After a year of the twin pandemics of racism and coronavirus, our nation witnessed insurrection and violence unfolding in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 and watched Joseph Biden and Kamala Harrison inaugurated as president and vice president of the United States on Jan. 20. These events unfolded just blocks away from several United Methodist churches in the Baltimore-Washington Conference. Some of the pastors from Capitol Hill shared their thoughts about how people of faith might respond in this time of national transition.
The Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli
Will you merely record the temperature of our culture or will you re-set it? As our nation continues to vibrate with division, hatred, white supremacy, and indifference, how will the church wade into the political issues of our day to affect real change?
Called to be thermometers or thermostats?
Excerpted from a sermon delivered Jan. 10
“In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard so many ministers say, ‘Those are social issues which the gospel has nothing to do with,’ and I have watched so many churches commit themselves to a completely otherworldly religion which made a strange distinction between bodies and souls, the sacred and the secular.”
These words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were written in his “Letter from the Birmingham City Jail,” an open letter in response to eight white religious leaders who publicly critiqued the peaceful protests against racial segregation and violence in Birmingham in 1963.
It is a common thing in the churches I’ve served to hear people say they don’t want politics in church. But, as Dr. King notes, it is “strange” for Christians to make a “distinction between bodies and souls, the sacred and the secular.”
It’s strange because the God of the Bible doesn’t make these distinctions and most certainly cares about social issues. God cares deeply about “politics,” that is, about the way we live in community, seek to order our common life, and care for the common good.
God cares, and so should we. In our Baptism, we are incorporated into God’s mighty acts of salvation, given the freedom and power to resist evil, injustice, and oppression, and called to serve Jesus Christ and the Way of the Kin-dom which is love made manifest through justice, equity, mercy, compassion, and generosity.
One word from our Baptism liturgy I don’t want us to miss: power.
We are given freedom and power by God. To do what? To abuse our privilege? To hoard our resources? To put others at risk for our comfort? God gives us freedom and power to follow Jesus and to emerge from the waters of God’s mercy and love ready to do what it takes to participate in God’s liberating and saving work of Kin-dom building.
Rev. Dr. King wrote, “There was a time when the church was very powerful. It was during that period that the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was the thermostat that transformed the mores of society.”
This is a community that uses their God-given freedom and power for the sake of justice and righteousness. They did not just take the temperature; they changed the thermostat. This is not work that is separate from our life of faith.
And now, we’ve taken the temperature, right? We know that there are cold hearts that leave others’ bodies lying out on the cold pavement as a result. We know that the heat of rage and resentment and hatred is at a boiling point, doing damage in untold ways.
We know things are changing for better or for worse. We are called to change the world for the better.
As those created in the image of God, given freedom and power through Spirit, and guided by the love and mercy of Jesus Christ, we are called to not just take the temperature but to change the thermostat, to turn up the heat where it’s needed and to bring coolness where there is none, to do what it takes to make real change.
Here are some things you can do:
Do your own work; stay grounded in prayer and study.
If you’re white, do the uncomfortable and liberating work of understanding and grappling with your privilege.
Engage with (or start!) ministries in your congregation to learn about and move toward becoming an anti-racist congregation.
Connect with the BWC We Rise United campaign.
You are made in the image of God and you share the family name: Beloved. You are given freedom and power. How will you use that freedom and power to change the thermostat? To change the world?
By Rev. Bresean Jenkins
In Georgia, Stacey Abrams, the daughter of two United Methodist clergy people, recently taught the world that pain can have a purpose. She taught us to pivot – to dare to believe that God has a plan and that we play a part in that plan. The best is yet to come. God-purposed change is on the horizon. It’s time to pivot. Read more from the Rev. Bresean Jenkins of Ebenezer UMC in Washington.
Our Purposeful Pivot
In 2018, Stacey Abrams was in an unsettling situation. After a contentious Georgia gubernatorial race, she lost to her opponent by less that 50,000 votes. She believed that the race for Georgia governor was an election full of voter suppression and voter fraud. She had no proof, just overwhelming circumstantial evidence that would be hard to prove.
