Christian Solutions Can Vex Political World: Maston Lecturer

Dr. William H. Willimon delivered two lectures as part of HSU’s T.B. Maston Lectures in Christian Ethics

 

Dr. William H. Willimon, Professor of the Practice of Christian Ministry at Duke Divinity, delivered two lectures to hundreds at Hardin-Simmons University as part of the 16th Annual T.B. Maston Lectures in Christian Ethics. His lecture theme was “Confessing ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’ in the World of Politics.’” His first lecture in Logsdon Chapel was titled, “The Challenge of Being an American and a Christian at the Same Time” and the second in Behrens Auditorium, “Christians as Resident Aliens.” 

The theme of the lectures centered on Willimon’s assertion that Christians often struggle to keep a faithful path in a political world and can find themselves misunderstood as they offer unconventional solutions to world problems.    

Christian political solutions may not always be solutions the world recognizes, he said.

“Following Jesus Christ, we as Christians don’t do politics the way the world does politics,” Willimon said. “Politics for Christians is a struggle to respond to the world as God has responded to the world in Jesus Christ. To respond to threats to our wellbeing the way God responded. To take as our neighbor not those who have a certain passport, but those who Jesus Christ has loved. A struggle to keep our borders as large, expansive, as permeable, as the Kingdom of God.”   

Willimon also discussed the uncomfortable place that Christians have at the political table. He said that Christians should not “too easily” and “too closely” align themselves with politics on the right or on the left. “I think our faith is more demanding that that,” he said.

Citing the arrival of Jesus as a challenge to existing power structures, Willimon argued that Christians should be taught to address the problems of their neighbors as a means of political activism.   

“It’s often difficult to follow Jesus into the corridors of power,” he said. “These places that can be so delusional about their own power and influence and their own goodness.”

When America was founded, it had freedom of religion as an underlying principle, he said. He said religion in America is free as long as it remains personal and private and does not interfere with the sovereignty of the nation. He said Christians have become convinced that they have something at stake in American politics, but that it is a challenging place.

“Maybe we are among the first Americans to realize the price that we pay for what we call religious freedom,” he said.

He recalled a politician who recently made controversial comments about immigration and thought his preacher would address it at church. Instead the preacher introduced an immigrant family to be baptized. The family said their church was the only place they felt welcomed and embraced in their new country.

“This is the most radical political statement that could be made,” Willimon said. “This is what we call politics. This is our response to the questions of immigration.” 

He said the world may call the solutions ineffective and insignificant, but said those words were also used by critics of Jesus.

“Your church and mine is God’s answer to what’s wrong with the world,” he said. “This is God’s great big plan.” 

He said Jesus does not speak often of politics in the Bible and when he does, he takes it lightly because Jesus had a very different concept of power. Willimon also mentioned the example of Jesus refusing Satan’s temptation to rule all the kingdoms of the world.

Part of the task of being Christian is to not take the political, the secular, and the government with all of its seriousness, he said.

“It’s tough for us to talk politics because primarily politics has become the functional equivalent of God,” he said, explaining that people sometimes look to politicians instead of preachers for guidance. The modern democratic state is proving to be its own kind of challenge, he said.    

He recalled a TV reporter interviewing a missionary in Lebanon during a time in the 1980s when the country was under attack. She refused to leave, saying it was her calling to be there even though the US could no longer guarantee her safety.

“This woman apparently had two passports in her possession. She was a citizen of the United States but she had also, apparently from her comments, held citizenship in another realm – the Kingdom of God,” he said. 

About Dr. William H. Willimon

Professor Willimon served as Dean of the Duke Chapel and Professor of Christian Ministry at Duke University for 20 years. He returned to Duke after serving as Bishop of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church from 2004-2012.

Willimon is the author of 60 books as well as numerous articles in a wide range of publications. He speaks and lectures internationally in various seminaries and serves as pastor at Duke Memorial United Methodist Church, Durham, N.C. He was named as one of the “12 Most Effective Preachers in the English Speaking World” by Baylor University. 

About the T.B. Maston Lectures in Christian Ethics

The T.B. Maston Lectures in Christian Ethics are an annual lecture series presented by Hardin-Simmons University’s Logsdon Seminary and Logsdon School of Theology. These lectures seek to honor the legacy of Dr. T.B. Maston, longtime Professor of Christian ethics and pioneering Baptist ethicist, known for his writing and teaching in the areas of biblical ethics, race relations, family life, the Christian and vocation, church and state, and character formation.   

Previous Maston speakers have included Hon. Rev. Wendell L. Griffen, Dr. W. Hulitt Gloer, and Dr. Molly Marshall. This lecture series is one of many events presented by Logsdon throughout the year designed to help resource ministers, churches and students.  

The lectures were free and open to the public.

 

 

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