By Peter Wells
Associate Conference Minister
So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.
There was a time when the church was very powerful . . . . Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an arch defender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent--and often even vocal--sanction of things as they are.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr.
I agree with those who speak of God’s preferential option for the poor. But it seems to me that in the church we often exhibit a preferential option for politeness – cordiality – pleasantness – niceness above all else. Yes there is a time for cordiality. Being nice has its place. But when it comes to our response to poor– in the presence of systemic injustice – should lukewarm be the temperature of our reaction and action? I often feel anger rising up when faced with what the power structure does to our sisters and brothers. But I try to stifle my anger – keep it cool or at least lukewarm because I know the church doesn’t do anger well.
This preference for lukewarm is true even in the Jesus we prefer. We are far more comfortable with the Jesus who is gentle, meek and mild than the one who became indignant – which means angry. We are not comfortable with the one who got hot under the collar and turned over tables. We like our Jesus all nice and warm – not hot or cold. And that, I think, helps explain why our responses to the needs of the world are lukewarm. It is not that we are cold and don’t care or respond. We do care and we do respond but our concern and actions are expressed in ways that don’t upset anyone especially the maintainers of the status quo. We are great at charity but the same cannot be said of our efforts to do justice. We get the Jesus who feeds the 5,000 down pat. But what about the Jesus who, as Susan Thislethwaite says, “. . . was clearly not a pastoral counselor, but one in the prophetic line who denounced injustice and oppression on behalf of the poor.”
Augustine said that "hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage: anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are." Jesus did get angry and so should we. In the face of the depravation and oppression of so many of our sisters and brothers should we not get angry? As Robert McAfee Brown said, "We should be angered by the specter of hungry children, by the destructiveness of war, by the way the economic system sucks the lifeblood out of the poor, by the reality of nations (our own included) using 'food as a weapon.” It concerns me that we don’t get angry – that we prefer warm over hot or cold. My sense is that without the heat of anger we will have difficulty finding the courage to do anything effectively to usher in the kingdom – the reign – the realm of God.
Peter Wells is the Associate Conference Minister serving churches and clergy in the Central and Hampshire Assocations and the Coordinator of Mission and Justice programs.