I recently received the above flyer in the mail. It was advertising a vote to build a community auditorium and a new auxiliary gym. Was there a need? Many in the community believe that there is a need. You see, at the moment, when one of the four public schools in Berrien Springs wants to have some kind of performance (choir, music, or play), they either have to do it in their own gym, or they go to the cafetorium of one of the elementary schools. On occasion, the public schools are able to use the Howard Performing Arts Center, which is associated with the university, but they’re not able to use it as much as they’d like because the University already schedules many activities.
Should churches get involved in whether or not something like this is built? Can an issue like this–whether or not a facility is built–affect the witness of the church in the community?
Many would say absolutely not: “Our job as pastors and churches leaders is to preach the word only so that most people can be saved.” Many Christians have been quite shy about getting involved in any kind of political or community issues, but that has been changing for me. I believe that there are times in which being a disciple of Jesus intersects with issues which may be viewed as being political. When I study the life of Jesus and the apostles, I can’t help but to see how they were willing to, not just evangelize and preach about God’s love, but also to speak prophetically against injustice.
Allow me to share just a few Scriptures and then come back to the above point:
Proverbs 31: 8-9– “Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defends the rights of the poor and needy.”
Isaiah 1:17–“Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widows cause.”
Psalm 82:3–“Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the rights of the afflicted and destitute.”
Zechariah 7:9-10– “Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.”
John the Baptist called out the sin (Matthew 14:4) of someone in political office–Herod.
The book of Colossians, as a document, was political subversive to the Roman empire. Note Colossians 1:15-20:
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”
Everything that Roman power stood for was undermined and challenged by Jesus who “Is the image of the invisible God, the first-born over all creation.” As N.T. Wright has said concerning this Scripture, “If Jesus is Lord, than Caesar is not!”
Could it be that to open my mouth for the mute, or to plead the widows case, or to give justice to the weak, will sometimes cross boundaries which some deem to be political? Could it be that, if we’re really going to be the body of Christ, with Christ as the head, we will have to speak out against systems that set themselves up to be the head? I believe so.
Back to the above story. The proposal was voted down. The community will not have a performing arts center. So where does this community find itself? Somewhat divided. Some are angry. In this context, then, what is the role of the Church? I believe that Gregory Boyle sums it up well: “The strategy of Jesus is not centered in taking the right stand on issues, but rather in standing in the right place—with the outcast and those relegated to the margins.” Who are those that are relegated to the margins in our situation? The students. And what can the Church do: open its doors.
I’m proud of my church that we’ve begun discussing the idea of allowing students to perform certain things in our church. We have a lot of details to work through, but opening up our church, and the rest of the campus, would communicate something powerful to the community. It would communicate that your kids are our kids. We stand with you. We cast our lot with those of the students in those schools.
I, for one, think that’s where Jesus would be.