Lent for Political & Religious Moderates
Purple is not only the color of lent, it is the color of my church. Most Presbyterians congregations are not made up of all blue state voters or red state voters. We take pride in the fact that we are a healthy mix. A few years ago, I was quite pleased with myself for preaching an eight-week sermon series entitled “A Gospel for Conservatives, Liberals and All Those in Between.”
Gray is another color that might describe us. We fancy ourselves as religious intellectuals who don’t see issues as black and white like others do. We relish in seeing many sides of an issue. In a self-congratulatory sort of way I have always wanted to publish a church bumper sticker that says “ambiguity, we’re okay with that.”
But then every year, I also force myself to read the words that Dr. King wrote from a Birmingham Jail Cell in 1963:
“I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in our stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”
There comes a time when a person must stop trying to find the shade between red and blue or black and white and take a stand for those who get left out of the color scheme altogether. For me, this Lent feels like one of those times. Here are six ways for a moderate to “fast” during Lent.
Fast from the need to find a “purple” middle ground with a Trump-defender or a Trump-hater. Instead spend that time on the ground floor with those at the bottom of society; maybe a refugee, or a person in poverty. Listen specifically to their hopes. Hear their struggles. Walk in their shoes. See with their eyes. What does purple look like for them? Just for Lent, stop worrying about conversations across the political aisle and start having them down the social ladder.
Fast from praying for peace or talking about peace if it's only to promote the absence of tension. If by peace, you mean “can’t we all just get along” or “can’t we just stop talking about politics,” stop using the word peace. This does not sound like peace to those who encounter racism or xenophobia or oppression on a daily basis. Peace must include the presence of justice.
Fast from labeling everything controversial as “partisan politics.” Caring for those in society who are most vulnerable is not partisan, it is called compassion. Standing with those, or speaking for those, who have been marginalized is not partisan because if you are a Jesus follower that is called being Christian. If you are one of those most vulnerable in our society, oppressive public policy decisions are not about politics. Rather they are about life. For the disenfranchised, a partisan political position is not at stake, their very life is at stake.
Fast from fear. Fear keeps us frozen. But for us moderates, it isn't fear of somebody different from us as much as it is fear of commitment, fear of saying the wrong thing, fear of doing more harm than good, fear of not being liked, fear of being alone in the positions we take, and maybe most powerfully, fear of failure. Try giving yourself over fully to one issue of love and justice during Lent, and see if fear doesn’t loses some of its power.
Fast from thinking that someone else will do the work of justice. Stop thinking that the judicial system, or Congress or the press will take care of everything. Risk getting involved yourself. If ordinary people hadn’t protested, marched and resisted in the Civil Rights Movement, then Congress, the press and maybe even the judiciary would never have done their job. In fact, what you are doing now to welcome refugees, support Muslims, stand with Jews, and save the environment, tells you a lot about whether or not you would have stood with Dr. King.
Finally, fast in the way that the prophet Isaiah asks us to. Isaiah said, “Is this not the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to let the oppressed go free? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house?”
For just this Lent, let’s fast by loosening the bonds of injustice. Let’s not work so much on being the color purple. Let’s work on creating a color scheme that would make Dr. King proud.
Rev. Brent Barry is the lead pastor of NorthPark Presbyterian Church. Brent and NorthPark have a deep commitment to working with the poor and hungry in Dallas, helping those with Alzheimer’s disease and reaching across religious and cultural lines to do their part to bring Dallas together as one.