Ponderings of the General Presbyter of the Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley
Rev. Dr. Sue Westfall
June 26, 2023
Last week I participated in a clergy conference hosted by Faith in Action Alabama. Faith in Action Alabama is a faith-based grass roots organizing group with the stated mission “to honor God by dismantling systemic racism to create pathways of opportunity for all Alabamians.” If there is a better vehicle for translating our faith-based values into direct action with regard to the statehouse, I haven’t found it here in Alabama. And let’s face it, a good many of the inequities that plague our state have to do with state laws and governmental decisions (like refusing to expand Medicaid, for instance, or the disenfranchisement of formerly incarcerated people, or the restrictive ban on reproductive health care for women.). By coming together as an ecumenical, interfaith, statewide coalition, we can gain leverage to effect real and systemic change in our state.
Many of our colleagues in Faith in Action are African American coming from such traditions as Missionary Baptist, African Methodist Episcopal, AME Zion, and Christian Methodist Episcopal. Which means that our involvement as Presbyterians with Faith in Action Alabama (FIAA) broadens and deepens our understanding of the issues experienced first-hand by our African American colleagues around the whole state. At the conference we heard powerful testimonies to the racism, both implicit and explicate, our colleagues face every day, as well as amazing success stories that partnership with FAAI has brought about. Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative has observed that, “All of us have the capacity to get close to people who are suffering, close to people who have fallen down … but we can’t do it if we’re not proximate.” Our engagement with FAAI gives us Presbyterians around the state who, by and large, work, live, and worship with people who are like us, an opportunity to get proximate to our African American neighbors.
Some have said to me that the church shouldn’t get involved in politics. While an argument could be made against partisan politics, the reality is that all social interaction is political and the Bible, as well as our Reformed tradition, have plenty to say about social interaction – whether it is decrying injustice, or the prophetic call to justice, or Jesus’ simple command to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. In the Presbyterian tradition two of the six great ends (goals) of the church are explicitly political – “the promotion of social righteousness” and “the exhibition of the kingdom of God to the world.” When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he used the pronoun “we;” there is not one “I” statement in the entire prayer! “We” and “us” – the body politic in what is involved in the prayer Jesus taught us to pray. The preponderance of the Biblical witness attests to God’s desire for and God’s vision of a just and peaceable kingdom for all peoples and for all of creation itself.
So, I will keep talking about and encouraging our involvement in Faith in Action Alabama. It’s the most viable tool I have found so far for effecting real and lasting change. I’d love to hear your thoughts!
As always in prayer,
PS. The Presbytery Office will be closed both Monday, July 3rd and Tuesday, July 4th in recognition of the Independence Day Holiday. The next newsletter will be available mid next week.