too!

(A logistical note to my readers who are new to blogs - if you have trouble entering a comment, you can send me an email message to publish instead.)


Becky said...

Yes, Yes!! Raise issues of justice in the papers, using your faithful voices! And kudos to you for in taking the risk by sumbitting your Op-Ed.

Raising a faithful voice on controversial issues will certainly bring fall out. But there is always fall out in our churches. Just try moving a podium, suggesting a change in long-standing tradtion, or explaning how the youth group managed to break a window. Raise the bar, when it comes to fall out!

And remember that if you are drummed out of your town, we'll welcome you in mine!!

tellthestories said...

Too true...I remember a really big church fight in the congregation in which I grew up - about moving candlesticks. It ended up as a question in the next search process!

And I have to say - my youth group never broke a window, although we did break a clock and some louver closet doors.

I'm perfectly content to deal with fallout when it's a result of taking on the mission at hand!