Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Suzii Paynter: "Leading Your Church to Be Politically Responsible"

On March 29, Howard Payne University hosted the 5th Annual Currie-Strickland Distinguished Lectures in Christian Ethics. Suzii Paynter, director of both the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission (CLC) and the Texas Baptist Advocacy and Care Center, presented a lecture entitled "Leading Your Church to Be Politically Responsible."

Paynter began by acknowledging that the principle of congregational autonomy makes being politically responsible more difficult for Baptist clergy and lay leaders than for those in other denominations. As an example, she cited Roman Catholic encyclicals, which are recited from every Catholic pulpit the Sunday after they are issued. "Baptist leaders out on a limb," she said, "can't say 'the bishop made me do it.'"

She likened Baptist leaders to Amelia Earhart, "flying solo."

Describing politics as "a process, not an answer," Paynter then proposed a few principles that Baptist leaders would do well to follow in leading their churches to be politically responsible:
  • Be the kind of leader who looks beyond the walls of your church.
  • Meet your elected officials. Drop by, and tell them about your church and its ministry.
  • Don't start with politics; start with ministry. What ministry is offering you the opportunity to speak for justice?
  • Embrace those in your congregation who feel called to speak out on political issues. Encourage and equip those who are called, even if their issue or passion is not your own.
  • Manage the hungry beasts; keep the wolves at bay, those who seek to use your church for their cause.
  • Be unapologetic about bringing a biblical rationale and theological perspective to any issue. As an example, she cited the way in which the doctrinal concept of imago dei (the face of God) has been used to minister to the victims of human trafficking and to support legislation seeking justice on this issue.

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