She lost. What would she do next?
While her name was on President Joe Biden’s short list for vice-president, that seat would go to Kamala Harris. It was time for her to go home and let it all go. Although she felt that she had been cheated, she chose to make a purposeful pivot.
The secret to her purposeful pivot was her faith. Both her parents are retired United Methodist Elders in the North George Conference. She was raised understanding that pain always has a purpose.
She decided to use her public failure to ensure that no other candidate would succumb to the circumstances she felt that she had been dealt. Abrams and her nonprofit organization, Fair Fight 2020, registered 800,000 new voters, which resulted in the two new democratic senators from the state of Georgia.
President Biden would credit the work of Abrams for the victory our country saw from Georgia. Abrams taught all of us that our pain has a purpose that can facilitate change if we allow it to drive us. As Charles Wesley wrote in his iconic hymn, voter activation was Stacey Abrams “charge to keep.”
What will your purposeful pivot be? Our world is waiting for God’s children to channel their pain to create the change we need to see.
We are all a cornucopia of talents, gifts, perspectives, and experiences that can be leveraged to make our world different. Our world needs true transformation agents.
Our world is full of hate, our society is full of division, and our churches are full of indifference. What if God wanted to use the most painful moment of your life to make life better for someone else?
God is calling all of us to make our world and community better. We do not have to sit idly by and watch the world suffer. We can launch into action and make our world better.
The world is awaiting our gifts of encouragement, our creative solutions, our words of comfort, and our strategies for action. We are not only able; we are WELL able.
When the world has a problem, God sends us out, as God’s ambassadors, to fix that problem.
What’s your God-problem that can only be fixed by you? Remember in the book of Esther, Mordecai told his cousin that she was positioned to change the outcomes for the captive Jews. God had divinely positioned her for “such a time as this”.
The story tells us she fasted and prayed to strengthen her resolve and handle her business. Let’s use this example. It is not only your turn; it is your time.
Not only have you been created to make life better, you have been equipped to make life better. The best painting has not been painted yet. The best song has not been sung yet. The best strategy has not been created yet. The best medical breakthrough has not been discovered, yet.
Our world needs change: sustainable change; God-purposed change. We are WELL able to change our world.
The Holy Spirt is nudging you. It’s time to launch into action. You are not only called, you are equipped. While all the resources are not obvious, they will appear when you decided to get started. If not you, then who. If not now, then when?
What will your purposeful pivot be?
By Rev. Dr. Ianther Marie Mills
As the church looks to a new season in our nation’s history, there is a temptation to settle back into hope. But, instead, the church must awaken into “the fierce urgency of now.” Recognizing that “now is the time,” is one of the traits of a disciple of Jesus Christ. Read more by the Rev. Ianther Mills of Asbury UMC in Washington.
The Fierce Urgency of Now
Excerpted from a sermon delivered Jan. 24
And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. Mark 1:17-18, NRSV
In this time leading up to and following the inauguration, I thought about where we need to go now and what we must do now. I thought about words spoken by Dr. Martin Luther King in his I Have a Dream speech at the 1963 March on Washington that have as much relevance for us today as they did then. Dr. King brilliantly urged America:
We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.
Dr. King would later utter those words again in Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence. He said:
“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with “the fierce urgency of now”. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late... Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: “Too late.” There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect.”
And today, I believe after the end of the Trump administration, after rollbacks in civil rights protections and affirmative action; after voter suppression; after inhumane immigration policies and practices; after a global pandemic that has taken 400,000 American lives; after the unleashing, sanctioning, and dog whistling of white supremacy; and after an insurrection that threatened our very democracy, what stands before us is “the fierce urgency of now.”
In the Gospel of Mark, “The fierce urgency of now” is at the very heart of the Gospel message. When Jesus called his disciples, he called them to a time called now. Jesus said, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they followed him.
