"Siding" with Jonny Rashid

“Siding” with Jonny Rashid

~ing podcast Season 2 Episode 22
Full Episode Transcript

Season 2 Episode 22: “Siding”, with Jonny Rashid was released on May 31, 2022. The audio recording is available on all major podcasting platforms. More information is available here.

Episode Description:

In today’s episode, ~ing producer Ben Wideman is joined by pastor and Herald Press author, Jonny Rashid. Many Christians have upheld a “third way” approach in pursuit of moderation, harmony, and unity. But as Christians become more concerned with divisiveness than with faithfulness, perhaps we have failed to grasp the gospel’s political demands. In this episode we will discuss how to navigate a world divided by left and right, red and blue, and what Jesus proposed instead of finding a “third way” between oppressor and oppressed. For more on this subject, check out Jonny’s book, Jesus Takes a Side: Embracing the Political Demands of the Gospel.

Jonny Rashid, Greg Yoder, Seth Crissman, Ben Wideman

Ben Wideman  00:00
Welcome to Season Two of ~ing Podcast, a production of MennoMedia’s Leader Magazine.  What does it mean to authentically follow Jesus? Each week ~ing Podcast invites you to join us on a journey. Join us as we talk with people of faith who are creatively thinking, growing, and being… people who are reimagining and exploring what it means to enrich faith in a complex world.

Jonny Rashid  00:27
I think that it comes from how polarized our political system is, and the anxiety that comes with appearing partisan or appearing political, because people don’t want to do that. And so what I talk about in my book is, I want to give people permission to stand on the side of the oppressed, even if it appears to be incidentally partisan.

Ben Wideman  00:52
Our conversation begins now. Join us as we journey together.  Hello, friends, thank you so much for listening to ~ing podcast. We’re so excited to have you here on the journey. We’re excited today to to introduce you to another one of our guests, another one of MennoMedia’s authors. Today, I’m excited to be talking with Jonny Rashid. He is the author of a new book called Jesus Takes a Side: Embracing the Political Demands of the Gospel. And we’re going to talk a little bit more about that book here today. But first of all, just want to say thanks, Jonny, for joining me.

Jonny Rashid  01:28
I’m so glad to be here. Thanks so much, Ben.

Ben Wideman  01:31
For those who don’t know you, how do you describe yourself these days?

Jonny Rashid  01:34
I’m Johnny, I use he/him pronouns. My parents are from Egypt, they immigrated to the United States in the early 1980s. I grew up in the United States in central Pennsylvania, I really forged my I would say political and religious identity, during the period of time, the global war on terror and 9-11, that really shaped how I saw myself in the United States. And you know, growing up during 9-11 really shaped how I followed Jesus and how I also engaged in politics.

Ben Wideman  02:08
I like that. I was in my first semester of college, when September 11, took place. I was a kid who’d grown up in Canada, and didn’t know a whole lot about the American political system. And then all of a sudden, this significant global event happens. And, and suddenly, I need to know everything about this, this system and how it’s responding and all that. So I can definitely relate to, to what that’s like. And it did challenge me, I think, to consider what it means to be a person of faith, engaging in politics, warfare, that the sort of the state of the world, things like that. And I think we could talk for a whole episode just about that specific moment and how it shaped us. But you have, you’re also a pastor, is that right?

Jonny Rashid  02:57
That’s right.

Ben Wideman  02:59
Circle of Hope is the community that you minister with.

Jonny Rashid  03:02
Yeah, we’re at, I’m at Circle of Hope. Have been here for nearly 12 years. We’re a cell church… we have four congregations in the Philadelphia region. We’re Anabaptist, we’re peace oriented, community oriented, simple living, but we also make a lot of art and music as well. So a real tight knit community, really trying to make a difference in our neighborhoods in the world. You know, we want our compassion and our justice to be some of the first things that people notice about us.

Ben Wideman  03:29
You’re also a podcaster, too, so I encourage people to go and check out Resist and Restore, Circle of Hope’s podcast, and we’ll bring these podcasts together here for a brief moment.

Jonny Rashid  03:40
That’d be awesome.

