What's next?

By Rev. Mindi

I had hoped to be writing a completely different article, and much earlier in the evening. As it is, I'm typing this at 11:19PM PST, with the race all but called. 

What do we do when we feel so defeated and dejected? When a candidate endorsed by the KKK wins an election, the popular vote, among our neighbors, coworkers, and friends?

What do we do when the freedom to marry, to use the freakin' bathroom, is at risk of being taken away for LGBTQ folk? With deportations only to increase and a wall to be built? When the Supreme Court has a slot unfilled going into this new presidency?

We cannot give up. We cannot stop.

Start locally. Look at local referendums and state policies to protect the rights of transgender folks. Know your state representative and senator by name and speak to them often, and not just email--call them. Arrange to visit with them one on one. Go visit them in their congressional office if you are able to. 

Find other organizations and individuals to partner with on local legislation to support public education and healthcare, and services for disabled and senior folks. 

Don't stop working now. Take the day off and breathe. Tomorrow get back to work, because God is not through with us yet.

Don't Take the Bait

By Rev. Joe Pusateri

“Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”

But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away. 

(Matt 22:17-22, NIV)

About 4 years ago, my wife and I decided that to get rid of the television.  For me, the final straw was watching my 5 and 3 year old daughters held totally captive by the onslaught of commercials while I sat at the dinner table working on a paper in the pursuit of my Master of Divinity degree.  I called their names again and again, trying to get their attention to no avail.  It was then that I realized that even a parent with the benefit of close interaction with and deep love for his own flesh and blood children was no match for the multi-billion dollar resources of toy manufacturers to impart values, so long as we were competing for their limited attention.  So I exercised my trump card and pulled the plug on the cable.  As it turns out, the transition was much harder for the adults in the home; the kids adjusted quickly and began to use their imaginations again through play and reading. 

I could go on and on about the various ways a television-free family has preserved the sacred space of the home.  But as we approach the election on November 4, what I want to say here is that I treasure such a lifestyle most during campaign season.  It is nice to be removed from the constant barrage of political ads.  What is disturbing, however, is to see what happens to people who are still plugged in.  I watch friendships disintegrate, families divide, neighbors hammer wedges between each other.  It is absurd.  With the deep problems in this country, how in the world is it sane to respond with such vitriol towards fellow citizens?  It is as though we are all on a ship that has struck an iceberg and instead of uniting together, we are arguing vigorously over the color of the dinner napkins in the dining hall.  And what makes me most indignant about the toxic partisanship and lack of civility in our political discourse is that it is 100% intentional.  Our incivility and division is actually the point of all this bad political theater.  

You see, in a democracy those who hold power have a fundamental dilemma, which is that, theoretically, power rests in the people.  And there are a whole lot more of “We the People” than those who seek to rule us.  So in order to get people to abdicate our power, our rulers use the oldest trick in the book: divide and conquer.  In other words, so long as we are fighting amongst ourselves, we will never recognize that we have more in common with one another and more shared interests than we will ever have with the interests of those who pull the strings of government.  This has been used for centuries.  In this nation, it has been used with enormous success to keep poor and working class whites, for example, from uniting with poor and working class blacks who are both getting the brunt of failed policies.  But the whites are told blacks are the problem and blacks are told whites are the problem.  Across the board, you can see the artificial lines drawn everywhere between us.  Urban is pitted against rural, conservative is pitted against liberal, church denominations are encouraged to fight with one another over doctrine, rather than unite under the mandate of Christ to preach the good news to the ends of the earth.  And because these appeals to hate your sister or brother are so persuasive, because the media, the government and the marketplace are so skilled at exploiting our anxieties, we often take the bait.  We fail to look across the railroad tracks and see that I have infinitely more in common with the folks that live on the other side than I will ever have with the principalities and powers that manipulate us both.

