Sunday, September 09, 2007

Going out on a limb -- anyone have a saw?

I have seven questions to answer in writing in preparation for my next interview with the District Committee on Ordained Ministry. The final question asks me to read paragraph 164.B of The Book of Discipline and discuss how this principle informs my ministry in the church. That paragaph is only one among hundreds contained in the Social Principles of the United Methodist Church. That particular paragraph reads: "Political Responsibility -- The strength of a political system depends upon the full and willing participation of its citizens. The chruch should continually exert a strong ethical influence upon the state, supporting policies and programs deemed to be just and opposing policies and programs that are unjust."

It was difficult for me to limit my answer to that one paragraph when the Social Principles represent so much more than that and call the church to so much more than that. It was also difficult for me to answer a question about the church looking OUT to hold others ethically accountable to just policies and programs without also addressing the need for the church to be equally vigilant in its scrutiny of itself.

So, here's my answer, do I keep it as it is or do I narrow it to say yes, I think it's right and proper and, well, simply swell for the church to hold government accountable? Pass the apple pie.

7. Political responsibility
Read paragraph 164.B of the Discipline, and discuss how this principle informs your ministry in the church.

This paragraph on political responsibility is found within the Social Principles of the United Methodist Church. The denomination defines these principles as “a prayerful and thoughtful effort … to speak to the human issues in the contemporary world from a sound biblical and theological foundation … They are a call to faithfulness and are intended to be instructive and persuasive in the best of the prophetic spirit…”

The Social Principles, collectively, inform my ministry through exactly this prayerful approach to social awareness and, when needed, social action. Applying faith to seek justice seems to me to be rooted in the Sermon on the Mount as well as in the admonition of Jesus to love our neighbors as ourselves. Our Social Principles help focus our faith and, often, describe an ideal that – if achieved – would bring us closer to the kingdom of God.

When the foundation for the Social Principles that we have today was first presented at General Conference in 1972, the chairman of the Legislative Committee on Christian Social Concerns, explained the significance of the document in this way:

"This statement, coming at a most opportune time in the history of our United Methodist Church and of our troubled world, expresses the earnest desire of the church to speak with a clear and a direct voice to those issues which command the attention of all of us and which impinge with increasing gravity upon our common life. It signals an important and necessary reaffirmation of United Methodism’s sense of its call to servant ministries amidst the pains and the fears and the injustices which confound and oppress all conditions of the human family. … this Statement of Social Principles does suggest the strong conviction among us that the church is most faithful when it incarnates the Spirit of its Lord…"

I see these Social Principles as very much a part of my call to ministry. It would be a part of my sense of call to service as a layperson even if I were not hoping to become an ordained minister. While there are some statements within our Social Principles that I am not in full agreement with and hope and pray to see changed, I wholeheartedly embrace the vision and intent of the Social Principles and would strive to employ them to help congregations become more socially aware and more active in their pursuit of social justice.

The paragraph on political responsibility on which this question seeks discussion calls on the church to “continually exert” a strong ethical influence on the state, supporting just policies and programs and opposing policies and programs that are unjust. In embracing the broader overall concept of the Social Principles, I embrace this call to hold governments accountable to justice. And I would do all in my power to urge the church to also “continually exert” ethical scrutiny prayerfully and thoughtfully on its own policies and programs to ensure that justice thrives within the church as well.


Jeri said...

The Spirit is definitely with you Karen! Passionately well written!

RevErikaG said...

Amen to Jeri's comment!
Powerful words....
The question to discern is, is this the right time to wear the prophetic mantle?