Ben Wideman  03:42
You have authored this book, and I gotta say, just reading the blurb… I haven’t read the book yet it when we’re recording, it has not yet come out yet. But the little description on MennoMedia’s website talks about Christians who uphold a third way approach. And I’m not sure if you know this, Jonny, but I led a campus ministry here at Penn State for six years, called The 3rd Way Collective, trying to navigate the increasing polarity of our world and provide a sort of faith-based space for students who wanted to engage in social justice and things like that. But that third way approach often winds up looking like compromise or like picking a middle path or a path of least resistance. I get the feeling that your book Jesus takes aside is not advocating for a watered-down middle, is that correct?

Jonny Rashid  04:43
That’s exactly right. You know, in Anabaptist circles and in evangelical circles, I think we often do hear a third way idea and I think that it comes from how polarized our political system is.

Ben Wideman  04:57

Jonny Rashid  04:57
And the anxiety that it comes that It comes with appearing partisan or appearing political, because people don’t want to do that. And so what I talk about in my book is, I want to give people permission to stand on the side of the oppressed, even if it appears to be incidentally partisan. We’re following Jesus. And if it looks like we’re being partisan, that’s incidental. You know, that’s not actually, Jesus isn’t partisan, but in our political economy, following Him may look partisan.

Ben Wideman  05:33
Yeah, I’m thinking about, you know, something like Jesus, cleansing the temple, turning over the tables of the money changers, things like that. That’s not taking a poll of the room, deciding on the middle ground deciding what the majority wants, and then moving forward in that direction, right. It’s like, no, we’ve, we’ve got something to do here where you’re going to move forward in this direction, because this is what the correct answer is, or the correct response is somewhat differently than then, you know, I think, a very noble consensus idea does, but sometimes misses the point then. Why is this book necessary, I guess, is what I think all of these thoughts in my head start to ask?

Jonny Rashid  06:22
It became necessary for me when abject white supremacy was growing in the United States. So during the early 2000s, when we were dealing with people, like just just just talk about just to talk about national politics, when we were dealing with people like John McCain and Barack Obama, or Barack Obama and Mitt Romney… Barack Obama, and Mitt Romney might be the best example of this. Both of them sort of had a neoliberal economic mode, they were both politically moderate. Romney care was very similar to Obama Care, just in terms of health care. And so the political parties were so similar in some sense that an alternative to them a more radical alternative, made sense. But by the time Trump was elected, abject white supremacy was so flagrant that it didn’t make sense to find an alternative to two political parties, because the one was so heinous and its actions. So I opened the book with this idea. This experience that happened to me was January 2017, right? It was right after Trump got elected. And the first thing he did was Institute, the Muslim ban. And we were doing the Love Feast, the Love Feast is a quarterly gathering we have where we partake in communion, and welcoming new members. And they were family stuck on the other side of doors and walls in airports. Can’t… they can’t get in, right?

Ben Wideman  07:50

Jonny Rashid  07:50
And it was a very personal issue for me, because they were people that looked like me, stuck there. There were people that looked like my kids in so there was no third way between their dignity versus the hatred against them. There isn’t a third way between them when it comes to white supremacy. There isn’t a third way between people who hate minorities, hate BIPOC… and those very people, we can’t find a third way and our pol… and our politics became oriented that way. Yeah, that compelled a political change. For me, the idea that no, we should really stand on the side of the oppressed. And if we do so actively, we will find that in many cases, we’re not partisan, because our politics and our approach is more radical or more grounded, than either political party offers us.

Ben Wideman  08:48

Jonny Rashid  08:49
It was clear to me that we needed to vocally and strongly oppose Trump because of what he was doing now. And I think that that that’s the that’s the mode right now in the United States, that there is real things to oppose. This book is then written for people, not necessarily to convince somebody who is conservative or far right or whatever. You know, if you like Fox News a lot and it gives you a lot of gratification, this book probably won’t convince you to stop watching it.

Ben Wideman  09:20

Jonny Rashid  09:21
It’s supposed to help people that have hesitation in engaging with politics, be moved by their conviction, because a lot of my a lot of people who weren’t used to being political because they were Anabaptist, because they were political scientists, were so disturbed by the racism and white supremacy in the Trump administration, that it compelled them to potentially engage politically and that that’s that’s a new experience. They didn’t they didn’t know that they could were allowed to. So I’m trying to give people permission to enter into a political space with conviction.

Ben Wideman  09:59
Reminds me of like MLK’s Letter from the Birmingham Jail where he sort of says like, the patience that our white church leaders are holding in this space is is, you know, might be compassionate of their people. But it’s missing the point, right? Absolutely. Yeah.

