Artie Hartsell, MSW
Every Lent, many of us as individuals consider an appropriate fast that will take us out of our comfort or away from our vices in order to bring us closer to God or strengthen our spiritual practices. If we don’t fast, or in combination with a fast, we often adopt a new spiritual practice.
This Lent, I have a fast at the top of my heart for white, heterosexual and/or cisgender progressive Christians and churches - one that will take us out of our comfort zones, help us relinquish our vices, and build our spiritual practice to bring us closer to God, one another, and our broader community. It is a practice that can bring the Kingdom of God to our present location.
I am asking us, Christians who consider ourselves “progressive” or “inclusive,” to give up living in fear for Lent and hopefully beyond these forty days. Time and time again, I have seen fear from Christian institutions stop us from boldly proclaiming the prophetic visions of God’s love we believe individually or even amongst our closest circles. Our clergy fear for their jobs, for their church membership numbers, for tithes; church members fear losing relationships with their church families who may not agree with us.
Our sermons about “loving one another” fall flat because we don’t connect it to real world suffering and exclusion. Over the summer of 2020, some mainline Christian pastors of predominantly white churches spoke more boldly about racism. Others told stories about how they were the first of their families to reject segregation. So many of us have seminary degrees and understanding of theology, biblical languages, and hermeneutics that we don’t pass along to our congregation, because we are comfortable with the hierarchy of a pastor sharing a sermon each week and there being no deep study or discussion. We are fearful, but it is because, in our privilege, we are comfortable with keeping the pot unstirred.
But while clergy sit in the security of our jobs and more comfortable discussions, real people suffer in our own communities. In our communities, LGBTQ+ youth and their parents are being criminalized, Black people continue to die at the hands of police with no trial or jury of their peers, teachers are being instructed on what kinds of history are appropriate for students to know, our climate is in crisis, and people are dying because they can’t afford critical medications.
I grew up Baptist; I understand the separation of Church and State. But I also understand that the civil religion of white nationalism under the Christian flag is loudly pulling our civic experience away from the values many of us hold dear. We uplift these values, not just because they are the values we associate with the Kingdom of God, but because they are our values, the values we use when it comes to loving our neighbor outside of the State’s influence. The false gospel of white Christian nationalism relies on our silence, our disengagement from “politics,” and ultimately our complicity. We must give up the excuses, the fear, and fight for one another’s lives. We can try to separate Church and State, but we should never give up our witness of what radical, daring, and imaginative love can do in our society. We can be Christ’s hands and feet, provide healing to a broken world, and usher in the Kingdom.
It won’t be comfortable; we will be called heretics and “not true Christians,” but it is our boldness, our inclusion, that will bring people into the doors and have their lives transformed by these bold glimpses of Jesus and of God’s work in our world. We can do it together and we can care for one another through our fear.