A Pastoral Letter for Our Current Moment
LoopA Pastoral Letter for Our Current Moment
June 6, 2020
Dear friends of Compass Christian Church,
As Christians we recently celebrated Pentecost and as a denomination rejoiced that the #2 mission priority our denomination set in 2001 of establishing 1000 new congregations by 2020 had not only been met but exceeded! In 2001 we committed ourselves as a denomination to three other mission priorities: (#3) transformation of 1000 new congregations by 2020; (#4) leadership necessary to realize these new and renewed congregations; (#1) becoming a pro-reconciling/anti-racist church.
While we celebrate the establishment of 1034 new congregations this Pentecost, we mourn the murder of George Floyd just a few days earlier, pinned down with a knee to his throat gasping for air and calling for his deceased mother, and are enraged it took massive protests for the four police officers to be charged. We mourn that Ahmaud Arbery was chased, hunted down and murdered on February 23, and are enraged it took 74 days before his killers were arrested. Clearly there is significant work to be done not only in our country but also in our churches.
The moral crisis that has always been at the heart of America, visible at all times to the oppressed, is now on such grotesque display that even the privileged cannot look away or deny its veracity. As was the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham or the police using billy clubs and tear gas against demonstrators at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, may these current moments be tipping points for our nation to examine itself, listen to the oppressed, and right these long-standing injustices.
As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “I agree with Dante, that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis preserve their neutrality. There comes a time when silence is betrayal. In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” The urgency of the present moment demands we embrace, embody, and enact the church that we say we are.
So who do we say we are as a denomination? Our Identity is, “We are Disciples of Christ, a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world. As part of the one body of Christ, we welcome all to the Lord’s Table as God has welcomed us.” Our Vision is, “To be a faithful, growing church that demonstrates true community, deep Christian spirituality and a passion for justice.” Our Mission is “To be and to share the Good News of Jesus Christ, witnessing, loving and serving from our doorsteps “to the ends of the earth.”
“Wholeness…welcome all …demonstrate true community…justice…be and share the Good News of Jesus Christ, witnessing, loving, and serving.” These implicit commitments are made explicit in our mission priority of becoming a pro-reconciling/anti-racist church. These phrases define us a people among whom reconciliation, hospitality, love and justice, and embodying and enacting the Gospel are second nature. We’ve been formed within this particular such that these characteristics appear instinctive.
These life-giving narratives and habits shape our characters, but they’re not the only narratives and habits forming us.
There are death-dealing narratives and habits of systemic racism woven into the history, culture, and structures of our country. It has been displayed in the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and many others at the hands of police and civilians. Clearly our “justice” system is corrupted by racism, but that’s just one aspect of its reach. Its corrupting tentacles misshape our systems of housing, education, employment, health, longevity, wealth, voting access, and media portrayals. And not just for African- Americans, but First Nations peoples, Latinx, Asians, and others not considered “white.” Jim Wallis of Sojourners calls it “America’s Original Sin” and says, “The United States of America was established as a white society, founded upon the near genocide of another race and then the enslavement of another.” Because this original sin is woven in the history and culture of our country it’s also part of our churches, and why its eradication is a mission priority for our denomination and for our congregation.
Given these realities, who do we say we are as a congregation? We are a people of open hearts, open minds, and open table. Last year we made explicit what is implicit in this statement. What might this say to our current moment?
Since we are open-hearted we will:
Enter into the suffering of others.
Embody generosity, justice, and peace.
Be freely affectionate.
Since we are open-minded we will:
Embrace humility and receptivity.
Acknowledge our own biases and strive for ever-greater objectivity.
Embody consideration, mercy, and reason as we seek wisdom.
Consider new ideas and educate ourselves about racism and other isms.
Seek a common understanding for unitive faith with a tolerance for diversity.
Since we are open-tabled we will:
Extend hospitality in new ways to those within and beyond the church.
Embody inclusion, welcome, and visible unity.
Beneath these congregational and denominational affirmations about identity, mission, and practices are some fundamental theological foundations.
We seek to become an anti-racist church because:
1. Racism is a sin against God our Creator. We’ve all been made in the image of God (Gen 1:26), all of us are made a little lower than the angels (Ps 8:5), and God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth (Acts 17:26).
2. Racism is a sin against the Gospel. Jesus’ inaugural sermon set his mission priorities including “good news to the poor, release to captives, a sight to the blind, the oppressed go free, and the year of the Lord’s favor.” If our gospel isn’t good news to those oppressed by racism, it’s contrary to the Gospel, and those who proclaim it are accursed (Gal 1:8).
3. Racism is a sin against our baptismal identity. When we’re baptized we’re no longer “Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, barbarian or Scythian, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus, for Christ is all and in all!” (Gal 3:28, Col 3:11).
4. Racism is a sin against communion’s hospitality. We welcome one another as Christ has welcomed us (Rom 15:7); the one cup and bread shared to make us one body (1 Cor 10:16-17).
5. Racism is a sin against Jesus’ prayer for the Church. Before Jesus’ death, his parting prayer for us is that we be one so that the world may believe (Jn 17:20-21).
6, Racism is a sin against the Holy Spirit. Those led by the Spirit of God are children of God, and that Spirit bears witness that we are God’s heirs and Christ’s joint-heirs (Rom 8:14-17).
7. Racism is a sin against the Kingdom’s membership/heaven’s citizenry. We will be embodied beings in the New Jerusalem, with every tribe, language, people, and nation (Rev 5:9, 7:9).
8. Racism is a sin against our fundamental calling as Christians. “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:4-6).
We seek to become a pro-reconciling church because:
God has given us the ministry of reconciliation. Jesus’ renewal of us commits us to being reconciled with one another (2 Cor 5:16-20).
Our Christian identity transcends cultural boundaries. Because we are new creations in Christ, our old selves have died and our new selves reflect our Creator (Col 3:5-10).
Favoritism is forbidden among the faithful. When preferential treatment is given to some and not others, those distinctions lead to judgment with evil thoughts (Jas 2:1-4).
Love for one another demonstrates our obedience to Christ. Jesus’ disciples are to be known by everyone for their demonstrable love before the world.
Diversity and unity are gifts in the Body of Christ. Our differences are needed to enable us to function for the good of the whole (1 Cor 12:12-27).
Christ’s cross has made one new humanity, eradicating any divisions between people. To live in opposition to that reality is to reject Christ’s work of salvation.
Reconciliation and forgiveness are how we enact our faith. Seeking reconciliation and extending forgiveness ought not to be an extraordinary occurrence, but part of our everyday expression of life together (Matt 5:24, 6:15).
Justice, peace, mercy, and right relationships are God’s desire for all creation. We are to embody an alternative community, a current example of God’s future Reign (Mt 5:3-10).
By living into these commitments we embody and enact God’s grace through Jesus Christ. The “living into” will take time and a significant commitment from all of us. It will be a countercultural experience in a society that promotes “fun, fast, and easy.” It will be painful at times to make ourselves vulnerable to explore our implicit biases and privileges. It will be uncomfortable at times having difficult conversations about awareness and discriminatory actions that are not open-hearted or open-minded. Reconciliation means walking a path toward change. Moving from silence to solidarity will require our lives to express what our lips profess. I’m grateful to be on that journey toward reconciliation with you.
Pastor Troy Sybrant