Most clergy never think outside the box. Most of them ARE the box, at least on Sunday morning. But here’s the story of an ordinary pastor who decided to dip a toe into the world of politics… and scurried home not understanding what he saw. Credit to Keith for daring to take his first step into the Real World but let me help him understand what he saw. The article is a bit dated but finding any clergy who care to care doesn’t happen every day.
When This Pastor Got Political
“I thought a town hall meeting would be the perfect venue to fight for justice. I was oh-so-wrong.”
By Keith Mannes, pastor of East Saugatuck Christian Reformed Church of Holland, Michigan, May 2017
Two months ago I went to a town hall meeting sponsored by our district congressman.
Never have I been the kind of person to do this. Although I’ve always had relatives or friends from the “zealot-fringe” who got frothed up about their party or their cause, I typically rolled my eyes at their Facebook posts and moved on. I am a pastor from a faith tradition that, on the one hand, believes on a theological level that Christians should engage in and redeem the political sphere, but on the other hand, prefers that pastors shut up and stay out of politics when speaking from the pulpit. For 30 years in ministry, I have neglected the former and abided too much by the latter.
For thirty years, he was either deliberately useless or a Pharisee. What’s worse: “The best way for pastors to redeem society is to not participate in it” or “Thank God I’m above the petty politics of the Little People”? Well, better late than never.
Over the last five years, and with special intensity in the last two, things have been changing within me. Things we politely call “social issues” or “justice issues”—the kinds of things which, like the priest and the Levite in the parable of The Good Samaritan, I have “passed by on the other side”—well, these things now keep me awake at night. My soul is grinding and churning to make some kind of Christian sense of it all, and I am lurching by fits and starts down a road I have never traveled. I am desperately trying to get it right, and I have the terrible sense that for most of my life I have gotten it wrong.
He never mentions Donald Trump and the timing isn’t perfect for Trump Derangement Syndrome, so I don’t know what event spurred him to go explore. Doesn’t really matter. Keith will be a better human being even as a NeverTrumper than a smugly enthroned AMOG in Podunk because for the first time ever, he now gives a damn about the outside world.
I am a little preacher serving quiet churches on country roads. But now I feel restless. I want to rise up and do something that matters. Every day I get wrapped up in the news, and I pack and un-pack these things with equally troubled pastors. I have gone to marches and painted signs. Sometimes when I pray, I discover tears in my eyes, and I look down to find my fists are clenched.
And all of this soul-churning is leaking out of me when I preach. I am going out on untested limbs in my sermons, and the people of my congregation, most of whom have accepted opposite political conclusions, can feel it. This has resulted in some delicate meetings in living rooms and coffee shops with members of the church I serve, and a few sweaty-behind-the-knees discussions with our elders, as they fulfill their duty by trying to understand what’s happening with me.
The guy has gone thirty years without this kind of delicate conversation? I notice he tried to remain politically neutral even in this article about getting politically involved.
Then I saw my chance to make a difference: a town hall meeting moderated by my congressman. I had left phone messages at the congressman’s office—both his local office and his office in DC—but now I wanted to stand and speak in person to one of the powers of earth. I had a little speech outlined in my head, and because our congressman is from my faith tradition, I planned to “let him have it.” I thought he was a coward and a hypocrite, and I expected more. And in these sentiments, I was most certainly united in heart and spirit with the majority of people in attendance.
Ah, the naive optimism of going to the Congressman and changing his mind by telling him off. We all start there. Pretty quick, you start wanting just twenty seconds to make your point and go home.
The Town Hall Meeting
The middle-school auditorium was packed with nearly 1,000 people. Many lined up against the walls, and 250 more gathered in an overflow room. While waiting in line to get in and then waiting inside for the meeting to start, I talked with a lot of people. It was a standing-room-only circus. At first this was, I admit, edgy and exciting.
I’ve been told that young female SJWs are most likely to give their orbiters pity sex in the wake of a political rally because her emotions are riled up and she needs to express them. Did Keith see any edgy, excited soyboys there? I bet he did.
