One of my favorite hymns, “O Holy Night,” for example, has explicit political implications: it connects the arrival of our Savior with these deeply political actions:
“Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother. And in his name all oppression shall cease.”
This is the version we’ve sung since 1847, when the original song was altered slightly by American writer John Sullivan Dwight in order to reflect abolitionist beliefs during the Civil War. What once focused merely on Christ’s view of humanity—“He sees a brother where there was only a slave”—the updated lyrics reflect a more active role of Christ’s work of redemption. Yet when we gather together during this season and sing this song, once used in the deeply political fight against slavery, the churches that “don’t get political” try to convince themselves that being apolitical is (and had always been) the proper orientation of the church. But nothing could be as perpetually relevant or beautiful than the radical and eschatological idea that Jesus came to end oppression. In his book Christian Hospitality and Muslim Immigration in an Age of Fear, Dr. Matthew Kaemingk asks, “What should we the church do in the emerging age of fear and reactionary politics? We should sing old hymns and wrestle with their subversive political implications.”
Perhaps we should even take a cue from abolitionist Christians and be unafraid of writing political hymns and sermons for our own era. It is easy to look back on past political issues and claim that they were merely “moral” or “theological,” but in the midst of the controversy, they were deeply political. Our theological convictions have political weight, and holy indignation is an appropriate response to chains that enslave and systems that oppress. By acknowledging the injustices of our own day, we can mourn the state of our fallen world and confess the ways we have been complicit in them. Awareness of what’s broken is the first step toward subverting it.
“Participating in worship that forms our loyalties to the global and historic church has deeply political effects—from our thinking about foreign aid to our advocacy for refugees to our general awareness about injustices happening across the world.” https://t.co/UI1z02N7oH
— Kaitlyn Schiess (@KaitlynSchiess) December 11, 2018