An Open Letter to My Congregation

The following is a letter that I sent to my “existing” PC(USA) congregation this week.  My church—like many within the PC(USA) is filled with people who often do not share the same politics or social worldview.  Because it so often succumbs to the whims of a culture that tries to divide and create dichotomies the Existing Church has struggled when it comes to understanding how to deal with deep divisions.  I believe the Emerging Church represents a Third Way.  Hopefully this letter helped to demonstrate that.

Grace and Peace to You All,

Election 2008 has finally come to an end. For those of us who have been suffering from election fatigue these past few weeks, it’s a welcome relief, to tell you the truth.

But now, after months and months of being made aware of all the ways Americans seem to be divided, we will begin to hear (and quite rightly) that we must come together. In president-elect Obama’s victory speech last night he spoke directly to this when he quoted Abraham Lincoln, who also presided over a divided nation. “We are not enemies but friends,” Lincoln said after the Civil War, “though passion may have strained…it must not break our bonds of affection.” These are fine words. We can’t escape the sense of history in that they were spoken by an African-American who has been elected President of the United States in Lincoln’s home state, and in Chicago, the very city where Lincoln won the nomination for President. They are fine words, and historic. But the road to unity is going to be difficult, and there are many among us who are anxious and fearful of what lies ahead.

As the Church, the Body of Christ, we need to lead the way in the healing that must begin after such a long and contentious political season. How can we do this? We can first recognize that as the Church we are called to “unity in diversity,” through the power of the Spirit of Christ in us and all around us. The Body of Christ is diverse. There are people in our own church—the First Presbyterian Church of Eustis—who probably voted for different candidates. There are members and friends of our congregation who gather together each Sunday for worship, sing together in the choir and serve side by side in mission and ministry, who may not agree at all when it comes to politics. I know that today I am the pastor of a church where some of my flock are rejoicing over the victory of president-elect Barack Obama, and some are not.

But the Body of Christ is also unified. Paul referred to this in Galatians when he wrote, “There is no longer any Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free, for all are made one in Christ.” In Philippians Paul exhorted the early church to be “One in spirit and in purpose.” The culture that Paul was speaking into was no different from our own in that it sought to divide people by race, background, political leanings, faith, gender, and so much more. But though the world will try to divide us, and cause us to strive against one another on the world’s terms, as Christians we are called to One-ness. I use the word “One-ness” because we are drawn together by the One who gave everything so that we might have life, and “life more abundantly.”

I have many Christian friends all over the country who are despondent today. Many of them have expressed their anxiety over an Obama presidency in fairly apocalyptic terms—end of the world kind of language. I have other Christian friends who are unbelievably excited and hopeful—triumphant, if you will—that a new day has dawned. I am quick to remind them all that four years ago, the tables were turned. Those who are rejoicing today were predicting the end of civilization then, and those who are despondent today were on top of the world. As Christians we need to understand that if our outlook of the future is determined by the outcome of an election, and not by the hope we say we have in Jesus Christ—-then our priorities need adjusting.

To that end—and this is the second way the Church can lead in healing division—we need to look to what unifies us as brothers and sisters in Christ, and live into that hope on a daily basis. What the world needs to see from the Church is not angry rhetoric or bitterness and fear. The world does not need to see a Church divided by politics, but united in the love of Christ and for the purpose of being salt and light. Jesus prayed that his disciples would live out this hope and that they would be a witness,
“My prayer is not for [my disciples] alone,” Jesus prayed in John 17. “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one. Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one. In them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unit to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

And so, my beloved congregation…
If you are filled with joy at the outcome of the election, remember the very words that president-elect Obama used last night to frame his victory. He said that he saw the victory as a challenge to show the kind of “humility and determination to heal the divides that have held back our progress.” Your joy today should bring with it a measure of humility and grace, and a sense of duty to heal wounds, find common ground and point to Christ in all that you do.

If you are filled with anxiety and dread on this day, be at peace. We serve a risen Savior, who is at work in and among us in the world. We believe in a Sovereign God, who sets up kings and kingdoms and takes them down. We are heirs of a hope that is not found in politicians nor the outcome of elections. Live into that hope in a spirit of unity with your brothers and sisters in Christ who perhaps voted differently than you did yesterday, and above all show love and demonstrate the kind of grace that you yourselves have been given.

You are loved and prayed for daily.


Counting it all Joy,

Leon

Comments

  1. loved this.

  2. Matt Ferguson says:

    While I do agree with what you wrote in this post I have a question for you and the many others who are now writing about the need to move beyond the divisiveness that exists and rally around the president-elect. Did you ever express such sentiments for our current president while he was under extreme, unfair attacks.

  3. I think that all politicians run the risk of having extreme, unfair attacks leveled at them, to some extent. It’s the nature of their position. As a pastor, I suffer on a smaller scale the same kind of thing from time to time. I was grieved during this election season by the spurious attacks that were made on the candidates, turning the election (once again) into a media circus rather than a debate on the issues. When President Bush has been spuriously attacked, I have been equally as grieved. However, we can’t confuse honest criticism and critique with what we might consider “unfair attacks.” I think that as Christians we have a Christian duty to pray for our elected officials, but we don’t have to agree with them. President Bush has enjoyed widespread support from the Christian community throughout his tenure, but not all Christians agree with his politics. My hope is that the Christian community will offer the same support (even without agreement) and defense against extreme, unfair attacks for President Obama as it has for President Bush. That would truly be a unique witness.

  4. Matt Ferguson says:

    Again, I agree with your original post.

    Here is part of what you said in response to my post, “When President Bush has been spuriously attacked, I have been equally as grieved. However, we can’t confuse honest criticism and critique with what we might consider “unfair attacks.”

    My question would be, “While you say you have been equally grieved by spurious attack on President Bush did this ever lead you to write a post such as this one? If not, why not?” I think the answer to that question sheds light on what is behind a number of posts by a number of pastor/bloggers, posts similar to yours here.

    And notice how quickly you want to point out that sometimes these things are simply honest criticism. That is true and it is also true for some of what is said about the president elect but did you feel compelled to point that out?

    Let me be blunt. I think a lot of Obama supporters where silent when President Bush faced much unfair, over the top criticism but now seem to be a bit hyper-sensitive to criticism of the president-elect (their guy) so they are out there writing blogs like yours here, chiding folks to cut it out. Again, I agree with what you wrote in your blog.

    I am just wondering if you ever wrote such a piece to try and quiet folks down about the unfair stuff that was said toward the current president or if you are just a partisan disguised as someone who is unbiased. I don’t know the answer to that question. I have my suspicion. It could be determined by you pointing to a blog where you spoke up against the unfair criticism of Bush.

    Matt Ferguson
    Hillsboro, IL

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