It is 33 degrees this afternoon in Chicago and so I have retreated inside to sit in the cool and read the Sunday edition of the New York Times. I am always surprised to read about matters of faith in the secular press here. And today, the front page article is Liberals Fighting for their Faith , a fascinating article.
I have spent the last week in a class at Bexley Seabury Seminary where my colleagues (all American, mostly Episcopalian) have talked about the decline of the church and how “secular” the US has become. They don’t seem to understand that to an outsider the US still seems deeply religious. They quite rightly point out that the public religion of the US is a secular theism – religious language and moral views that have become separated from an actual living faith. The so called “religious right” espouse a view of the world as bad, and their moral beliefs as good. My colleagues do not want to be seen as the same as these churches that supported Donald Trump. And yet some of them come from small rural areas where their congregants likely voted for him.
In our class with Professor Dwight Zscheile we spent the week talking about the world as good, the location of the Spirit at work, and how the church might join God in the world. The churches described in the NY Times article are doing this by being involved in building coalitions across faith boundaries in movements such as “Black Lives Matter” and tackling many local and national issues together. They do this political work alongside serving the local needs of their communities in foodbanks and programmes to support the homeless. And they are reclaiming a place for their theology and faith in the public square.
The churches I have attended these last two Sundays in Chicago have not overtly addressed politics from the pulpit. They have however talked about how we might live in “a tremulous world, in perilous times” to quote Rev Dr Bonnie Perry, from All Saints . Bonnie talked about finding God in our ordinary, every day actions, as a way of reducing fear and the sense of being overwhelmed. Today Rev Peter Lane from St Paul and the Redeemer talked about the “sharing of the peace” (which happens in the middle of an Anglican/ Episcopalian service) as a way of living into a future where peace is more fully present. They were both equipping their listeners with Christian practices, also something we talked a lot about in class this last week.
The television news here is a relentless diet of Trump, Comey and the Russians, only interrupted by the recent London terrorist attack. CNN ran a countdown clock to Comey’s testimony for 48 hours before he was due to testify. They seem to have abandoned the idea of actual news bulletins where a summary of news from around the world might get reported.
The preachers I spent the last week with are sorely needed in this country overwhelmed with politics and division. It will be their actions though, more than their words, which bring change. And the actions of those who gather with them on a Sunday to be equipped for joining God’s work in the world.