Editor’s Note: This is the third installment of a series of short essays written by Michael Jay Tucker about his visit to a meeting of progressive and committed Christians in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Tucker argues that this conference of the “Christian Left,” is powerful evidence that religion can be, and should be a force for good in the American political system.
We rose early the next morning (Feb 6) and drove up to the Church where the Issues Meeting would be. It says much about the meeting that it took place at the United Church of Santa Fe, a United Church of Christ church, rather than a Lutheran one, even though there is a quite suitable Lutheran church just down the road from it.
We went into the Church and joined the crowd queuing up at registration. I took a moment to survey the attendees. It was interesting, and says much about the nature of liberal activism in America, that the attendees were mostly older. I would guess that at sixty-something, I was among the younger cohort of attendees. This partly reflects that fact that the activists of the 1960s are now in their seventies. (And I’m sure members of the libertarian right would find in that evidence of the bankruptcy of liberalism in general. We are old compared to their vigorous youth.) But, more, economics are at play. Only those who are retired, or otherwise (like me) self-employed, can afford to simply pick up and attend a meeting on a workday.
Which was not to say that everyone was ancient. There were several younger people in the crowd. But the amusing thing was how many of those in their thirties or forties were clergy people. I never saw so many clerical collars around so many young throats in my life.
When I pointed this out to Martha, she took it as a good sign. That young people are seeking a career in the church means that the church itself has a future, she said.
I suppose she’s right.
Watching the crowd, it struck me that there are two kinds of churches: the sacred and the profane.
The profane sees itself as a human institution whose purpose is to ease human suffering and advance human well-being, in this time and place. The sacred sees its role in far more etherial terms. Its purpose is to give greater glory to God and to provide eternal salvation to souls of true believers, at some point, and in some invisible way, in a world beyond death and human comprehension.
I am, obviously, a materialist, so I vastly prefer the former …the profane…to the latter, the sacred, if only because I can see hunger and suffering. The greater glory of God is beyond my capacity to measure.
Besides, I think Jesus would have approved of a profane church. He set his followers a rather clear cut mission — to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, and defend the oppressed. This seems rather in line with ends of the Lutheran Advocacy Ministry and its friends, and rather far removed from certain evangelical Christians, Bible in one hand and Glock semi-automatic in the other.
Hooked up with a couple of other members of our own church, Jenny and Pauline, and then we went into the sanctuary which was where the opening session would be. The United Church of Santa Fe is quite striking, architecturally. The sanctuary is large and open, with many windows, and (in lieu of a baptismal font?) has a sort of small artificial stream down one side of the building. Very pretty and very blue.
The audience was then greeted by Ruth Hoffman, who (I gather) founded the Ministry and has run it for something like thirty years. She is a remarkable and charismatic individual. I have spoken to her a couple of times. You wonder where such people come from, and from whence they draw their energy.
We were also greeted by the church’s pastor, Talitha Arnold, and then there were opening remarks and a prayer by yet another very young minister, Adam Berndt. He was energetic and well-spoken — Martha joked that he had ADD — and said some rather compelling things. Among the phrases that showed up in my notebook during his prayer and address was that “Advocacy is divine dissatisfaction.” We will be advocates until such time as the hungry are fed, the homeless are sheltered, and the unjustly imprisoned are free.
As I say, quite potent.
Something else he said was that we would remain advocates until we had a tax system in place that was genuinely fair. By that he meant a system in which the vastly wealthy paid their fair share. That, I’m sure, would cause a brain aneurysms among the libertarians and anarcho-capitalists. But, such people were doubtless few among the audience that day.
They have their own churches, the public ones with the cross, the private ones, the secret, the temples in their hearts …are emblazoned with the dollar sign and devoted to the worship of not Christ or God or angels, but rather…
Of Ayn Rand.
Michael Jay Tucker is the “sort of volunteer editor” of LR Net. He is also a writer and journalist who has written on topics ranging from the Jazz Age to computers. (Among his small claims to fame is that he interviewed Steve Jobs just after that talented if complicated man got kicked out of Apple, and just before the company’s Board came begging him to come back.)
Tucker’s most recent book is Padre: To The Island, a meditation on life and death based on the passing of his own parents.
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