Summary: This message challenges us to examine if there are gaps between what we say and what we do.
3 Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye. (Matthew 7:3-5; NRSV)
41 Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 42 Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye. (Luke 6:41-42; NRSV)
During the past year, we have seen increased tensions in the urban segments of our cities. The mistrust and animus between citizens and law enforcement officers has called the church into taking the lead in seeking healing in these communities. As a part of seeking solutions, many of the leaders of the faith community are reaching out to both sides to offer words that will foster better relations and that challenge the parties to engage in self-examination.
The leaders of the faith communities have tough jobs. The separation of ‘Church and State’ establishes guard rails that prevent one entity from having authority over the other. At best, the leaders of the faith communities can only stand in the gap as advisers.
In observing the leaders of the faith community crying out for justice and peace, I noted an interesting disparity. Some-to-many of the leaders who advocate for greater participation of the citizens in the municipal, state and federal power structures, were a part of traditional polities that did not function as democracies. Some-to-many of those who chastened the citizenry for not voting in recent elections did not have church policies where the congregants shared power with the leaders. Going back to the days of the civil rights marches, those who advocated for the worthiness of all citizens often had hierarchical, pastor-led decision making processes. These structures may have been based on the scriptures, traditions, and the fact that ministers were traditionally the most educated people in the urban community.
The danger of this disparity was that the people in the pews were caught in a vise between the pulpit and the governing authorities in society. People whose cries were silenced by the Pharaoh were also silenced by the local Moses. People who were disenfranchised from the prevailing power structures were also disenfranchised from creating policies to guide the pastor and the people. The only time when democracy was observed was either on April 15th or the Offertory prayer. The consequence is that if people remain unheard in City Hall, the State House, the White House and the Sanctuary, then the streets become the place where the unheard can be heard through their actions. If people's voices and intellects are silenced in the houses of worship and in the public square, then that is a sociological aneurysm waiting to rupture.
In observing this disparity, the question is raised ‘Are the leaders of the faith community sending mixed messages?’ Should the leaders say to the powers-that-be ‘Give us fair and full participation in the governing structures’ but then defend their exclusive right to govern the church as they see fit, without being questioned? How can one say to congregants that ‘You are smart, capable and highly favored by God to run society’ but then say that God only speaks to the person in the pulpit and that ministerial authority or actions should never be questioned? If the congregants are completely incapable of working with the leaders of a church to guide, sustain and grow it, then how does one make the argument that these same persons should be able to run a municipality, state or the nation? Are the leaders of the faith community guilty of saying ‘Do what I say but not what I do’? Are the leaders code-switching between speaking ‘to’ Pharaoh and speaking ‘as’ Pharaoh?
I believe that the scriptures provide guidance on this observation. In his Sermon on the Mount (found in Matthew and Luke), Jesus tells his followers that they need to practice what they preach. Jesus tells his followers that we must model the attitudes and behaviors that we demand of others. Jesus tells his followers to not use the condemnation of others as a substitute for judging the same sin in themselves. Jesus tells his followers to critically assess and correct one’s situation before seeking to help someone else. Jesus tell his followers not to judge others by what they do but then judge ourselves by our intentions. Jesus tells his followers don’t ask law enforcement to serve and protect while you leave vulnerable children and adults unprotected from sexual predators in leadership. Jesus tells his followers do not condemn the power brokers of society if you aspire the same affirmation and compensation from those you serve. Jesus tells his followers not to make demands of the king in public but then broker as king-makers in private. Jesus tells his followers not to demand the deployment of more public tax dollars to address social ills, while attempting to shelter private love offerings from the IRS. Jesus tells his followers to practice what they preach.