Politics: What’s Church Got to Do with It?
In times of disaster and adversity, it’s not uncommon to grapple with the difficult questions of identity and purpose. Since Trump’s presidency, which many are calling a “constitutional crisis” to say the least, followers of Christ have responded to the events as an opportunity to take inventory of their identity, their relationships with one another, and their responsibility to society. For some, before any valuable work can be done in the communities, the basis of the church’s foundation needs to be firmly established and understood among themselves first so that the ensuing message and mode of change is consistent, effective, and of one accord. Pastor Leonard Corley of Christ Nation Church in Queens notes that if the church is not unified, or if there is a scattered voice, then there is confusion. “There can’t be much involvement from us in politics as a whole if Side A says ‘I’m the church and I believe thus’, Side B says ‘I’m the church and I believe so’ and the two will not come together.” Corley goes on to mention that the rift becomes a sort of “sick competition” over who is the greatest and gives a small account of Jesus having to sort out a similar disagreement among his disciples where he explains to them that the greatest among them is not great as they may perceive greatness, but rather as it pertains to being of service.
The purpose of the church has a direct correlation to its role in society and a major influence on the decisions it makes. With this in mind, it seems unfitting for the church to define itself by the values of the present day, but rather to be upheld by its theological origins. This has proven to be a challenge in an era that appeals more so to trends, fads, and opinions instead of truth, especially as the idea of church seems to have moved from being a universal body, to a local building. The disconnect allows for ideologies to sneak in that aren’t in line with what is biblically grounded and instead shifts the focus to what is ideal for that particular “church” and its members. This was most evident in the election when 81% of white evangelicals voted in favor of Trump.
Bishop D.A Sherron of Global Fire Now in Brooklyn says most people don’t really understand the full purpose of the church. “They see attendance, they see buildings, they see cash, they see all of the accouterments of modern culture and modern society instead of really understanding the biblical responsibility that we do have.” For the church, this responsibility is crucial because of how intimately it deals with the affairs of the people it serves. Sherron goes on to say that he makes it his duty to engage with the neighborhood where Global Fire Now resides because it is important to have an understanding of the needs surrounding the church so that they are able to cater to them.
The church holds true to their calling of representing Christ in culture when they actively involve themselves in matters that affect the people. In light of the times, more and more churches are incorporating social justice ministries and collaborating with their local officials to equip their congregations and communities with the resources and information they need to improve their quality of life. Associate Pastor Andrew Wilkes of Greater Allen A.M.E church in Queens mentions that there was indeed a heightened desire to get involved in these kinds of movements after the presidency. “We partnered with the mayor’s office as a faith in community partnership unit to bring together affordable housing providers, we brought together lawyers to help tenants at risk of eviction as well as to help people who are at risk of foreclosure with the ability to restructure their mortgages.” They’ve also organized an initiative for environmental justice called a “toxic tour” in efforts to construct a bill to reduce the amount of waste going into residential neighborhoods in Southeast Queens. Wilkes also mentions the church’s future plans of incorporating a civics engagement ministry where they will be teaching those interested how to lobby effectively, organize town hall meetings, and connect with congress members.
Although Trump’s presidency has been less than ideal, the church has seen it as an opportunity to step up to the plate and not only reclaim their position but to reexamine their values. The church’s self-actualization is perfectly timed as Trump’s “spiritual advisory board” and religious institution tax exemptions have many raising eyebrows.