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Adventures in Government - The Social Justice Church

For people who don't go to church and only get their impressions of religion from the news and Facebook memes, you might get the impression that churches are all united with the Religious Right; that at their heart, every pastor and priest rallies behind the likes of James Dobson and Focus on the Family.

The reality is that most churches simply don't care that much about politics. They're happy to "give unto Caesar that which is Caesar's," so to speak, and focus instead on personal growth and providing a loving, supportive communities. The members may individually have disparate political views, but none of that matters when they all come together to provide each other emotional support and host rummage sales.

What you don't hear about so often is the church on the other side of the spectrum: the left-leaning activist church. Yet I found myself in one just a couple of weeks after the election.

St. Mark's Presbyterian Church stands in stark contrast to my experience with Tucson Baptist. Both were fairly large complexes, but where Tucson Baptist was fairly new and modern, St. Mark's is a slice of history, built before the city limits of Tucson had expanded this far. (This, in a place currently referred to as "central Tucson.")

If you walk in front of St. Mark's today, you'll have no doubt as to the church's political leanings: There's a rainbow-colored banner in the front of the church welcoming any and all, and a banner above the entryway proclaiming "BLACK LIVES MATTER!"

When I attended the Sunday service, I didn't realize I was attending the early service rather than the main service. Still, the small, intimate setting and the round-table, participatory format was another contrast to the large auditorium of Tucson Baptist. There was the singing of hymns and the reading of announcements as in any service, but instead of a sermon there was more of a discussion about a passage from the Bible, and anyone with thoughts was allowed to speak their mind.

It was clear that people were still reeling from the election results at the time. There was a tone to the conversation, as if to say, "what do we do now?"

I met with Pastor Bart Smith a few weeks ago in a coffee shop. He told me that social justice is a core tenet of his congregation, and that though he's met Martha McSally, she annoys him. "She makes a big deal out of being a maverick," he said, "but then she goes and just votes right down the party line."

I told him that I do not intend to vote down party lines which, as someone running as a Democrat, might not always align with his ideals. In short, my true loyalty has to be to the district, not to the party. Pastor Bart seemed to accept that, and we continued to talk about politics and people for a while.

We got along well, and I intend to keep in touch with Pastor Bart as this campaign continues. Moreover, I appreciate the work he's doing at St. Mark's, though St. Mark's mission as a social justice church predates his arrival as their pastor.

I particularly appreciate St. Mark's since my own Christianity has always seemed to align more with liberal policies than conservative ones: care for the sick, feed the hungry, judge not lest ye be judge, love thy neighbor as thyself, those who live by the sword die by the sword, and so on... These all speak to me as being far more fundamentally Christian than railing against marriage equality and Muslims.

I just hope my constituents will also see it that way.


Charlie Verdin