Too political — or not

Too political — or not

By Sara Wenger Shenk

Some folks withhold funds from AMBS because in their view, AMBS is “too political.” Others suggest with anger that AMBS isn’t political enough. We have heard from both sides within the last month.

It might appear that there’s no way to win. But there is! And it’s the Jesus Way. We argue all the time throughout the church about what the Jesus Way looks like. Arguing can be a good thing, provided we do it in a Jesus kind of way — filled with grace and truth. We sure know how to argue at AMBS, thank God.

One of our recent graduates, Michelle Curtis (MDiv 2018), expressed how happy she is to have chosen AMBS as a place to study instead of other attractive options. After receiving an award for Excellence in Biblical Interpretation from the Bible Department at the Dean’s Breakfast, she expressed her appreciation to groundskeepers and faculty alike: Thank you for caring for the growth of our whole selves rather than just our minds. I have seen here how fellow conservative students became more liberal and liberal students become more conservative. You helped us learn how to listen well, to see the best in each other and to see what God is doing in and through each one of us.

How does the Jesus Way invite us — as liberals and conservatives or however we choose to describe ourselves — to learn to listen well, see the best in each other and see what God is doing in and through each of us?

The Jesus Way included forming a band of disciples. Among the disciples Jesus called was Matthew, who collaborated with the Romans by collecting their taxes, and Simon the Zealot, who belonged to a violent band of revolutionaries resisting the empire. Jesus — with amazing skill and authority — forged a small, powerful community of world changers by calling people of opposing political extremes to a higher loyalty and a revolutionary love — even for enemies.

Jesus was political. Not in the partisan, fractious sense of party politics today, but in the deeply social sense of caring for the polis (the city), praying and weeping over Jerusalem, and caring for the whole people. He was so political, in fact, that both religious and governmental authorities wanted him dead. He was publicly executed as the King of the Jews. The early church acclaimed Jesus as Lord, the ultimate political affront to ruling authorities, resulting in brutal deaths for many of Jesus’ followers, including, most likely, Matthew and Simon. When we claim Jesus as Lord, it is a political act that changes everything. Absolutely everything.

In an On Being podcast this week, Krista Tippett interviewed John Paul Lederach and America Ferrera. Krista asked John Paul about his notion of “critical yeast,” and I paraphrase his response: Yeast is small, hardly noticeable when you prepare the dough, he said. You keep kneading it, punching it down and kneading it some more. You start small. There may be situations where there are only a few people who care. Yet this may be the yeast that helps everything else grow. It’s quality, not quantity (critical mass), that creates the best conditions for replication.

I remember a New York Times column from David Brooks soon after the 2016 election where he talked about how our best response to the coming “chaos and incompetence” would be to “create pockets of human decency, integrity and clear thinking.”

AMBS seeks to be political in a Jesus kind of way. We do so by forming bands of disciples who know Jesus, are loyal to Jesus above all, and, as so-called liberals and conservatives, come alive to the power of the Holy Spirit to be leaders of Jesus Way communities, organizations and movements locally and internationally.

One could cite no end to the alarming news stories with political implications from just this week. Two to illustrate: Widespread reports call attention to escalating rates of suicide. Many other stories describe the unspeakable horror of children being torn away from their parents at the U.S. border.

These perilous times require all of us, both liberal and conservative, to be political like Jesus. How so? By forming small Jesus bands; missionary communities with the love, courage and imagination needed to repel the viruses of hatred, racism, sexism, violence and nation-first narcissism wherever they show up; and communities of resistance standing together on the beautiful jubilee gospel of Jesus (Luke 4) and the liberating assurance that because Jesus is Lord, we have no king but Jesus and no prayer but “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”