Iris de León-Hartshorn is director of Transformative Peacemaking for Mennonite Church USA.
Mary’s Song of Praise
And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
— Luke 1:46-55 (NRSV)
To say I have been grieving or depressed for the last few months is to put it mildly. But it was not until last week, when I preached at Augsburg Mennonite Church in Germany, that it hit me: I am grieving the loss of the church’s moral voice and witness, and depressed that “The Christian Church” has once again failed to heed the call of Jesus.
In the last year, I have been mulling over the Magnificat and re-reading the parables in Luke using Luke 1:46-55 as the frame in interpreting the parables. In my reading and reflecting, as I consider the times we’re living in, I am struck by the numbers of Christians who chose to side with the proud, powerful and wealthy through their vote in the November 2016 presidential election.
My words are for those in the Mennonite community, my tribe. I name “white evangelical Christians” because many in my tribe identify themselves as evangelicals. I acknowledge many other Christians made the same decisions, but they are not part of my tribe. I also acknowledge a small percentage of people of color also made similar decisions this election season, but they did not carry the election. The fact is, 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump, the most that have voted for a Republican candidate since 2004.
White evangelical Christians have been the most vocal in the last few decades in tying their morals and ethics to the political agenda. And yet the majority of them voted for a president who degrades the lowly, makes business deals off the back of the poor, wields power to crush immigrants, women and people of color, and has a white nationalist agenda. Where is the “good news?”
I had hoped that the church was God’s main instrument for bringing the good news to the lowly, oppressed and vulnerable.
But now I have come to believe — just as in the days of the Reformation — it is the remnant within the church that is heeding the call of Jesus.
I know that Christians are now working in coalitions and networks together with others outside the church to carry out God’s mandate to “lift the lowly and feed the hungry with good things.” We are not to be proud, wield power or set our sights on wealth. God uses those who are willing to serve with mercy, justice, and above all, love.
While in Germany, visiting some of our spiritual foremothers’ and forefathers’ sites, I was reminded of the roots a movement as I imagined 88 Anabaptists huddled in a home in Augsburg, risking death to read the Word as community, and follow Jesus in their lives.
Today I see Christians in Los Angeles joining in an interfaith project to buy safe houses, providing sanctuary for those most vulnerable in the midst of mass deportation. I don’t want to get into an argument about whether people are documented or not. I don’t understand that as being God’s ultimate concern. I am hearing of Mennonite churches becoming places of sanctuary and many inquiring, “What do we need to do to be a sanctuary for our neighbors who live in fear?” Coalitions are being formed to respond by speaking truth to power and walking alongside the vulnerable, doing what is necessary to lift up those the world has deemed lowly.
I have become convinced it is not the white evangelical Christian church, as we know it now, that will be the witness to the world of God’s amazing love and grace, but it will be the remnant of the church joining with others that will be the light our world needs.
Isn’t this after all the missional church strategy — finding where God is acting in the world and joining with that movement? This does not mean I have given up on the church by any means, but it does mean that I must be open to where God is working. The future may be a church no longer confined to buildings but defined by Christians engaging in their communities, building coalitions with others to ensure that the lowly are lifted up, the hungry are fed, and those who are oppressed are liberated with the good news.
Many people of color have expressed sadness in what they view as the betrayal of the church. We can’t stay stuck in those feelings of betrayal.
We must be willing to move forward and follow the One who knows what it means to live on the margins, to risk his life, to choose non-violence over violence, the lowly over the rich, seeking peace over power and liberating the oppressed, Jesus the Christ.
Note: For information about becoming a Sanctuary Congregation or other ways to help immigrants in your area, click here.