There’s a (relatively) popular maxim for progressive Christians that states “Afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.” Anways, I have heard a few Quakers and UCCers say it. It is a great directive but it actually comes from H.L. Menchen who was explaining the proper role of journalsm.
As the Christmas season ends today with epiphany and as I reflect on my experience during Advent/Christmas 2009-2010, Mencken’s directive kept popping into my head. I visited a few other Methodist churches during these seasons and heard report backs from a few more and felt that what we Methodists had become really good at is “comforting the comfortable and afflicing the afflicted.”
Now, I don’t actually think middle class Methodists are actively out there “afflicting” pain on poor people. Like going up to a homeless person and punching them in the face or anything like that. But where was the church voice leading up to the mortgage crisis or after the bubble exploded? Where was the church voice in the leadup to the Iraq War? Where was the church voice while our economy was globalized and no safe gaurds were put in place to replace what was being destroyed? Where was the church voice during the last twenty years of climate change debate?
In a world in deep crisis, most of these churches offered up sentiment and nostalgia . I like sentiment and nostalgia as much as the next person, but it is okay to dig a little deeper and offer a hope-filled but challenging vision of transformation for our personal lives, for the church, and for society. Advent and Christmas is a perfect time to do that.
Maybe I am making a leap here, but I find it ironic that the two instituitions that I here most about in terms of on the verge of failing are mainline protestant churches and newspapers. Their common denominator? They spent the last sixty five years comforting the comfortable and afflicting the afflicted.