In Matthew 22, Jesus doesn’t take the bait.  You’ve heard the story: the Democrats and Republicans... I mean the Pharisees and Herodians attempt to trap Jesus by coming at him with the question of the Roman head-tax, the kēnsos (census) tax.  Is it lawful to pay the emperor’s tax or not?  They ask him.  Yes or no?  But it’s a trap.  If Jesus says yes, then he sides with the Herodians, who are in bed with political power.  But in so doing, Jesus will alienate the crowds who have been following him looking for a savior from Roman oppression.  If Jesus says no, then he will be cast with the zealots and be crushed by the Empire.

So Jesus says, give me a denarius.  Tell me whose image and inscription is on it.  (By the way, I love that Jesus doesn’t even have a denarius on him; that’s a whole sermon in itself.)  The coin has the image of Caesar and the words, Tiberius Caesar Divi Augusti Filius Augustus Pontifex Maximus (“Tiberius Caesar, august son of the divine Augustus, high priest”).  Jesus exposes his challengers by getting them to pull out an idolatrous coin in the holy Temple, bearing the image of the emperor, who claims to be the Son of God.  Jesus resists being roped into conventions of power and money worship.  Jesus resists playing into the game of “whose side are you on?”  The coin belongs to Caesar, Jesus says, it has his image on it.  So give it to him.  But if the coin has Caesar’s image on it and therefore belongs to him, then what has God’s image on it and therefore belongs to God?  That, of course, would be you.  You belong to God.  But so does your neighbor, black, brown or white, male or female, gay or straight, old or young, abled or disabled, urban or rural, immigrant or native born, Jewish, Muslim or Buddhist, incarcerated or free, poor or wealthy, conservative or liberal, republican or democrat.  We bear God’s image.  So give your allegiance to God.  And don’t take the bait.  

Rev. Joey Pusateri, Pastor

Simpsonville Christian Church


World Cup, Patriotism, and the Language of Faith

By Rev. Mindi

I’m sure I’m not the only pastor uneasy about the Sunday closest to July 4th. Our Christian faith gets convoluted with civil religion and the separation of church and state goes out the window—even in most American Baptist churches I know, where we spout the words of Roger Williams in our Baptist history classes but place the flag prominently on the left hand side of the chancel. Every church I have served has had the American flag in the sanctuary. On the other hand, every church I have visited in a country other than the U.S. has not had their country’s flag in the sanctuary.

It’s a tricky thing to maneuver as a pastor. Do we sing patriotic hymns or not? If we say God Bless America, do we also say God Bless Afghanistan, Algeria, and Australia? Ideally, I would do none of it, and try hard to remember that we pray for Christ’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven.  I would rather that we remember that all people are God’s children, no matter our citizenship or documentation in worldly nations. I would not have the flag in the sanctuary if it was up to me—but it is not.

At the same time, I am writing this right after the USA vs. Belgium World Cup game, in which the USA games have been watched more than any other sporting event in recent memory in the United States. People from all religious backgrounds, all ethnicities, all political views, have been rooting together, and more interestingly, getting caught up in the entire World Cup fever. The World Cup has been a place where national pride, the language of faith (“I Believe That We Will Win”) and the energy of millions has been funneled together. And while the United States did not advance, the game was well-played and there is a sense of being part of a global community, even if it is limited through this sporting event and its fans (temporary or loyal to soccer/futbol).

Patriotism in and of itself is not a bad thing at all, but when we convolute our love of God and our love of country together, we end up with flags draped on the cross, and forget that our God is the God who created all of us, and we forget that the United States has more than just Christians as citizens and participants. We shove God and the United States into the same box.

While many pastors I know will not even mention Independence Day on Sunday, for those of us who cannot get away from some sort of patriotic display, let us open the boxes completely. Let us pray for God to bless America, along with Afghanistan through Zimbabwe. May we show the same sense of pride of being citizens of the reign of God. And may we learn a lesson from the World Cup—our language of faith—“I Believe that We”—can also be adapted to suggest faith and trust in other human beings, and that we are stronger together.