Faith Matters: One last column before retiring and starting to pursue another passion

Seven years ago, Vin Mannix came to my door. After he left, he wrote a column for the Bradenton Herald with the headline: New UCC pastor traveled a hard road to pulpit.

It was an honest article, and it read like poetry from the heart.

Now that road is at an end. It’s what happens when you turn a certain age, older than Vin.

On May 1, I’m off to other things. Those things will include (actually, some already do) pursing a passion for immigrants and the law.

In fact, my plans are, even if invited, not to use the pulpit to preach or teach.

Not because those things aren’t important. They are. But because that’s not where I’ll feel effective while trying to bring about social change.

You see, social change was the reason I got into ministry. It was where the action was. For me, at least, that’s no longer true.

Now, it’s the law — or at least what’s left of it.

Three maxims have guided my ministry, the first two of which were posted as signs in my father’s high school ag classroom:

1. When we all agree on everything, only one of us is doing the thinking.

2. A good idea doesn’t care who has it.

3. Everything I know about bigotry, I learned in church.

About that last one: It’s true.

No, don’t go thinking I’m talking about race, or that I’m calling you a bigot. Fact is, I’m one, too.

I’m bigoted against people who believe theirs is the only way — to live, to believe, to worship, to dress, to live — while celebrating if not wallowing in self-imposed ignorance.

To me, bigotry goes way beyond the color of somebody’s skin. To me, an old white heterosexual male, inclusiveness has always been where it’s at — colors, religions, genders, places of origin, creeds, you name it. Everybody has always been welcome at my table.

Jesus taught that. So did Muhammad, Buddha, Zoroaster, Maimonides, Abraham, St. Francis, Martin Luther, Joseph Smith, Krishna, Martin Luther King Jr. and the Dalai Lama.

And though I don’t hate people because they are bigots, I do hate their bigotry.

Mournfully, I’ve watched people rally around bigots — with churches leading the way.

Jesus, and the other people on that list above, preached and taught otherwise.

In the words of the Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper, “Too many Christians are fond to telling other Christians they’re not Christian enough.”

In my particular world, using churches as places of learning and worship has become secondary to serving as a rallying point for people expecting to have their bigotry reinforced by people who look and think and vote just like them.

The thought of hanging out on a weekly basis with people who claim an exclusive faith-based morality while putting up physical, verbal and legal barriers intended to keep out their versions of Infidels is something I can barely abide.

On May 1, I officially won’t have to anymore. I’ll be leaving the church from which I’m retiring, including the good people there, all of whom will continue to take on that fight within the church’s four walls.

And it doesn’t mean I’m quitting. Imperfect as I am, I’ve never run from a fight.

I’ll be out there, trying to speak truth to power. I’ll be out there, trying to defend the defenseless, maybe including using my law license to help make some of that happen. I’ll be out there, pushed on by the words from Proverbs 31:8-9 — “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly. Defend the rights of the poor and needy!”

I’ll be out there trying to make a difference. It just won’t, until after I’ve had a chance to check out a few mosques, synagogues, temples, shrines and meeting houses, be in a church.

Meanwhile, thank you for the privilege of this column, as well as to the good people I’m leaving behind at the church.

And if you run across Vin Mannix, don’t just say “Hi.” He went to college in Wisconsin, for Pete’s sake. Buy him a beer.

The Rev. Dr. Robert D. Sichta is the Pastor Emeritus of the Congregational United Church of Christ in Bradenton, an open and affirming body in pursuit of a 21st Century Progressive Theology. They meet at 10 a.m. each Sunday at 241 Whitfield Ave. Faith Matters is a regular feature of Saturday’s Bradenton Herald written by local clergy members.