Quick Takes from Christians Involved in the Public Square

Unbound interviewed several Christians involved in the world and its public arena. The following are their responses to three questions:
1. What is the #1 reason for the church to be involved in the world?
2. What is your favorite biblical text that speaks to the church’s public role? Non-biblical text?
3. What is one of the best examples of Christians being engaged in the world?

What is the #1 reason for the church to be involved in the world?

photo of the cross
Photo by Brandi Fitzgerald

“Following Jesus’ Way” (Darrell & Sue Yeaney)

“As the only institution with a mandate for compassion and peace-making” (Bill Saint)

“Because Jesus was and is; we are called to follow him there” (Cynthia Holder Rich)

“From its birth to the present, the church has ALWAYS faced out, for reasons biblical (which is full of models for how we live with others), historical (it has always been most relevant and faithful when engaged in the world around us), evangelical (all of us begin as outsiders and, this side of eternity, none of us can escape the concerns and trappings of the world), doxological (‘public’ vs. ‘private’ is a category error when viewed through the lenses of worship, which has a primary ‘public’ in God), and theological (God is at work in the world and not only do we need to look out to see what God is doing, but our call is to participate, in our own way, in that work).” (Mark Douglas)

“Where should the church be if not squarely in the midst of the community dealing with the multitude of issues that have to do with making this a more just and pleasant place in which to live? While my concern for justice has not been limited to the ministry within the health care arena, that place of ministry offers a number of dramatic opportunities to witness to the relevance of the presence of the church.” (Timothy Little)

“I have been led to believe that God loves the world, and I have observed that the world needs all the love it can get.” (Eric Mount)

“God loves the world that is heading for disaster and seeks to save it. We are called to work with God for the salvation of the world.” (John Cobb)

“As a young adult who grew up in the church, I have to say… Jesus.” (Emily Morgan)

“To offer an alternate vision of justice, compassion, and hope rather than that which is promoted through the current dominant definers of meaning: profitability, nationalism, personal gratification, and short-term success. These worldly perspectives will always be with us, but the church challenges us to see them in light of God’s commitment to sustainability over profitability, community over xenophobic nationalism, defense of the common good over personal gratification, and eschatological hope over short-term horizons of success. I see this alternate vision played out in the direct mission programs and worship services (individual, ecumenical, and interfaith) in which I participate as pastor of East Liberty Presbyterian Church, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.” (Randy Bush)

“Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was involved in the world. Jesus healed and fed people. He freed them from demons. He involved himself in the troubled world of his hearers. Since Jesus is our example for living a life on earth and is a representation of God for humanity, should we not be doing what Jesus did? Jesus was not distant from the people of his day. He was intimately involved with the grief, troubles, and problems of his day. His followers should be no different. Jesus was bold to say in Matthew 25: 40-46 that if you are not serving those who are hungry, naked, imprisoned, and sick, then you are not serving him. In other words, Jesus is saying in substance that if you are not involved in the world, then you are not involved in faith. Most Christians limit Jesus’ mandate to a narrowly defined notion of ‘charity.’ But I believe this mandate extends to changing the conditions of the vulnerable and oppressed. We can serve the imprisoned by reforming the prison industrial complex and changing the conditions that helped send them to prison in the first place. We can serve the stranger by creating communities of fellowship to make them our neighbors. We can serve the hungry by creating food banks and helping to find fair waged employment so they can feed themselves. We can serve the naked by buying them clothes, giving them skills, and coming alongside them to learn their stories and contexts. The ultimate service to the ‘least of these’ is to make it such that they are no longer the ‘least of these.'” (Dawan Buie)

photo of a hand resting upon a bibleWhat is your favorite biblical text that speaks to the church’s public role? Non-biblical text?

Luke 4:16-21 (Darrell & Sue Yeaney; Cynthia Holder Rich; Eric Mount)
Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because God has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. God has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

1st Peter 2:13-17 (Bill Saint)
Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing right you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. Live as free people, yet without using your freedom as a pretext for evil; but live as servants of God. Honor all humans. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the King.

