The House Chaplain Saga Reminds Us of Our Need for Prophetic Words

Commentary
By Joe Kay 5-03-2018
Drop of Light / Shutterstock.com

The saga of politicians firing the U.S. House Chaplain is a reminder of how we prefer God in small doses. We try to confine the transformative spirit of God to a few carefully chosen areas of our lives.

In this case, self-described Christian legislators apparently objected to the chaplain paraphrasing Jesus’ mandate to care for the needy. It was too much Jesus for them. The chaplain was told he was getting too political and was told to leave, to go away and stop reminding them of what Jesus is trying to teach them. Those words are fine for Sunday mornings in churches, but not for weekdays in Washington. Keep Jesus’ values out of our collective lives. Keep him locked in church and off the streets.

Honestly, we all do this to varying degrees. Opening our hearts and our lives to God’s unconditional love is challenging stuff. Our attitudes and actions get questioned and evaluated by a different standard than the one we’ve been using for so long.

Often, our response is to simply ignore the words and try to shush the voices saying them.

Legislators didn’t want to be reminded of what Jesus is about; it made them uncomfortable. It was better to fire the chaplain so they could go ahead and do what they want without any pangs of conscience. It was only after a public relations nightmare that they relented and rehired him on Thursday.

It’s not only them. We hear many voices in our society saying that God’s love, compassion, and healing simply don’t apply to most people or many areas of our lives.

Some Christians have convinced themselves that Jesus’ values — the ones he lived so passionately and died defending — are optional for them. His life is reduced to nothing more than “social teachings” that no longer apply.

Or, they’ll say that God’s values apply only to our personal lives and not our collective lives, where contrary values can rule. We don’t need to make sure everyone is treated as an equally beloved child of God in our political, economic, and social systems.

We don’t leave much room for God in our lives, and that’s how we want it. We cup our hands over our ears so we don’t have to listen.

Those values that the Chaplain referenced, the ones that upset the legislators so deeply – we all need to be reminded of them regularly.

We need to be told again that we are defined by how we treat those who need our help. We need reminders that we’re judged as individuals and as societies by how we stand up for those who have the least food, the least clout, the least justice.

It’s never about making sure the wealthy get more wealth or that power and privilege are protected. Rather, it’s about how our personal and collective decisions affect the struggling, the poor, the refugee, the immigrant, the marginalized, the abused, the sick.

We need to be challenged constantly by those prophetic and Spirit-filled words that are the heart of all faiths, words that apply to all areas of our lives and not just a few.

God never accepts being locked away and told to shush. The Voice speaks to us nonstop and reminds us of our sacred responsibilities.

No matter how many chaplains are exiled, the Voice won’t be silent or leave; God is annoyingly persistent that way. The Voice continues to speak to each of us.

We’re challenged to make those words our own and speak them prophetically and persistently, no matter how many times others try to confine them, muffle them or fire them.

Joe Kay

Joe Kay is the associate minister at Nexus United Church of Christ, Butler County, Ohio. He also writes a weekly blog at https://joekay617.wordpress.com. His email address is listed on the blog, in case you care to contact him directly.

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