Why were there 1,200 people at a town hall meeting? Because government now controls the bulk of peoples’ lives and daily picks winners and losers. People care about the leaders who functionally run their lives. There would not be four-digit turnouts if the Federal gov’t limited itself to infrastructure and foreign affairs like it’s supposed to.
Then the meeting started.
The congressman took a handheld mic and offered it to a young woman who stood up to speak about her uterus and its rights and insurance and its impact upon her uterus. Someone behind me, who had apparently been calculating the medical costs of her indiscretions with her uterus, yelled out that condoms were cheaper. Then another man jumped up from behind the congressman, grabbed the mic from his hand, and started yelling about what would have happened if his wife had been aborted. It was, from the get-go, like an episode of Jerry Springer.
Heh, the very first speaker was a bitch demanding free stuff because pussy. Get used to the sight of that, Keith, and welcome to the real world. Of course the attendees were badly behaved. These events are attended mostly by liberals who have the time and motivation to demand free stuff from their G-man, best done with a temper tantrum. The disciplined men who keep the world turning are busy putting the kids to bed in time to rest up for another workday.
The last time I went to a town hall meeting was to complain about the local gov’t eminent-domaining a profitable business in order to create a park. When I arrived, I learned that public comment on that had been scheduled for the five minutes preceding the dinner break, if the previous three hours didn’t run five minutes too long. I didn’t wait. That’s typical of real mens’ experience with gov’t: we want gov’t to stop creating problems rather than fix our personal ones.
The people seated in the row behind me offered loud, running commentary. They had been to the congressman’s town hall in a different locality the previous week. (This, apparently, was what they did instead of staying home and watching Netflix.) They would call out, “That’s not what he said last week,” and then a few minutes later, they would yell, “Oh, c’mon; you said the same thing last week.” When the congressman offered details on a subject (and I had to admit, he was pretty intelligent), the couple would say, “T-M-I! T-M-I!”
If the congressman talked too long, people would yell, “You’re stalling!” When the subject was health insurance, people shouted, “What about Russia?” And when the subject turned to Russia, someone yelled, “What about taxes?” So the congressman started to explain taxes, using his own tax-life as an example. Someone shouted, “We’re not here to hear about you!” Others chanted, “Tax the rich!” Name a subject, and everyone in the place could locate and yell out some related subject about which they were enraged. It was like a loud, strange word-association test.
This reminded me of my children’s sermon from the week before, when I said, “Fish” (as in, fishers of men), and a kid raised her hand to talk about Cheerios. But then, at least the child had raised her hand. No, this … this thing happening in the school auditorium was like a spark floating around in a fireworks store. Any particular word might ignite a series of explosions.
Because they’re bored and didn’t bring a coloring book. If Pastor Keith thinks that behavior is troubling then somebody should drag him to live-action Mexican wrestling. It ain’t WWF.
Most people never mature past high school.
The Human Piñata
The congressman himself became a piñata. For a long time, only hearing about him and never hearing him speak, I thought him an arrogant jerk. Now I could see that, although I still almost completely disagreed with his policies, he was smart, gracious, and tough—and really quite fearless. No matter what he said, he was going to lose every time, but he would say it anyways.
Most Congressmen are master manipulators of people and desperate for attention, even negative attention. That’s the personality that wins the female vote in direct-democratic elections. That’s the personality that wants town hall meetings in the first place. Did you think he was there for civic duty’s sake?
Congressmen are not supposed to be the gestalt mouthpieces of every person back home. That’s not even possible; the typical Representative represents over 400,000 people, to say nothing of Senators; but they love to act the part. See, the Liberal draws his virtue from being the designated representative of people who aren’t present. That gives him both power and plausible deniability.
On the subject of education, he made the mistake of disclosing that he sent his kids to a Christian school. People spat out, “That’s because you can afford it.” When he said he was on the government health care plan, people grimaced and said, “Yeah, ri-i-i-ight.” People would try to pin him to the mat with questions about complicated issues, then jab a forefinger at him and say, “Yes or no?” So he would openly state his position, which only (as he knew it would) brought forth more opposition.
Keith himself came in expecting to “pin him to the mat”. Good for him that he realized it’s both disrespectful and useless.
