On Being a Purple Pastor in a Red and Blue World

Allow me to introduce myself. I am a Presbyterian pastor in Georgetown, South Carolina. I have a deep love for the church of Jesus Christ in general, and for the congregation I serve in particular.

Two teachings from the Bible have a strong influence on my vision for the church. The first is the teaching of Paul in the 12th chapter of 1 Corinthians. Paul speaks of one body, with many parts. Every part of the body has an important role to play in the overall functioning of the body. No part of the body has permission to say of itself, “I don’t matter.” Neither does any part of the body have the authority to say to another, “You are not necessary.” In the Church, we need each other. Our diversity is meant to contribute to the greater body, not create divisions and separations.

The second teaching that informs my vision for the church comes from the prayer spoken by Jesus in the 17th chapter of the gospel written by John. In that prayer, Jesus prays for the unity of his disciples. Jesus prays this: “I pray also for those who will believe in me through [the message of the twelve], that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20-21, NIV).

The unity of God’s people is a vision that fills my heart. God’s word teaches it, commends it, even commands it of us.

Division in the church deeply disturbs me. As I survey the landscape of the Christian church in America today, I find plenty of reason to be disturbed. The polarization of our society along lines of politics, race, gender, issues of social justice and economics has crept into the church. The lines in the sand that politicians and activists in the society at-large draw have also been drawn in the church, all contributing to an increasingly polarized and divided church.

In the 11 years I have served as pastor of my current congregation, I have sought to maintain a middle way in the tension between right and left, evangelical and progressive, liberal and conservative, Republican and Democrat. We have a theologically and politically diverse congregation. On many issues there will be disagreement.

But we love each other. And we cherish each other. And we recognize that despite our political and theological differences, in Christ we belong to each other. In a Red and Blue world, we embrace PURPLE.

As their pastor, I know that the words I speak from the pulpit must be chosen with care. Not so much because I don’t want to step on their toes, but because I realize that in today’s politically charged world, certain words carry such hot-button status that to utter them will alienate one-half of my congregation. I also recognize that issues-based messages will more likely expose my own prejudices and dispositions, than they will shed light on God’s word (which is one reason I prefer that the Lectionary determine the scriptures we hear on any given Sunday). I want my people to hear God’s word, not tune it out.

To be sure, I do address important matters before our world–that is the task of applying God’s word to the ins and outs of real life. When I deal with controversial issues, I try to approach them through the lens of Christ. And I try to speak with love to all my listeners.

One of the things I have learned over the years as a pastor and a preacher, is the value of listening. I have discovered that when I disagree with someone, I can use that disagreement as a means of getting to know them better–what inspires them, what motivates them, what is important to them? Listening to another person is imperative to appreciating who that person is and the gifts they bring to the table. It is listening that has helped me bridge the gap between red and blue, and discover the beauty of PURPLE.

As I take my first tentative steps into the world of blogging, I hope and pray that I can share my faith in a way that draws people closer to one another, and closer to God. My prayer for this site is to be one small way of making walls come down so that people can come together. My prayer is for more and more PURPLE.

Faithfully,

Steve

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