At Baylor University in the 1970s, a well-loved history professor Dr. Wallace Daniel used to begin each semester with a lecture about his perspective on the world. It was very interesting, since he had his Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina and had studied during the Vietnam War years at the University of Moscow. (He predicted the fall of the Soviet Union, by the way.) He titled the lecture, "What does the professor profess?" saying that if we were going to study under his direction, we had a right to know his perspective. As you can tell, that lecture stuck with me.
As we enter yet another wild presidential election season, I feel like giving a "What does the professor profess" talk. Of course, politics can be very entertaining if you can handle the indigestion that goes with it. Some pastors and church leaders are very comfortable endorsing or criticizing particular candidates. That is not my sense of how to lead a diverse congregation, where differing political views are held with integrity. In my own sermons and writings (and in this day, "postings") I will avoid even referring to candidates - and the same goes for the church website and facebook page. I feel this leaves the playing field more open for us to exercise our freedom of conscience (a good UCC value) and have discussions about issues without knee-jerk party loyalties coming to the surface.
I do want to make one exception, however. I openly campaigned for Bill Hollander to replace Tina Ward-Pugh as our Metro Council representative when Tina retired from the post. I know both people well, and Bill's long standing involvement with United Crescent Hill Ministries and other grassroots organizations made me confidant in his abilities. This was not party-driven, but arose out of concern for the community and experience with numerous urban issues. My plan is to keep my own visible political activity at this level.
Issues are different from candidates. Too often, our political brands keep us from considering issues with an open mind because we do not want to break with the "party line." That is too bad, because open-mindedness and open-heartedness are requirements of our faith. The Christian vision of a just society is central to the Reformed tradition in which we stand, and obviously a part of the teachings of Christ. So whether it is marriage equality (for it), the death penalty (against it), or local traffic problems (fix it), church leaders and teachers have a right to prompt discussion, reflection and action. Two issues which are particularly disturbing on the American landscape right now are income inequality and police standards of practice. I do not pretend to have the right answers on either subject - I just know we'd better start working on improvement in both areas.
So, what does the professor profess? I would do best to share a passage from Hans Kung's On Being a Christian (adapted for inclusivity) which has informed my ministry since seminary:
"God's will does not waver. Nor can it be manipulated. From all that we have said...from the concrete requirements of Jesus himself, it should already have become clear that God wills nothing for God, nothing for God's advantage, for God's greater glory. God wills nothing but human advantage, humanity's true greatness and ultimate dignity. This then is God's will: human welfare."
May this be our political standard, and may we treat each other kindly in the months ahead. Church is not a cable news talk show.