Jonny Rashid  10:19
Yeah. And then the Letter from Birmingham Jail is in Jesus Takes a Side and I use that as an example. Right, the white moderate would be the person that is kind of slows the train down for anti racism, specifically civil rights, things like that.

Ben Wideman  10:33
This all is easy for me to sort of say amen to and affirm. I’m curious what kind of pushback you might get with this sort of message? You know, obviously, there’s going to be people on the far right, as you mentioned, who, who won’t buy into this, but do you hear some hesitation in the sort of large middle majority when they hear a message like this?

Jonny Rashid  10:56
I would say so. I mean, especially in Anabaptist circles that I’m in, I am definitely confronting how Anabaptist largely view politics. Yeah. And in my own contexts, we’ve seen it, you know, even in Circle of Hope. And then also, in Jesus Collective, another organization that I’m part of, and others too. I expect pushback. I expect pushback, because people do think the solution to polarization is finding a third way.

Ben Wideman  11:27

Jonny Rashid  11:28
My viewpoint is we should consider what is polarizing us. By and large, we’re not polarized over matters, like taxes, revenue streams, actual like nitty gritty, local politics, right.

Ben Wideman  11:42

Jonny Rashid  11:43
We’re not polarized over how the streets get funded, how even how schools get funded, it isn’t polarizing. What polarizes us? Existential matters, right? Sexuality, race, abortion, to an extent, critical race theory, you know, what’s happening to our kids, these kinds of things that form us right? That what polarizes us are matters of our body. And I talk about the politics of my body, I am moved to act politically because my body has a politics, because my skin color has a meaning a political meaning. And so I don’t have the choice, the liberty to select a political viewpoint, my pain, my experience, my oppression, selects it for me. So what polarizes us is things like whiteness, things like white grievance politics. And in order to not polarize us, what we need to do is give dignity, and affirmation and liberty to minorities, right. And this is interesting, because what people the pushback I’ll get is, you’re being divisive. You’re dividing the church, you’re being political. In reality, what Paul says unites, the body is elevating the parts of the body that you Dishonored before. So that’s also what I’m talking about in order to unite the body take the body parts that people ignore, oppress, and think of less than and then give them special honor. Yeah. And so that’s what we should be doing as a society and as church.

Ben Wideman  13:19
I wonder if part of the part of the tension that some folks feel is that we’ve been so nervous about certainty in the sort of Fundamentalist Christianity, the rise of the religious right, that just has the clear answers. So to hear someone saying, we need to be just as passionate or firm on on things that are holistically caring for the individual caring for the whole person. I wonder if there are some some folks who would say, Ooh, you know, there’s a danger of being too much of a fundamentalist in any direction here.

Jonny Rashid  13:58
That’s appeal… I’ve, we’ve definitely seen that, you know, people that come out of conservative fundamentalism, where you do have a very partisan approach, you do have a very political approach, patriotic approach. They move on from that they see what they don’t like in the Trump administration and the Evangelicals that support him and say, I’m going to be something different, and then their instinct, even appropriately isn’t to become an alternative, equally political movement or group. That makes sense to me. The issue isn’t the political certainty of the far right of fundamentalism. It’s actually the tenants of their politics. It’s not that they have politics, it’s that their politics degrade bring death, you know, ruin the creation. You know, that that’s the that’s the issue. The issue isn’t political certainty the issue is, and even but even in my book, I’m not talking about being politically certain but being politically confident, right? By collaborating with others and listening to others to form these conclusions, but what what what their issue is, is not that they have politics, it’s what their politics means. You know, Brian Zahnd is a pastor who I don’t think I quote, Brian’s on in this book, but I might. But he he had a quote that got him really popular on Twitter about how on the book that he wrote about how there are there is such a thing as a conservative, fundamentalist, and then a progressive fundamentalist, you know, and the idea there is having fundamentals of some kind makes you a fundamentalist. Now, I personally reject that. Because fundamentalism is actually a religious school of thought that has specific tenets. It doesn’t just mean any school of thought that has fundamental tenets to right, or else we would all be dabbling in fundamentalism, right? It’s a specific thing, and it shouldn’t be translated like that, you know, yeah.

Ben Wideman  15:59
And you get into the weeds and it kind of muddies though the water from what’s really important here. And I don’t hear you saying, you know, become certain in a left wing politics…. I hear you…. or a gospel according to Johnny, I hear you saying, become certain in what Jesus is calling us to, in his teachings. That’s, that’s where we become certain. And where we where we lean in.