Is Keith surprised at this cynicism? Public schools are trash everywhere. Congressmen have their own, Congress-only health care plan which predates Obamacare and wasn’t replaced by Obamacare. Our leaders don’t live like us, don’t want to live like us and don’t consider themselves to be one of us. Just like our pastors.
And then, strangely, in the middle of talking about a subject for which they hated him, he would mention a small thing they liked. Then they stood to applaud. They were like split-personality dogs. They would mostly bite, but sometimes, with a different synapse tweaked, they would jump up, lick you, and pee on your leg.
Crowds are fickle like that. Always have been. Don’t worry, your Congressman is an experienced professional at working a crowd. He knows what he’s doing, just like an animal handler sticking his head in a crocodile’s maw.
The congressman stuttered once, and the people around me, some of whom were there to advocate for the weak, chuckled and sneered. When he took a break to sip some water (the meeting was nearly three hours long), people viewed it as a sign of nervousness and called out, “Stop stalling.” At one point, the congressman asked one of his aides to bring a mic to a woman and made the unfortunate, split-second choice to say, “Jack, grab that woman, will ya?” Lots of people booed at this, interpreting it as a sexist offense. The woman next to me said, “Ha-ha! Yeah, right. Freudian slip, for sure.”
Speaking of the woman next to me, I had talked with her for a while before the meeting, so she decided we were comrades. Throughout the meeting, at every juncture, she turned her head and talked to me in conspiratorial tones. At first I politely smiled and nodded my head, but after a while I just stared at the speaker and pretended not to hear.
Grasshopper learned quickly.
King of the Tiny, Melting Mountain
Eventually the meeting ended because the building needed to close. But the congressman remained with a crowd of 40 people who wanted to talk to him (as did I). I listened from a distance to all sorts of people with pet causes that had gone unaddressed, insights to share from their research on the Internet, or personal views on the economy and how to fix it.
When the building closed, I left without an opportunity to ask him about my concerns. A woman, a total stranger, walked out with me. Her car was parked on the same stretch of sidewalk as mine. She didn’t get to speak her mind in the meeting either—about her cancer, insurance, and bankruptcy. She was struggling with a difficult issue and needed to be heard. This was life-and-death for her. As we said goodbye, she added, “Well, at least I got to tell it to you.”
She expected Congress to help her with her cancer, insurance and bankruptcy because Congress has seized unlawful control of health care and finance… with zero positive results, as predicted by everybody who wan’t a socialist parasite. Back in the day, when Keith was young, she would have gone to her husband and been cared for.
My guess is, most of the people at the town hall meeting came because they felt the injustice of the world.
Wrong. They wanted free loot from the local Santa Claus. Surely the pastor of even a modest church has encountered this type in his thirty-year career.
These noble desires, however, disintegrated into … well, this is lousy to say, but after three hours it all seemed petty. The poorest among us in that room were among the most privileged humans in the world, but we still felt ripped off. Nobody wanted to hear of the multiplicity of needs, or the limited resources, or the complicated choices. Everybody forgot whatever their higher goal may have been, and instead they chose to yell about their piece of the pie.
Why does Keith think the attendees had a higher goal than petitioning the God-Government to care for their needs with a little entertainment on the side? Does he not know the simpleminded joy of seeking pleasure and avoiding pain?
Alone in the dark of my car on a side-street, I just felt sad. I, too, had lost my bearings.
Because if there was a hypocrite in the room, it was me. There in the meeting, I was looking down on everyone, including the congressman. I was making snap judgements, as if I were better or more put together. And I had been yelling, too.
Many times, when someone attacked the congressman on an issue, I stood up and yelled and clapped. Once, when the congressman was five feet from me, I raised my hand and held it in his face, pressing myself forward to be recognized. Any observer would have been reminded of an elementary school kid who had to go to the bathroom really, really badly.
The previous Sunday, I had done a sermon about the kingdom of God. To portray the kingdom of Earth, I showed a picture of the last un-melted snow in a parking lot, covered with dirt and surrounded by debris. I talked about how the kingdom of Earth has always been about trying to be King of the Mountain on this soon-to-be-gone pile of ice and dirt.
