When the people who fill our pews (and our clergy too) love the ideals (even as corrupt as they can be) of these yet to be United States more than the ideals of the kingdom of God, how do we reclaim our allegiance not to flags and founding fathers but reclaim our fidelity to a God who already told us that they were jealous, and that idol worship, graven images no matter how noble the human may be is sin against God?
John’s fiery doctrinal ‘law and order’ mandating “Repent!”, come to the Jordan, be baptized, prepare for judgement – make ready for new life. In contrast, Jesus’ commitment to the ‘least of these’, water for all who thirst, and his passion for the God of Justice didn’t not appeal to those who revel in their ability to mete out provision, punishment, blessing or curse as they saw fit: religious and civil authorities covertly cooperating with occupying Romans are not interested in an egalitarian society.
In 1999 the First Presbyterian Church had 193 members. In 2019 the number was 75. This 20-year decline is not much different than what I see elsewhere in our presbytery. However, a church of 500 that drops to 250 can still support a pastor. The Coffeyville church can’t, at least not a seminary trained, ordained, and installed pastor.
We are not good at asking questions like “Why do border controls exist?” and “Why are there borders in the first place?” or “Why is locking up people who are seeking refuge wrong?” These are difficult conversations to have in church and in the public square.
I asked if they had ever had conversations with the town 12 miles away, which has a part time PCUSA pastor, about a yoked pastorate. They wondered aloud about what a pastor would do. The pulpit is filled by church members, retired pastors, and commissioned ruling elders, and they – the members and community – do everything else.
Baptizing in the name of love? No, I see no evidence of love. Those “ye” delegated and charged to go forth without benefit of gold, carrying neither staff nor provisions, might have recognized the general theme of hospitality – as they were supposed to teach hospitality – but they did not recognize the significance of the spontaneous hospitality proffered them by the Indigenous People of the Americas.
Hope, however, sparks in some parts of this country. Thousands of people flocked to the streets, protesting against the deaths of Floyd and other Black people. Their sustained protests have accomplished some positive changes, particularly in the operations of the police forces. If you’re on Facebook, you might have read some posts about the Stockton Police Chief agreeing to adopt a Zero Tolerance Policy on racism in the Stockton Police Department. Also, Dallas is adopting a “duty to intervene” rule that requires officers to stop other cops who are engaging in inappropriate use of force. So, God is not silent. God hears the cries of the abused, oppressed, marginalized, and persecuted. God is still speaking!
We’ve had years, decades, centuries to change the virus of racism and yet, because it’s uncomfortable or maybe unimaginable or too scary or there’s too much risk or there’s too many unknowns, we’ve just let it infect every cell in our social bodies.
Besides all of this, I have been unable to get over the fact that the vast majority of my non-POC “brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus” in the Church have been reticent to speak with a single voice about this enormous and ongoing SIN of racism in America. Because I love Jesus Christ and his body deeply on this planet, I have a bone to pick with the Church in its whiteness. I am both mad and sad.
I am writing this from my home in Minneapolis, half a mile from the Third Precinct police station that burned on Tuesday night and a block from a neighborhood bar that is still smoldering. Military helicopters fly close overhead. The air smells of tear gas and smoke. Images swirl in my head. Guilt weighs heavily on my heart. I worry about where we go from here.