A Call To Churches Following the Election
A Call to Our Churches from Interim General Presbyter Rob Watkins
It is clear that anyone in our country who is not White, and many who are female, gay, or otherwise, are reeling in response to the presidential election. As a community of faith built on Jesus, the divine embodiment of radical welcome and compassion, we have no option but to respond. Jesus would be in the streets with the Least of These, the dispossessed, and the broken, and he mandates that anyone who would be his follower join him. Note strongly his two commandments–you shall love the Lord, your God with your whole heart, whole mind, and whole being; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments rests the whole of Christian practice.
What follows is a call from me as Presbyter to the churches of our Presbytery to embody the presence of Christ in our frightened, disjointed, and upside down context. Please hear this as an invitation. I hold no illusions of having any power to make demands.
It all starts here. We can do nothing apart from God. So pray. Open your church to the presence of God. Realize the true hierarchy in prayer, as well–we do not lead God in prayer, but are led by God. Effective prayer is two-thirds listening. Be quiet enough to let God lead.
We need to reclaim this ancient word. A sanctuary is a haven. It is also a place of meeting, between human beings and between human beings and God. May our churches be sanctuaries for anyone hurting, afraid, or in need of a safe place to be. Practice radical welcome.
We cannot stand by if we witness anyone denigrating, degrading, or dehumanizing someone. We are called to intervene. This means that there is no excuse–it’s locker room talk, it’s a joke, boys will be boys–speak up. If someone confronts someone different from themselves in a demeaning fashion, intervene. This can be done peacefully and non-confrontationally. A very effective means is to sit with the person being belittled quietly. Our children are watching us adults. They learn. Teach them that all persons–male, female, gay, straight, people of color, Whites, Christians, something other–are worthy, valuable, and respectable as children of God, not just by words, but by the way we actually interact with other people.
Break down divisions by crossing the dividing lines. Many congregations have already had the wondrous experience of sharing fellowship and food with their Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, Buddhist, etc. neighbors. They find there is a lot to talk about, and that they actually know each other already from school, soccer, music class, the grocery store, and so on. Break down sweeping judgments with actual experience of other people. Be truly radical and hold an interfaith worship service, praising the One God in a multiplicity of human voices. Beyond religious differences, share fellowship with anyone who might labelled as other. Welcome LGBTs fully. Welcome people of any color on the human spectrum. Welcome the disabled (including making sure they can enter and actually use the building). Welcome folks from all over the political and theological spectrum. Peace begins with understanding and actually getting to know one another. Welcome men, women, and children. Welcome the old and young.
I live in a neighborhood that I am sure is familiar to most of you. There are all sorts of people nearby. Meet them. Most importantly, listen to them. As a congregation, reach out to your neighborhood. Every one of our churches is near a neighborhood, Get to know the neighbors, listening to their experience. If you are in an ethnic neighborhood, really pay attention to what it is like for them to be here. Same goes if your church is near a gay community–listen to their experience.
Conspiracy is a word universally denounced as a negative. But look at the word again–con-spire–Latin for “breathe with.” We know that racial divides exist in our national fabric. We know that minorities struggle for justice, the freedom to be who they are, and access. They do not want anything other than what White America has always enjoyed. Dedicate your congregation to working for the kingdom of God wherein every child–old or newborn–has access to enough–food, shelter, clothing, work, dignity, and access. This does not mean working for the Least of These, but working with them, realizing that they already have the ability, knowledge, and desire for what they need. Justice comes when all are treated justly.
Same as the beginning–we are only as able as God working through us. Keep God there by emptying your church, yourself, and all else before God.