BY: B. Keith Plunkett @Keithplunkett
I’m not supposed to talk about this. At least, that is what I was always told as a youngster. Mannerly folks stay away from the subject of politics and religion, especially at the dinner table and never, NEVER entwined in the same conversation.
As to the subject of politics, that train left the station a long time ago for me. I’ve been writing on that subject publicly now for a decade. Religion is something I have stayed away from, and for good reason. It’s personal, as in a personal relationship. My beliefs are that no man has a right to put himself between me and God. To write about my beliefs opens the door for someone else to critique them, and that is a path that I have decided not to travel.
I’ve decided to step onto this shaky ground because of recent political events that have pushed the two subjects together in a very public way. One of our own Mississippi candidates made a leap in rhetoric that is a threat to how people perceive people of Faith in our state, and the actions of a few in Crystal Springs First Baptist Church have also called into question what it means to be a Christian in Mississippi. Both incidents illustrate that the intersection of religion and politics is not always easy to find, and that it’s occasionally moved due to detours created by those on opposing sides who have something to gain.
Ron Williams, a libertarian long-shot from Moss Point hoping to unseat District 4 Congressman Steven Palazzo, wrote a letter to the Sun Herald recently that stated mayors who openly showed disdain for Chik-fil-A restaurants locating in their cities, due to the COO statements against gay marriage, should “be introduced to the Second Amendment.”
Williams has since backed off of the letter saying that is was “hyperbole, not clarity.” But anyone, especially a candidate for public office, who takes the time to write a letter and send it has had ample time and opportunity to find clarity on a subject. A public official, regardless of the office held, needs clarity of thought to make tough decisions.
Williams either proved he is unfit for office because he lacks that clarity or, more likely, he was hoping to use religion as a way to get some cheap publicity. Either way, it is to Williams detriment and the benefit of the voters of District 4 that it worked. Now they know.
Then there is the case of the Crystal Springs congregation who refused to marry a black couple in the historically white attended church. Unfortunately, my first reaction was one of resignation. Many of us who have been brought up in rural Mississippi congregations all know people like the white church members who threatened the pastors job if he went through with the ceremony. For me personally, it brought back memories of what pushed me away from the church as a young man.
I attended a small country church growing up. Most members were also my kin. My maternal grandfather was Minister of Music for 27 years before retirement. My paternal grandfather’s name is on the cornerstone of the building that replaced the old structure in the 50’s, as are the names of several great uncles. A visit to the cemetery, which dates back 200 years, is like taking a stroll through my family tree. I played as a child amongst those old family members, catching ‘lightning bugs’ after evening services in the summer twilight. There is a comfort to that place for me that can’t be readily put into words.
Nonetheless, it was the actions of a few of the living–the hypocrisy, the organizational politics, the refusal to accept any discussion or questions that pointed out that hypocrisy–that led to a time of disenfranchisement for me.
In the long run, it was a blessing beyond anything I could comprehend. Because, God used that opportunity to embrace me and give me the Truth. I studied on my own, and I allowed the Truth to find it’s way, away from the politics of the church. By doing so, He led me back.
Now I can look back and see that those members of my church and my family were only human. As much as my young mind attempted to give them the status of strong oaks, they–like me, like all of us–are willows in the wind. We all must stay rooted strongly or else we’ll be given over to the whims of whatever wind blows. Disconnected from those roots, we will blow away and wither.
Mississippi Christians are in for some tough times as the world becomes smaller through technology, and as we more frequently come into direct contact with differences in culture that challenge “the way things have always been.” The Chik-fil-A story shows clearly that Christians can positively unite to show support for tradition without a full-fledged eruption of hatefulness. That type of peaceful activism is what will continue to work. Christians should be prepared to be called all kind of nasty things in the process without firing back and falling prey to a tendency to ratchet up the rhetoric.
In response to the Crystal Springs incident, the community did something that likely wouldn’t have been thought of a mere 20 years ago. Whites and blacks came together to reject the political in support of the Faithful, and to put unity of Faith ahead of division. Church members unaware of the ultimatum have embraced the couple and welcomed them back into the church.
A good solution may lie somewhere in this recent welcome message in the bulletin of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Community in Daytona Beach, Florida.
We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, gay, filthy rich, dirt poor, yo no habla Ingles. We extend a special welcome to those who are crying new-borns, skinny as a rail or could afford to lose a few pounds.
We welcome you if you can sing like Andrea Bocelli or like our pastor who can’t carry a note in a bucket. You’re welcome here if you’re “just browsing,” just woke up or just got out of jail. We don’t care if you’re more Catholic than the Pope, or haven’t been in church since little Joey’s Baptism.
We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast. We welcome soccer moms, NASCAR dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, junk-food eaters. We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted. We welcome you if you’re having problems or you’re down in the dumps or if you don’t like “organized religion,” we’ve been there too.
If you blew all your offering money at the dog track, you’re welcome here. We offer a special welcome to those who think the earth is flat, work too hard, don’t work, can’t spell, or because grandma is in town and wanted to go to church.
We welcome those who are inked, pierced or both. We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down your throat as a kid or got lost in traffic and wound up here by mistake. We welcome tourists, seekers and doubters, bleeding hearts … and you!
This is not a call, as some may suggest, to change the meaning or the role of Faith in society in order to make people feel comfortable. On the contrary, it’s a call to get to the core of what it means; personal acceptance and personal belief. Those two individual decisions require something of a person that no other man has a reason or responsibility to involve himself with.
These societal and religious skirmishes, of course, will continue. But, I don’t worship religion, and I don’t pray to a church. My task is to maintain my Faith and focus on the knowledge that there is but One relationship that truly matters. How others perceive me, and judge me, is their burden to bear. My focus must be on Divine Providence when it makes its presence known. My focus must be on the opportunities I am given to serve God by serving others in the way it was personally given to me. My focus must be the task of prayer “without ceasing.” That’s quite enough to keep my hands full without worrying myself over someone else’s walk.
About Keith: Keith Plunkett has worked on communications issues with a range of public officials from aldermen to Congressmen, and a variety of businesses, governmental agencies and non-profits. He serves or has served as a board member of several non-profit, civic and political organizations. Contact him by going to HorizonMediaMarketing.com or follow him on Twitter @Keithplunkett