We are living in challenging times.
There is much movement going on culturally, politically, religiously, journalistically, and racially. It is enough to make one’s head spin, but I find it fascinating as well as challenging. As a pastor, I am regularly being faced with questions and responses from church members that cover a wide spectrum. This is what I hear:
“I don’t want to come to church and hear about political, social, racial issues. I want to escape from that. I come to worship Jesus and study the Bible.”
“Why isn’t the church addressing the unfolding of current events? Do the leaders agree with acts of racism? Is my church a safe place to attend? Am I going to be on the receiving end of hatred?”
“Why isn’t the voice of the church being heard? Why isn’t the church weighing in and giving direction to how we as followers of Christ are to respond to immigration, racial tensions, political fall-out?”
“I assume the leaders and members of my church fundamentally agree with my personal opinions and thus what I say will be generally accepted by them. My position on (fill in the blank) is surely the one my church holds. Why should anyone question what I have believed for years?”
The church – ours and across the world – is not a homogenous group of people. It is people from many different persuasions. Not all align politically, racially, generationally, ethnically, doctrinally, so can the church even give direction without alienating or offending one group or another?
Historically, most churches gathered people of like mind-sets. White, middle-class believers gathered in their churches, African-Americans in theirs; Conservatives in theirs; Liberals in theirs. In those times and places a pastor could address a social issue with the knowledge that all the members are generally on the same page. There is a comfort to that. We all like to be with people that agree with us and are like us. But is that what the church is supposed to look like? I think not.
In the opening decades of Christianity the major challenge for the church was ethnic and social differences. How much should believing Gentiles conform to being believing Jews? How much should these two groups intermingle? How much should rich and poor share? How much respect should free people give to the servant (slave) class? How much authority should Gentiles or women have in the church? The Apostle Paul was constantly wrestling with these questions.
One of the claims of the Reformation is: Reformed and always reforming. There is more to learn, to see, and to reform. Even a brief reflection on the question of “Have we arrived?” would cause us to answer, “Of course not.”
“For such a time as this” is a quote from the book of Esther (4:14).
Esther was a woman, a Jew, a slave in Babylon, and she becomes one of the king’s wives. The story unfolds with a plot to kill all the Jews in captivity. Esther is challenged by her uncle to say something to the king in the hope that the Jews would not be exterminated. She hesitates. She does not feel equipped. If the king rejects her petition she could be killed. Her uncle responds with, “Who knows, you may have come into the kingdom for such a time as this?” Esther responds, “I will go to the king…and if I perish, I perish.”
I confess, I am not a political person. I am not a social activist. I do not feel adept at addressing the many varied, divisive, complex, and controversial issues of our day. I have been comfortable to be a part of the church, worship the Lord, learn His word, and try to live as best as I can without offending others. I am personally more comfortable keeping my views to myself so as not to cause controversy or disagreement. But I recognize people are asking questions of pastors. I recognize that to stay silent is not a helpful posture. I recognize that our church and society need leadership.
My question has been how can we frame these issues in light of the kingdom of God? What is a response that looks like the kind of response that Jesus might have given?
I believe we are at a moment in time when the church can make a clear and redemptive sound and be an example. I see this as a journey. It takes time. Not everyone will come to the same place at the same time. There likely is not an end point (I think that will come in the Second Coming). Until then, we have a part to play.
So here are steps we are taking to help us as a church engage in the events of our day:
- We are going to acknowledge them. We may not always give an immediate answer. We may wait until the facts become clearer, but we will respond and we will pray.
- We are gathering those who hold some leadership responsibility in the church to help them gain a better comprehension of the issues of our day so they can help those in their sphere of influence.
- We are planning to give statements which we as a church can reference, converse about, and learn from.
- We will make more frequent reference to events as part of a Sunday teaching or part of our corporate prayer.
- We will take specific Sundays to engage in topics that are more controversial with the hope that it will help us to think in a more Christlike fashion rather than being fashioned by politics, headlines, and social media.
- We will likely, because we are diverse, challenge people in their thinking. That means we will not always agree. That means some of us will want more said, and some of us will think we’ve said too much.
- We will seek to honor all, love all, be compassionate toward all, pray for all.
- We will seek to be humble in our approach, not argumentative, not defensive, but open to learning from other points of view.
- We will continue to hold worship, following the Spirit, searching the Scripture as vital. We believe the best way for any of us to change is by entering the presence of God.
- We have confidence that the Holy Spirit will guide us in what to say -‘For the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.’ Luke 12:12
Our goal will be to help us be thinking people, not merely reactive people, and to become a person who can be conversant without being argumentative. I have found the more I am willing to hear from a position that I have not previously held, the more I have become aware of why an issue is important.
“Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time of this?”
Suggested next step: join in our CF One Read book: ‘small great things’ by Jodi Picoult. It is a novel about race, and while the author is white, those in the black community have said she gets to the heart of the matter well. We will have a discussion of it on Nov. 30.