A Commitment to Prophetic Love Sunday, September 6, 2015

Today, all of our United Methodist churches in the Virginia Annual Conference were asked by Bishop Young Jin Cho to observe a “Day of Confession, Repentance, Prayer and Commitment to End Racism.”  The conditions in our world today call us to do so much more, but I recognize what a giant step this call to action was today for some of our congregations.

Not long into my tenure on the Connectional Ministries staff, I received a call to meet with the Trustees of a southside Virginia church about accessibility of their sanctuary.  It was clearly evident as I drove up to the small rural church that there were multiple entrances to the sanctuary.  I pretty much knew that in their history one entrance was for the landowners, the other for their indentured servants.  The first thing I did was ask those gathered to tell me about the church.  The immediate response came from a man as he pointed up toward the back.  His words were, “That’s the slave balcony.”  Note the words were not, “That used to be…” or even “Prior to the War Between the States….”  No, he said “That’s the slave balcony.

I wish I could say that was my only encounter with an “-ism” in the church but racism, sexism, ageism, classism, heterosexism, ableism, criticism and every other “-ism” raises it’s ugly head far too often.

I have been blessed by my 3 years of service on the board of directors for UMC Discipleship Ministries in untold ways.  Despite times of challenging discussion and decision-making, I continue to be amazed by the deep faith and witness of those with whom I serve.  We have our differences in theological understandings and at times as individuals find ourselves on different sides of issues.  But this has been one place where we have entered into holy conversation and come forth with beautiful statements of faith that have captured what none of us alone could say.  What follows is the most recent example. Several of my colleagues have already posted this statement in various places, and you may have seen it when it was released to United Methodist Communications following our July meeting.  Even if you have seen it before, I invite you to read the statement once again today and commit to more than just an end to racism – commit to prophetic love.

An Outcry Against Hatred and Hate Crimes and a Commitment to Prophetic Love

Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.

1 John 4:20

Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses. 

Proverbs 10:12

In light of continuing acts of violence, destruction, and murder based upon hatred, racism, fear, bigotry and prejudice:

We recommit ourselves to the life to which our church’s baptismal liturgy calls us—a life in which we “renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness…reject the evil powers of this world…and accept the freedom and power God gives [us] to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.”

We stand united in our conviction that all human beings are of sacred worth, beloved by God and created in the Divine Image. We therefore denounce all hate crimes committed against women, men, youth, and children of all our racial or ethnic identities.

We deplore the evil of racism and its continued expression in the hearts and institutions of our culture. We therefore repudiate all forms of violence and mistreatment that are fueled by racist hatred and toxic bigotry.

We affirm that all are precious to God, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

We therefore decry all crimes and violence against people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer.

We maintain that justice must be pursued with both integrity and equity. We therefore denounce police brutality in any form. We also denounce the unjust targeting of law enforcement officers.

We deplore all acts of terrorism, whether foreign or domestic and all forms of social injustice, systemic discrimination, and dehumanizing oppression.

We reject and condemn all hate-fueled crimes of abuse and violence, believing that such crimes are an unacceptable assault on the sacredness of our shared existence.

We believe in the countercultural love and the transformational grace of Jesus Christ, in whom “there is no longer Jew or Greek…slave or free…male and female” (Galatians 3:28). We commit ourselves to building lives and communities in which love, justice, and mercy are as natural as breathing and every bit as urgent. We call for strategic partnerships and meaningful action plans that will lead humankind more deeply into God’s redemptive future.

We believe that God is relentlessly good; that God is far more devastated by our hatred and violence than we are; that God weeps and grieves over the unthinkable distortions of how God created things to be; and that God, even now, is redemptively and dynamically present in the brokenness, holding suffering souls in the quiet depths of the Divine Heart and ushering the church and world into a renewed commitment to justice, oneness, and agapic love.

We the church repent of the ways in which we have nurtured and reinforced hatred, both individually and communally, through our actions, our silence, and our toleration of distorted priorities. We call the church to a deeper and more holistic devotion to the way of Jesus, where grace transforms hatred into love, fractured relationship into reconciliation, and crippling fear into life-giving and world-shaping hope.

Prayerfully offered by the Board of Directors, GBOD

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