By Patrick Scriven
A new hymn has been circulating online over the past few days that has resonated with people both inside and outside the Church. I had resisted listening to it until I read some of the comments the artist made about why and how he wrote it.
The song, Hymn for the 81%, is titled in reference to the broad majority of white Evangelicals who continue to be unwavering in their support of President Donald J. Trump. Full transparency, that is why I hadn’t listened to the song. As the impeachment trial careens its way through the U.S. Senate this week, the curiosity of Evangelical support for the President was neither a new phenomenon or an interesting one.
For Religion News Service, Daniel Dietrich, worship leader at a church in South Bend, Indiana, shared a bit of his writing process with Shane Claiborne. This particular quote caught my attention: “Originally I had this big loud bridge that was basically an angry middle finger to the listener. While it was cathartic, it probably wasn’t helpful.”
While the lyrics Dietrich settled on are still direct and biting, they are also imbued with both love and grace and an invitation instead to “come home” to the faith that they once shared. Grace and love — particularly for those we disagree with — is so rare in these partisan days.
The impact of weaponized Christianity on young people
Young people have been leaving the Church for years. And we are finally beginning to understand that the ‘why’ responsible for their leaving matters. Where previous generations left the Church for a time, often returning when they had children, this was predicated on the fact that they generally understood the Church as a force for good in the world. When young people leave the Church for a good reason — in this case, the unflinching support of Trump’s callous policies and amoral behavior — they are less likely ever to return.
Dietrich’s lyrics frame the problem this way:
You weaponized religion
And you wonder why I’m leaving
To find Jesus on the wrong side of your walls
If we are going to move beyond this partisan moment in our country, and in our United Methodist Church, it will not be due to the yielding of one side to the other. Sincere love and grace for the other are necessary tools we will need to employ.
Beyond a partisan approach
President Abraham Lincoln is said to have issued the following sentiment about God and politics. “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side, my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.”
In his book On God’s Side, Jim Wallis writes:
“But what does it mean to be on God’s side? I believe it starts with focusing on the common good — not just in politics, but in all the decisions we make in our personal, family, vocational, financial, communal, and, public lives. That old but always new ethic simply says we must care for more than just ourselves or our own group. We must care for our neighbor as well, and for the health of the life we share with one another. It echoes a very basic tenet of Christianity and other faiths — love your neighbor as yourself — still the most transformational ethic in history.”
A mistaken remedy to politicization in many churches is to become apolitical. Conflict avoidance is a luring temptation. Still, that approach is in direct conflict with the testimony of the biblical prophets, not to mention the life and teachings of Jesus.
Lincoln and Wallis both help us to see that the solution is to transcend the partisan “weaponization” of religion, seeking the common good instead. For the Church to fulfill its purpose, it needs to be political, but those positions can’t be designed by one team for the benefit of some.
Our responsibility is to follow Jesus, to take God’s politics of love for all outside the walls of our Church, and into the public sphere. When we fight for the rights of those with no voice and little power while seeking to nurture community and the preservation of a world that benefits all, I suspect we’ll discover something else.
Many of those politics are surprisingly popular with young people.
Patrick Scriven is a husband who married well, a father of three amazing girls, and a seminary educated layperson working professionally in the church. Scriven serves the Pacific Northwest Conference as Director of Communications and Young People’s Ministries.