No weighing other offers,
No thinking about it,
No sleeping on it,
Immediately they followed Jesus!
Immediately – Do you feel the sense of urgency? Jesus said, “Follow me!” and at his word, immediately they followed him.
Do you hear God’s “divine must”? God’s “divine imperative” is an expression of “the fierce urgency of now.” The fierce urgency of now is written throughout the Bible and it is manifest in our lives today.
That “fierce urgency of now” urges us to stand up.
That “fierce urgency of now” urges us to fight for justice.
That “fierce urgency of now” urges us to strive for freedom.
That “fierce urgency of now” urges us to hold onto the dream.
People of God, tomorrow is today!
What stands before us today is “the fierce urgency of now!”
Someone might argue its overuse. But…
“The fierce urgency of now” is civil rights and voter rights!
“The fierce urgency of now” is immigration reform!
“The fierce urgency of now” is poverty and healthcare!
“The fierce urgency of now” is fair policing and equitable education!
“The fierce urgency of now” is the economy and this pandemic!
And, the fierce urgency of now is sure enough, an end to white supremacy!
We still have a dream of a beloved community!
We still have a dream of a nation where we are judged by the content of our character, not the color of our skin!
We will never ever settle for normalcy again!
Donna Claycomb Sokol
Mt. Vernon Place UMC
On the Eve of the inauguration, United Methodists in D.C. and around the nation held their breath. Will we ever be the same? How do we now stop the truth from stumbling in the public square? What role will the church play in healing racism and division in our nation? Sometimes the answer starts with being fully and intentionally present. Read more from Rev. Donna Claycomb Sokol of Mt. Vernon Place UMC in Washington.
An invitation to speak God’s Word
“Is it too early to pop the champagne?” my dear friend texted on the day before the Inauguration.
“How many of us will awaken on Thursday morning feeling less anxious?” another friend asked on Facebook?
The questions have merit. Indeed, many people have been longing for the start of a new administration.
But these questions are not the questions members of the congregation I serve are asking. Their questions, shared in different Zoom meetings made available to process and pray, include:
“I work in the red zone. When I’m finally able to return to work, will my walk along those sidewalks ever be the same?”
“We are waiting for the shoe to drop. Will it be a combat boot or a ballet slipper?”
“What is happening to our unhoused neighbors?”
“Are there times, as an Asian American man, when I will continue to feel unsafe on my own block because of the guests staying in the hotel next door?”
“Will Washington ever be the same.”
The last question is the only one I can confidently answer.
No. Washington will never be the same since white supremacists and nationalists violently sieged the Capitol building leaving five people dead, the working space of members of Congress violated, and democracy teetering on the brink of toppling over.
But I pray you see how your community, wherever you are, should also never be the same.
Isaiah 59:14 reads “Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands at a distance; for truth stumbles in the public square, and uprightness cannot answer.”
Truth is, indeed, stumbling in the public square.
But is truth also stumbling in our churches?
When it comes to the lie of white supremacy and the power of disinformation that led to January 6, have we helped people better understand the truth? Or is our silence contributing to the lies not only living, but gathering additional steam that ultimately raged in ways that made the light of Epiphany impossible to see alongside Confederate flags waving in Statuary Hall?
What have we done to stop the lies and disinformation?
How are we helping people see the truth of every individual made in God’s image as a good place to start?
Our congregation recently sang the beloved hymn, “Here I Am, Lord.” These words have remained with me, “I will break their hearts of stone, give them hearts for love alone, I will speak my word to them. Whom shall I send?”
May we say, “Here I am,” to the invitation to transform hearts of stone into hearts of love that see the divine imprint upon each person.
May we say, “Here I am,” to the invitation to speak God’s word, the very truth Pilate asked Jesus about, in as many ways possible.
May we say, “Here I am,” to calling the church into account on race.
While a new administration can bring about change, the church has its work cut out for us when it comes to leading the healing that our nation desperately needs.
What role might we play?
Will you join me in saying, “Here I am, Lord”?