Jonny Rashid  16:26
And specifically, what informs our politics is what Jesus said, so listen to the least of these, listen to the lowly listen to the oppressed, right. I think that is how the gospel is oriented. And so the people that write our politics are the people most affected by them. So pay attention to the lowly.

Ben Wideman  16:45
Yeah, there’s a really important posture in there. Now, not assuming those of us with some political power know the answers too, right? That, you know, we need to continually be asking those most impacted by these policies or decisions.

Jonny Rashid  17:02
Yeah, totally. You know, yeah. I don’t get into the politics of the pandemic very much in the book. But even now, when we’re talking about masks and masks, mandates, and so on. The thing that we need to think about is the disabled, immunocompromised, the elderly. That’s why we that’s why we isolated that’s why we socially distanced, that’s why we quarantine. That’s why we mask today, right? To protect the most vulnerable. And if we cause one of those little ones to stumble, Jesus says it is better to have a millstone hung around your neck, and be thrown into the Sea of Galilee than the judgment that awaits you.

Ben Wideman  17:37
Jonny, you’ve poured so much of yourself into this project, I wonder along the way, where are you seeing little glimmers of hope? This is a heavy thing to nudge, you know, a large middle to reconsider. And can I’m imagining can be pretty tiring to to be pushing people who feel like they’re already sort of, you know, finding a third way we’re doing what we’re supposed to do, like stop telling us to be a little uncomfortable. How do we find hope in the midst of that difficult space?

Jonny Rashid  18:10
I find a lot of hope listening and connecting with other minority Christians, whether they’re BIPOC – black, Indigenous and People of Color, whether they’re women, whether they’re queer, whether the disabled… and listening to their stories, listening to victims of oppression, when they enter into a space, when we create space for them, we learn something new, and as long as it because their politics is embodied. And I think white men have an embodied politics too, that they would benefit from learning well, how does my skin color and how does my gender actually form in my politics, we’re all trying to be followers of Jesus. And what Jesus does is he centers he’s centers the marginalized in the group. You know, a clear image in the Gospel of Mark is when Jesus wants the disciples to pay attention to a child, he brings the child up, he elevates the child and centers the child. Now they’re in the room, right? That’s the idea. So we center them, to learn from them. The group that I’m part of called Jesus collective, they talk about having a Jesus centered approach to things and I think a lot of Anabaptist will say, you know, Jesus is my politics, Jesus writes my politics, Jesus leads me politically, if Jesus is indeed the center, if we are going to identify with Jesus or we’re going to be followers of Jesus, we need to shed ourselves of the things that otherwise center us. Yeah. So get rid of the how how your white skin forms you or how your gender forms you and then put Jesus there instead. Kenosis, right? Self-empty, let go of these things, and then we fill with Jesus.

Ben Wideman  19:53
How is the church weaponizing the third way? I’d love to hear more.

Jonny Rashid  19:59
I can give you a story. about how it happened with me, I don’t talk about this in Jesus Takes a Side but Walter Wink talks about the third way being an alternative to the fight or flight instinct that we have, engaging in a creative and new way. And I think that’s what Martin Luther King was doing. I think that’s what the nonviolent resisters we’re doing. I think that’s what Black Lives Matter is doing. Now, I think that the new civil rights movement is in fact engaging in a classical Third Way approach. It’s nonviolent resistance. And I think that largely, political action in the United States is in that spirit, it’s non violent, it’s assertive. But it isn’t a violent approach, you know. Between, in the cold war between like, communist and capitalist forces, there is another approach. And I think that is the spirit of modern political activism today, especially oriented around civil rights, LGBT inclusion, and so on. The way the Church uses it, that I think hurts people genuinely is when it comes to matters of LGBT inclusion. I often hear churches… and Circle of Hope it was like this at some point, talk about a third way approach between, you know, being affirming and not being affirmed.

Ben Wideman  21:11

Jonny Rashid  21:13
And for a long time, I toed that line. I talked about not finding your identity and your sexuality, finding your identity in Jesus, a policy to not have a policy, a no stance, you know, are you affirming? Well, let’s have a cup of coffee and talk about it, you know? And then we like you. First of all, that’s a risky thing to do you invite a vulnerable person to have a cup of coffee? To find out if you give them their if they’re allowed to have their dignity or not, you know, do you affirm LGBTQIA people in leadership in marriage and ministry and in membership, right? If you can’t answer that directly, if you can’t say yes or no, then you’re saying no, yeah, there isn’t a third way between, and churches want to avoid the conversation because it is increasingly untenable, to not be affirming. And so rather than be bold, and just say, we’re not the bait and switch. And Circle of Hope, did that for a long time, and it was not satisfying to our queer people. And eventually, we had to take aside, yeah, we had to make it clear where we stood. So it is better for a church to be explicit that it’s not affirming than it is for them to hide the fact that they’re not. And then have it sneak up on somebody later.