Putting my car in drive after the meeting, I felt like we had all just lived that out, clawing and ripping at whatever or whoever we perceived was at the top of that melting pile. In some nameless way, everyone was thirsting for righteousness, but without thinking much of its source. And I had done the same. It hit me that I had never even thought of offering something of eternal faith to that woman with cancer before she got into her car and drove away.
I wondered, the winter road humming beneath my car, if this empty feeling within me was why the apostle Peter, the apostle Paul, and even Jesus seemed so frustratingly detached from political things. For the first time on my new political activist road, I felt in my gut that I had used my freedom, if not for evil, then at least for a human and vengeful purpose.
Detached from politics? Jesus? Ex-Pharisee “Pinata” Paul the Roman Citizen? Keith has not read Scripture in a long time.
Maybe that’s what people in our church were feeling, lately, in my sermons. I had been thinking, all along, that I was being prophetic, but really, I was angry. This anger was not always about the larger biblical issues or even the politicians. I was angry because I didn’t understand how people could see these issues so differently. Many Sundays I had come pretty close, right there in our sanctuary, to … er, um … yelling at them.
Pastors should become relevant to their laity by sharing the life experiences of the laity, not by pretending they’re an Old Testament prophet-advisor who draws his secret knowledge from sheltered living and privileged access to the Big Guy.
Then it came to me like a brick into my chest: I am going to die. And no one in government, good or bad, can fix that. Tragedy strikes and sickness comes and sometimes there is no way to stop it. Some people have a lot, and some people have less, and it is never fair. This is fallout from the Fall.
I can’t accept this at face value. No way is mortality a revelation to a guy at least 50 years old. Neither is the idea that government officials cannot have a powerful influence upon society. Does Keith not know a religious event when he sees one? More at the conclusion.
A Little Preacher on a Country Road
I feel, now, happier to be a little preacher on a country road. Whatever I do or say, I realize, doesn’t matter much to the big world, but even in my sphere, there is an everlasting kingdom to talk about. And while I’m pointing to Christ, vengeful, wild anger must have no place in this preacher’s heart.
This concern over the state of being angry isn’t Christian. Anger is an emotion that must be channeled like any other. How any clergyman can contemplate society today and not be honestly furious is beyond me. Well, no, they’re just spineless warm bodies working towards retirement as their preferred form of redemption.
Still, if there is another town hall nearby, I will likely go. The concerns and convictions of my soul that took me to the first one are even more pressing than before. I will still call my congressman and urge action. (I have his number programmed in my phone.) I will still address the issues of the day in my sermons.
Being relevant is a massive improvement. Rubbing shoulders with ordinary people is another massive improvement. If Keith brings along notions of Christian justice & morality then he’ll have a trifecta.
But I need to keep my soul in the right place while finding greater ways to advocate for justice—and to actually do justice. I need to keep engaging, but with an equanimity and a dignity that reflect the confidence of someone whose existence rests in the “life that is truly life.”
I am just a little preacher, but the church and its message, which seemed at one time to be so small, now rise within me as the true hope of the world.
You will fail at that, Keith. The moment you start swimming against the feminist current will be the moment the world takes aim at you for nonconformity.
Do you know what you saw at that meeting? That was Sunday morning for atheists. A religious gathering. They worship Government the way Christians worship Christ. Remember how passionate the people were? How they wanted just a moment of the Prophet’s time, so he would notice them and solve their problems? Surely you see the parallel to God & Church.
I said that woman you talked to didn’t want your Savior. That’s because she wanted the God of Results, not the God of Truth. Truth is not very popular these days and Christ would rather we endure suffering than live sheltered lives. But when G-Man descends from the Potomac Swamp to hear petitions for free stuff, people sure get excited and line up to beseech his favor.
Don’t be one of them, Keith. Go, see, learn, but don’t allow yourself to ever consider your local Congressman as a stand-in for God. You will be tempted to.
Keith doesn’t have much of a web presence but still writes for Christianity Today. I don’t disagree with him about prepping for the Apocalypse: