To Be Political

by the Rev. Canon Ranjit K. Mathews

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. displays the poster to be used during his Poor People’s Campaign on March 4, 1968. (Horace Cort / AP)

One of many teachings that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. shared through his life is that as baptized followers of Jesus, our ministry will inevitably be political. He didn’t necessarily name this; but he certainly embodied it.

As Episcopalians, however, it is important that we name politics and that as followers of Jesus, we will have to be political to move into the work that Jesus told us to do, in his name.

Episcopalians find the word “politics” within Church settings difficult because when we hear the word, we think of electoral partisanship. And of course, Churches should never be sites of political partisanship. However, by the very nature of following Jesus and how he called us to live:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)

we will be political. And like renowned Rabbi Danya Ruttenburg says, “my tradition has policy implications.”

This is but one of the many ways, we can learn from the life of Dr. King.

If we are not able to acknowledge the deeply political dimension of the Gospel, we end up making the Dr. King holiday an idol we worship, celebrating the man, but evading the call to embody the work of Christ.

The reality is the holiday has become a national and even an ecclesial idol, a chance for a majority of the United States and people of faith to talk about a so called “post-racial society, pontificate in a book club about racial justice,” but stopping from taking the next collective step forward as a society to challenge systemic injustice. The holiday has become an opiate to embodied justice work.

Jesus never called us to worship him; but to follow him. It is always time to talk, ponder, and stretch our own moral imagination to the life of Dr. King; but we should not stop there. Our communal reality calls us to embody, to live a life that is radiant with justice. What we profess on a Sunday morning needs to live on, on a Monday.

In what ways can you take another step forward in embodying the Gospel? In a culture of silence, speak the Truth in Love. Do some research on the Poor People’s Campaign. There are endless opportunities and I invite you to take the next right step.

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