If I could pick my pastor, I imagine they would be—compassionate, bold, and unapologetically challenging the status quo. Picture a shepherd for the marginalized, embodying the very essence of love and activism. A leader transcending expectations and echoing the spirit of Jesus. My pastor would proclaim a vision of transformation, reaching far beyond the pulpit.
If given the choice, I would desire someone who could guide me with compassion stemming from their capacity to empathize with another person’s circumstances without passing judgment. Ideally, my chosen pastor would be seen as unconventional by the standards of a capitalistic, success-driven society, perhaps even perceived as “lazy.” If labeled as such by zealous overachievers fixated on accumulating wealth at the expense of relationships, I would hope my pastor would earn my celebration. This celebration would be a result of my pastor’s use of time for activities such as reading, reflecting, contemplating, and investing in the depths of the soul. These activities are essential prerequisites for a flourishing that nourishes spirits like mine.
My pastor would oppose actions that cause profound harm to the “least of these,” the few, the marginalized, the poor, the oppressed, and the neglected. My pastor would not squander time attempting to preach well-rehearsed axioms that lost their relevance long ago. Instead, they would address real-world injustices perpetuated daily in the name of religion. They would unpack the history of Christianity that upheld the status quo, enabling evils such as slavery, economic exploitation, and oppression. Against the undeniable truth of what Christianity has been, they would contrast this history with passages where Jesus shared meals with outcasts, refrained from condemning those judged by society, and sacrificed himself for those unable to reciprocate. My pastor would highlight the stark contrast between who Jesus was and how he is represented by most of 21st-century Christianity.
My pastor would retell the stories of how Jesus acknowledged Mary as a disciple for choosing the “better part” and challenged Martha to ease her striving to impress him. They would explain that this truth demonstrates Jesus did not relegate women to second-class status and indeed chose women to follow him, challenging the gender roles of his time and ours. This passage would also debunk the fallacy of trying to earn our way into the Kingdom of God, emphasizing that entry is through relationship. A relationship that isn’t dependent on human privilege but on the grace of a God relentless in pursuing us as his beloved.
My pastor would point out how Lazurus was ignored by the rich man. My pastor would apply this story to all of them moments in our modern society that the poor are ignored. The moments that surround us daily where we are manipulated and further conditioned to be materialistic consumers sucking from the teat of American capitalism. My pastor would emphasize that the positions of the rich man and poor Lazarus would be reversed in the afterlife, illustrating that the Kingdom of God upends our modern perceptions. My pastor would denounce greed and the exploitation of the poor, along with the propaganda convincing them to support political positions that undermine their opportunities for a better life. They would preach that the “hell” where the rich man ended up wasn’t a literal eternal burning inferno but rather a depiction of the world the rich man’s actions ultimately create—a world of transactional relationships where relational interactions are traded for the “living water.” A life-giving water that is freely offered in the Kingdom of love, a Kingdom that provides equal, abundant access compared to mere bartering.
My pastor would reject the falsehoods of white nationalism, highlighting how Jesus always had a special regard for the outcast and marginalized. My pastor would recall Jesus approaching Zacchaeus, calling him down from his elevated position to serve and urging him to redistribute the wealth he had acquired.
My pastor would remind us of how economic systems unfairly elevate some while demoralizing others, stressing that it is everyone’s responsibility to dismantle these systems that burden the poor while prioritizing the lifestyles of the rich. They would have the courage to denounce populist politicians who pander to trumped-up issues and fearmongering, attempting to scare religious people into thinking their freedoms are threatened. My pastor would emphasize that the ends should never justify the means, regardless of how righteous we believe our cause to be.
My pastor would tell us that Jesus is Black and God is nonbinary, but most likely a woman. This would make me uncomfortable but would also make me think.
If I could pick my pastor, they would exemplify love for others, extending this love beyond those who align with their specific denominational beliefs. My pastor would avoid condemning others and instead seek the truths within almost every perspective, illustrating that none of us possess a monopoly on truth. They would preach from the Bible’s pages and draw wisdom from the collective experiences of those who came before us. My pastor would repeatedly affirm that we are all interconnected in a rich tapestry of existence, far more significant than our individual actions. They would reject business models for operating a church and refrain from attending church growth conferences. Instead, they would spend time in parishioners’ homes, learning about their families’ histories, attending concerts, reading fiction, visiting museums and art galleries. My pastor would participate in local school board and city council meetings to represent the underrepresented in the community. They would likely be unemployable by most churches in the United States, as in my experience many of these congregations want pastors that “tickle their ears” instead of challenging their prejudices.
If I could pick my pastor, they would love as Jesus did, serve as Jesus did, and quite possibly be hated by many, much like Jesus was.
Upon reflection, I realize that my ideal pastor does exist—not within traditional churches or behind pulpits, but in the faces of everyday people and the bodies of the poor with whom I often avoid making eye contact. They exist in the books I have yet to read and in the wounds of those hurting that I have not yet served. My pastor preaches a sermon every day from society’s margins, which I often relegate to political fringes, providing me an excuse to turn a blind eye. My pastor imparts wisdom through underpaid and overworked teachers, invisible factory workers, and women of color. My pastor waves the rainbow flag; the one I so often disparage as virtue signaling or dismiss as mere identity politics.
My pastor is the transgender kid, George Floyd, and all the missing and exploited Indigenous women whom no one ever talks about—I can’t recall a single name without looking them up. My pastor is all the people struggling with their anxiety and mental health concerns. My pastor likely contemplated suicide today. Pastor, please don’t do it, I need to hear the sermon you have yet to share. You are loved.
My pastor is you, embodying every bit of your neglected yet beautiful humanity.
Too often, I remain distracted within this beautiful cathedral of life. I intend to change this. So, at this moment, if you wonder if anyone cares, let me be your “amen corner.” Live your life, speak your truth, and know that you are wonderfully and beautifully made for this day.
“Amen, pastor! You’re preaching the truth today.”