John Pavlovitz is a writer, pastor, and activist from Wake Forest, North Carolina. In the past four years his blog “Stuff That Needs To Be Said” has reached a diverse worldwide audience. A 20-year veteran of local church ministry, John is committed to equality, diversity, and justice—both inside and outside faith communities. In 2017 he released his first book, A Bigger Table. His new book, Hope and Other Superpowers, arrived on November 6th.
We talk about how Christians and churches can be more involved in advocating for justice and equity for all people.
JP – In the past couple of years, faith communities have been given a gift to decide: “What are we really doing here at this geographic spot?” “At this time in the history of the planet, what is our responsibility? And what about the character of Jesus? 1:37
Michael – What are the steps that could be helpful to help a congregation move from being standstill … to taking a step or two?” 3:40
JP – I think part of it is being a story learner, to be able to be a listener, of another person’s experience, without speaking into it, without judgment, without any rebuttal. And so making space where people can simply be heard, and to let that sort of person’s experience of faith or life or America speak for themselves, and to let those stories change us. In my personal experience, you know, that’s what changed me — better stories, truer stories. 4:08
Michael – Political activism as pastoral care to the community… 5:23
JP – I asked people to consider emulating the compassionate, activist heart of Jesus. So the idea that his movement in the world and his outward work was always propelled by his deep empathy for hurting people. 5:49
JP – You know, compassion or activism or response to the world is not something we do for this fixed period of time. We are hourly trying to figure out how to cultivate the compassionate heart of Jesus. And it’s not going to come easy. There are muscles that we have to get trained to use and to keep using for sure. 7:00
Michael – I love the image of building up the muscles, right? And so in your own experience, what kind of muscles — name those muscles — that have been helpful? 7:26
JP – Simply the muscles of empathy and compassion, to say, I’m going to try to imagine that there’s an experience of life that other people are having that is not like mine, and to always be looking for ways to learn those stories, and then to endeavor. 7:40
Michael – So how do you deal with resistance, both (kind of) from outside the community that may not understand but many times in churches and faith communities, the resistance is from within the community because people aren’t kind of in the same place? 8:50
JP – And I think again, it’s you’re going no matter what you do, if you do nothing, or if you do something you think is really benign, or, you know, if a pastor gives a message, it’s always going to be interpreted by 50, or 100 or thousand people. And they’re all say, this either inspired me or offended me. And so you have to, I think, especially as leadership, you have to be willing to take on those things. But to really keep clarifying, this is why we do what we do. 9:12
Michael – in your experience, in your own faith community, in the work that you do, who are the people who have seen what you have done and said, “Wow, that’s the faith community that I want to be a part of”? 10:45
JP – Well, you know, what’s really gratifying right now, Michael, is, you know, my readership has grown in with agnostics, and atheists and former Christians and people who were sort of not involved with faith communities, and they’re saying, “The things that you’re talking about are things that matter deeply to me.” So things like compassion and mercy and justice and equality. And those things transcend faith tradition. They’re also the most beautiful parts of our faith tradition, right? When you when you begin to work out what it looked like to be a person of Jesus that is going to draw people to you, it’s not about speaking words that kind of get them in the door. It’s not about some fancy sort of sermon. It’s about you know, embodying the heart of Jesus. And I think that is the best evangelism that you can have. It’s actually trying to leave people feeling and understanding the world the way Jesus did. You know, he always left people with more dignity, he always saw the invisible, you know. He always had respect even when he disagreed, … their humanity was always preserved. So the more we do that, I think the more people are going to say that something I want to be a part of. 11:04