Something happened down at the state Capitol this week that made me realize that theologically liberal preachers get it. I have to hand it to them. They walk the talk. And just what is it they get that most theologically conservative preachers don’t seem to get?
Well, I will tell you, but first you need to know what they did. Fifteen preachers delivered baskets of symbolic loaves and fishes to the Governor, the two Speakers, and every member of the legislature. And in the basket was a letter signed by 100 preachers from across the state.
You may think, “Big deal.” Well, after 18 years on the Hill, I can tell you it is a big deal. Getting 100 preachers to sign a letter on a political issue is impressive. In my twelve years as a state Senator I never got anything on any issue signed by 100 preachers. In fact, other than on Catholic Day on the Hill when the Bishop would come by my Senate office, only one Protestant minister ever came by. He came every year.
Now maybe 100 signatures isn’t that impressive once you realize that the letter was being circulated for signature on Change.org. Admittedly, they only had to fill in the boxes and hit send. But still, 100 preachers doing even that? Extraordinarily out of the ordinary.
The letter urged our state leaders to expand Medicaid coverage to more people as permitted under ObamaCare. According to the letter, it was “not only the right thing to do, it’s the moral and faithful thing to do.”
Theologically, I disagree with them. They apparently believe that biblically the civil government is an instrument of grace rather than an instrument of law given the sword to restrain evil. But if civil government instead of the church taking care of the poor is their “talk,” then they were down there “walking the walk.”
But their presence on the Hill and the signed letter tells me they also “get” several things.
First, they get that what happens in state government is important and that, Scripturally speaking, it is the role of the Church to speak to power.
Therefore, part of “ministry” for them is making time to come to the Capitol or at least sign a letter. In the almost two decades I’ve been on the Hill, by their absence, I would say that the vast majority of theologically conservative preachers don’t see “speaking to power” as any part of ministry.
Second, and related to the first, theologically liberal preachers “get it” that if you want to influence civil government, you have to show up.
If they don’t like something civil government is doing, then they do something. If the theologically conservative preachers don’t believe the civil government should redistribute wealth to fund the welfare efforts that God has assigned to churches and individuals, then where are they? They don’t have to be there all the time, but at critical times you have to be where the action is.
Third, these theologically liberal ministers have an organization, Clergy for Justice, and someone is monitoring for them what is happening on the Hill.
When they see something, they can mobilize. Most theologically conservative ministers have no idea what happens in Nashville and for sure most of those who might know are too disconnected from one another or from an organization like ours to effectively do anything about it.1
Fourth, they understand that there is a relatively strong Judeo-Christian residue in the state, making it important that their issues be presented in a way that “makes the medicine taste good.”
It’s much easier to vote for something as a Tennessee politician if you think it’s the Christian thing to do. The liberal press will not chastise you if your vote is based on liberal theology. Based on my experience, I can’t recall ever having a theologically conservative preacher advise me on legislation.
So, I’ve got to hand it to these preachers. They “get it.” Let’s just pray that some theologically conservative preachers “get it” before it’s too late. God won’t stay His hand or wait on them forever.
1 I do know that there are exceptions to the more general statements I have made. I thank God for them; now their voices just need to be organized to speak into our culture effectively.