Isaiah 45 (Mark Douglas) – excerpted
“This is what the LORD says to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of to subdue nations before him and to strip kings of their armor, to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut: I will go before you and will level the mountains; I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron… This is what the LORD says—the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker: Concerning things to come, do you question me about my children, or give me orders about the work of my hands? It is I who made the earth and created mankind on it. My own hands stretched out the heavens; I marshaled their starry hosts. I will raise up Cyrus in my righteousness: I will make all his ways straight. He will rebuild my city and set my exiles free, but not for a price or reward, says the LORD Almighty.”

Micah 6:8 (Eric Mount; Timothy Little)
God has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Book of Esther (Emily Morgan) – excerpted
Dispatches were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces with the order to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews—young and old, women and children… Mordecai sent back this answer… “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” Esther sent this reply… “When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”

Philippians 4:4-9 (Randy Bush)
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Matthew 25:31-46 (Dawan Buie)
Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?” The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.” They also will answer, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?” He will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”

photo of MLK in birmingham jailNon-biblical text?

The Light and the Glory by Peter Marshall (Bill Saint)

City of God by Augustine (Mark Douglas)

Believing Aloud: Reflections on Being Religious in the Public Square by Mark Douglas (Mark Douglas)

Letter from a Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King Jr (Randy Bush)

God of the Oppressed by James Cone (Dawan Buie – “I don’t agree with everything it says but it has been the most compelling book for me so far”)

Desmond Tutu Preaching Children's Sermon, Photo by St. James Church
Desmond Tutu Preaching Children's Sermon, Photo by St. James Church

What is one of the best examples of Christians being engaged in the world?

Bread for the World: Lobbying effort on behalf of ending world hunger (Darrell & Sue Yeaney)

Bishop Tutu of South Africa, Desmond Tutu Peace Centre (Bill Saint)

Ongoing Presbyterian Disaster Assistance in New Orleans (Cynthia Holder Rich)

Global Mission’s Critical Issues forum in September 2012 (Cynthia Holder Rich)

Office of Public Witness, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (Cynthia Holder Rich)

“Too many to name!” (Mark Douglas)

The Civil Rights Movement, U.S.A. (Eric Mount)

Support for the Immokalee Workers and the Fair Food Campaign (Eric Mount)

“I am a seminarian and church intern, and I greatly admire the Christians who advocate for equal rights for and accompany our LGBTQQI siblings whether Christian or not.” (Emily Morgan)

“In hospital ministry, I have been privileged to be present with folks in critical life and death situations—both directly and through my students in Clinical Pastoral Education. For the first 20 years, I served in state mental hospitals. For the past 20 plus years I was the primary chaplain and CPE Supervisor in a University Medical School Trauma 1 Medical Center. While many of the patients we served were affluent, many also were struggling the make it to the next day. AIDS, homelessness, drugs, as well as diagnosable mental health issues, were important characteristics of the population we served. If the hospital is not the public square, I do not know what is! Trying to be truly present with these folks and their family and friends is where the church should be. It was also a challenge to be adequately present with staff. I served on our Bioethics committee for 20 plus years. Holding administration accountable for its justice activity was sometimes most difficult.” (Timothy Little)

“Mission workers active around the world, able to link resources in their home/developed nations with the immediate needs of their host countries; also, these mission workers can be a voice for change and a yeast for social justice active in the places where they serve (as well as a prophetic reminder back home to be good stewards of the resources God has provided). This response comes from my experience serving for three years in Chinhoyi, Zimbabwe (1989-1992) as a pastor affiliated with the Presbyterian Church of Southern Africa. Between being involved in building a church, organizing an orphanage, and leading officer training seminars on topics ranging from AIDS prevention to church finances, I was blessed to partner with and learn from a wide array of local families, guest workers, and mission volunteers from several Christian communities.” (Randy Bush)

“Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is a strong example of how the gospel of Jesus Christ can be engaged in the world. He showed the world how the gospel can be relevant to issues of social change, if we take the interrelation of the cross, love, God’s power, the world’s suffering, and Jesus death and resurrection seriously in relation to the Christian faith.” (Dawan Buie)

Banner photo by Kaihsu Tai.

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