by Alexis Farmer
The church and state have never quite been mutually exclusive. Statistics have demonstrated that people living in the United States are increasingly becoming less religious or choose not to become affiliated with a religion, and understandably so. Even still, our elected representatives do not reflect this changing demographic, as they predominately label themselves as Christians, and at times use their religion to guide their political decisions and stances on social issues. The church has an influence and presence in political social thought and practice. Pastors often use biblical annotations to connect theology to politics, economics, and history, to connect our moral obligations as human beings to our personal and professional lives. The Christian church has claimed its mission to be a moral and spiritual compass for the masses, teaching Christians to follow in the footsteps of the actions and demeanor of Christ and his disciples. In the African-American community in particular, the church also served another role as a home of community engagement and an anchor for activism. In the ongoing and inflated struggle for inclusion and equity, a space for meaningful dialogue, healing, and community building is imperative. Yet, in my experiences in the church, I have encountered few pastoral leaders who challenge their congregation to take the Word of God and hold themselves accountable to act on it. The empowerment and fellowship that one receives in church should not remain inside the million-dollar mega church walls; but it should extend to the most vulnerable groups in society, our neighbors, friends, and family.
As Christians, we pay our tithes and offerings to support the functionality of the church and its programming, but as a result of those funds, I have often seen more mega churches built, more luxury cars, and media time for pastors. I fail to see where my contributions funnel into community development through the church. While some pastors are concerned about making a name for themselves in local politics, national conventions, and creating feel-good sermons, they should be concerned with making transformational change. I will recognize that there are churches whose ministries perform meaningful outreach activities, and have an active membership and pastoral leadership that invests in their community and represents community interests. Still, there are a number of churches that neglect to serve the “secular environments” around them, and chose to work with “third world communities,” failing to act on the needs of the neighborhoods those churches are rooted in. The sanctity of mankind is an international effort, but there remains much work to do on the home front.
Churches should be more than just places of worship; they should be community hubs for their neighborhoods. Why don’t more churches host job training programs or literacy programs for incarcerated or formerly incarcerated persons; food and clothing drives throughout the year, and not just during Christmas; and gardening programs and community beautification events? Why aren’t there more Christians serving meals in their churches during the summer, when many kids struggle to find a meal because they are not in school? Where are the youth programs? Where are the shelters for marginalized youth and veterans? Where are our soldiers of Christ to serve those on the margins of society? It seems as though there is a lost obligation to humanity; to truly treat everyone as his or her brother and sister. There appears to be a fear of loving everyone, even though Christians may admit to God living inside of each and every one of us. If that belief if held true, we must recognize that God has tattoos. God sags his pants. God wears a turban. God is queer. God has been through periods of homelessness. God has been an alcoholic. God has struggled with sex addiction. God is a child. God is seeking refugee.
Though there are many dangerous things in the world to fear, fearing to love one another is one of the most dangerous immoralities we can commit. Without loving one another and our entire community, we will continue to degrade, shame, and segregate ourselves from each other – further dividing our community. We must encourage our pastoral leaders to really open the doors of the church to any one, to serve and take care of one another. We have to evaluate ourselves honestly, and hold ourselves accountable for spreading the mission God left us with through our words and actions. We must remember that churches were once a place to organize and to mobilize. Now is the time to recreate that space, ensure it is inclusive for all, and truly carry out the mission that Jesus left for his disciples.