By Jennifer Vasquez

The next several sessions of adult Sunday School are going to use a combination of resources to create a course on public theology.  But what is public theology, and why are we discussing it in “Just ASK”?  Let me address the elephant in the room and say that I know that some parishioners are not comfortable with any talk in the church that sounds political.  St. Paul’s in particular is a warm and welcoming family of believers, and the idea of arguing over politics sounds threatening to the unity of our family.  No one, especially me, is interested in bringing political arguments into our church family.  I will further elaborate and say that I am a registered Independent and always have been.  I value different perspectives because, in many human matters, neither Option A nor Option B is best, but Option X, some third way that can only come about through the intersection between Options A and B, is the most wise.  Please be assured that St. Paul’s is not going to become a political hotbed.  Instead, we are going to focus exclusively on the intiatives and policies that the Episopal Church has made a priority for advocacy and social action.

Having clarified that, it is also true that there are people suffering in our world, and those of us within the church can do something to alleviate that suffering – and this is where public theology comes into the picture.  Simply put, public theology is bringing one’s faith into the public sphere for the sake of the common good.  So many live with war, famine, disease…it is horrid.  Inexcusable.  Others have basic needs met but experience discrimination, fear, or loss of hope.  The world desperately needs the church’s witness of the gospel message of hope and restoration.  So how do we witness to this message of hope?  What is the first step in public theology?  Dialogue between the church and the public sphere.

In today’s America, particularly with the widespread use of social media, many people have become ensconsced in “thought bubbles,” filtering out contrary viewpoints by only choosing to interact with similar people who think in similar ways.  Along with many other factors, this has led to a breakdown in our ability to disagree with each other respectfully, truly listen to one another, and find ways to compromise and get work done to help humanity.

To address this concern, the Episcopal Church Office of Government Relations recently put out a 5-week course on “Civil Discourse” for parishes to explore.  This course looks at rules for engagement, how to identify the values that underlie beliefs, and how to engage with elected officials about issues important to the whole church.  For the next several Sundays, the adult Sunday School forum will be using this curriculum as our foundation.

This course will be supplemented with instruction from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, who recently was a signatory on a document entitled “Reclaiming Jesus.”  The “Reclaiming Jesus” instruction, in addition to social statements that have been voted on and passed by the General Convention of the national church, can provide us with starting points in engaging social action.  These starting points are bipartisan issues that have clear connections to our faith and in which we can find a measure of unity.  Using the principles learned in the Civil Discourse class, friends from all political persuasions can agree together on common goals and engage in dialogue and compromise to work towards meeting those goals.

Talking about politics is incredibly hard.  Engaging the political process is incredibly hard.  But who better to lead the way in showing the nation how to dialogue respectfully than the church?  People need God, and together we the church are the very Body of Christ incarnate.  We can bring God’s healing to our world.  Our baptismal vocations equip us to work for justice, and our Eucharistic meal gives us the strength as well as the guiding metaphor of diverse people all being welcome at the table and eating together.  Rather than shy away from the hard calling, let’s embrace it and step out in faith.  Our efforts won’t be perfect, but God will be faithful.  The soul of our nation, and the hope of our children, is at stake.  Please join in the conversation.