Ben Wideman  22:43

Jonny Rashid  22:44
You know, that that’s, that’s a painful experience for someone to have. It is better to be clear.

Ben Wideman  22:49

Jonny Rashid  22:49
And for me, that’s the that’s probably the biggest way you see it in churches, because most churches aren’t. If you say, you know, our black people, welcome here are brown people welcome here. Every church is going to say yes. Right? Even if they’re not even if there is racism, right. So where don’t we do that? Most clearly, I would say in when it comes to matters of sexuality.

Ben Wideman  23:11
Yeah. Yeah, I’m thinking about a student I worked with and walked with at Penn State who had been a part of another campus ministry. Well, he was openly gay, and they were fine with him being a part of their group and being a fully valued member. And even taking on leadership positions until he started dating another guy. And then all of a sudden, I was like, well, we’ll you know, we’re okay with with who you are, but not when you’re actually openly publicly being that. Yeah, the little thinking about churches that have, you know, fully welcomed LGBT folks into membership, but as soon as they want to be married, then there’s this like, backpedal? Oh, well, our pastors can’t we’re not quite ready to do that yet. We were okay with you being a member, but, you know, very similar kinds of things. And, and even the conversations that we’re having. This is, you know, a couple of decades ago, I guess, in many of our Anabaptist contexts, but but women talking about wanting to be ordained, and in the church having a conversation about that, and then the men retreating to make the decision about that. And and we do the same thing today, I think with you know, queer folks who raised their hand saying I want to be a part of this and then the straight people all retreat to go and have the conversation about whether or not allow it really is searching for that third way and failing miserably in the process.  Yeah, for those who are really energized by this conversation, Jonny I know you’re very active in lots of different digital spaces. Where can you point people who want to follow your journey?

Jonny Rashid  24:51
Yeah, go to… I have a Twitter handle @JonnyRashid and the same as Instagram. Just JonnyRashid. You can find me everywhere using that also JonnyRashid.com is where I write as well. So those are places you can find me. I’m also an avid home cook. So if you go to instagram.com/FoodPastor, you can see what I’m cooking. I don’t just talk about taking the side, although I have strong opinions about cooking too. So that might be something you’re interested in. So those are some places you can find me great.

Ben Wideman  25:20
Maybe we need to have another conversation and another day about the flaws of Third Way cooking. How we take a stand? Well, thank you so much for taking the time today. It’s been really meaningful for me, I can’t wait to check out this book. And I really encourage all of us to go pick up a copy of Jesus Takes a Side: Embracing the Political Demands of the Gospel. Johnny, thanks so much.

Jonny Rashid  25:43
Thanks a lot, Ben.

Ben Wideman  25:46
Next week on ~ing Podcast, we’re joined by Greg Yoder, and Seth Crissman from The Walking Roots Band.

Greg Yoder  25:52
I think that we’ve always really valued the ability to be in spaces that are faith spaces, and share music that’s not explicitly faith music, but is informed and infused with our experience of faith in community.

Seth Crissman  26:11
I don’t think we could write music that never connects with our faith, but I think it would be… It’d be really strange to only write music just about our faith for us because we write about our whole lives. It’s, it’s connected together.

Ben Wideman  26:30
As always we’d like to thank our guests and all who support ~ing Podcast. Thank you for joining us on the journey. If you enjoyed the show, please leave us a review in your favorite podcasting app. And if you have something to share, send us a message at [email protected] or by leaving us a voicemail. ~ing Podcast is hosted by Reverend Allison Maus and Reverend Dr. Dennis Edwards. And produced by me, Ben Wideman. Views and opinions expressed on ~ing Podcast are those of our hosts and guests and may not represent that of Leader Magazine or MennoMedia. ~ing Podcast is a production of MennoMedia, a nonprofit publisher that creates thoughtful Anabaptist resources to enrich faith in a complex world. To find out more, visit us online at MennoMedia.org.