Dear fellow pastors – in my own denomination (EPC) or others.
I want to share some words. I will do my best to be brief. As I have thought and prayed about this crisis over the last two days, one thing has kept coming home again and again to me.
Nearly every single younger person I know and am connected to is posting or re-sharing thoughtful, righteous, and sometimes original reflections, action points, art, and acts of witness. Over what? Over the recent killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and many other names you know. And joined in protests over their deaths and the harsh police response that ensued and the wider policies around racial profiling, economic inequality, and so much more.
You might be wary of the downsides of social media and identity (so much mutual display!) or have a longer view of times of unrest or social progression, but don’t miss this: to these two younger generations, these issues (racism, militarism, and the worst of materialism) are moral issues. But not because the people are younger: because the issues -are- moral issues. And they must be addressed as such! They have internalized the best of the ethics of compassion, benevolence, diversity, non-violence (ok, maybe not consistently) and the recognized human dignity at stake.
We must, too. I’m a 45-year old white guys who both ives in a community and serves in a church >95% white. My voice simply isn’t going to lead those protests or be the prophetic cultural one right now: younger and more diverse voices will be. But mine – and yours – can help listen well, firm up their foundations (this is a -spiritual- crisis in addition to moral one) and amplify theirs. We as pastors have to take advantage of these times and offer our congregations “interpretive” leadership.
We must lead in examining WHO we are. That should lead to confession in both senses: 1) confession of sin for person and systemic evil and violence of racism that sees a man or woman, or a whole ethnicity of men and women, and denies their black or brown bodies the value or status as God’s own image-bearers, and our failures in formation capable of addressing this, and 2) confession of faith – we are fully made by God’s grace and for his glory.
We must also lead in naming WHERE we are going: what is our destiny as new creation people, guaranteed by the Spirit to be conformed to the image of Christ, and WHAT must we do now as faithful Christians in the time we are in? It is not you or me, but our people who must lead in the thorough-going excavations of the wrongs embedded in our society and the redress necessary to attain to our commitments for liberty and justice for all.
I expect us to suffer in this – but then, I expect to share in the sufferings of Christ. Do not hear this as a frantic warning about “losing the church” but losing the next generation: Christ is its ascended and reigning Lord, and he leads and guarantees it. DO hear a warning about us failing the church and thIs next generation as witnesses to the truth, justice, and grace of the gospel and its implications for our relationship with God, our own selves, one another, and the wider creation and culture. Make no mistake: they are already deeply suspect of a church that has for too long been the handmaiden of national and political agendas too invested in preserving the status quo.
Let’s show them a Jesus faithful and true, strong and kind. Let’s wield no sword but the truth. And let’s be church committed to his downward way of love, opening our arms wide as his were on the hard wood of the cross.
Your brother in Christ and mission,