So into Galatia strides Paul preaching a religion of love and peace and joy and patience and self-control – wow sounds like Washington could use him now!! Living in a culture where sins of the flesh are so celebrated that notions of patience and peace become punch lines I often wonder if we can ever learn. It is not sex that Paul decries though selfish acts of fornication do plague him and seemingly the people of Galatia. The foundational sin, it seems, is the selfishness of the acts and their failure to consider the rights of others as well as one’s responsibility to them. These are historically based notions which link us to the past through recognition of it and of the agreements we have made as well as its relationship to the present and a commitment to the future.
Listing some fifteen “desires of the flesh” as examples and nine “fruits of the spirit” as goals, this part of Paul’s letter to the church at Galatia offers a challenge to us as we seek to embody in our faith and, therefore in our politics, a commitment to justice based not simply on ideology but for foremostly on an understanding of God’s participation with us. Plus the fifteen can be practiced alone that is without relationship to the others in the list but the fruits can be envisioned as growing from each other, in fact they are almost inseparable.
As one fornicates, one need not feel impurity or licentiousness or even practice sorcery! But how can one practice love without feeling and celebrating self-control, be kind without celebrating joy! The politics of kindness aren’t hopelessly naïve nor practiced by the weak but are rather the foundation of societies of peace. The call is not to put forth a vision enforced by “me” but rather a communal opportunity for celebration of justice founded in love, peace, joy, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
In this day, when the Supreme Court wants us to ignore the injustices practiced in the past in the name of racial supremacy, we need remember the gentleness of the courage practiced by those who dared to march, sing, and pray for justice. In this day, when our Government wants us to live in fear of the irrational violence of some, we are called to remember the joy and self-control of those who witnessed to possibilities of peace as they stood against domination and oppression. Paul in his authentic self stands firm in his faith that it is not about some other worldly salvation but a this-worldly liberation – liberation from that which denies us the possibilities of living our lives, interacting faithfully with others in communities of peace and joy.
Tom Williams is a Presbyterian Minister, a disabled combat veteran of the war in Vietnam, doing interim ministry in and around Milwaukee.