I write this pastoral letter to you with a heavy heart, in my own voice and on behalf of my dear ministry colleagues here at Christ the King Church. This admittedly long letter likely meets a similar sadness in you. While there is much in our national society to cause concern, the outbreak of bigotry with violence and death in Charlottesville, VA uniquely has horrified us and made us ashamed.
Racism, anti-Semitism, hatred, and bigotry of any kind are faces of the same evil that Christians are always called to counter with prayer and with care for the neighbor targeted by hate. It is the same evil that each of us reject when we reaffirm our baptismal vows; we “renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God;” “the powers of this world that rebel against God,” and “the ways of sin that draw us from God.” As with every situation that demands a faithful response, we are specific. We reject fascism and white supremacy. Totally. Full stop. There can be no prevarication or relativizing. Like Churchill’s own moral response to the moment presented to him and the world by fascism, “I decline utterly to be impartial between the fire brigade and the fire.” I am heartened that leaders across the whole political partisan spectrum but for the extremes are united on this point. I am grateful too for the declaration of Houston’s political and religious leaders this past Wednesday of our dedication to mutual respect and warning to violent haters: “not in our house!” But more to the point of our own baptized discipleship, we declare again that no white supremacist can at the same time be Christian, and no Christian can sympathize with white supremacy. I am particularly grateful to our Bishop Michael Rinehart and Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton for reminding us of the distinctive Lutheran Christian tradition about this in which we stand (you can access their statements at https://gulfcoastsynod.org/Charlottesville and http://www.elca.org/News-and-Events/7896).
Tragically familiar as we are with evil’s history, still we are stunned by events of this past week. The stark resurgence of bigotry and its abetting by both religious and political voices in the halls of power is the same inhuman hate met in Jim Crow, the Holocaust, and all the way “back” to the powers and principalities denounced by St Paul (Ephesians 6:12)). We are stunned by this recurrence. We may be overwrought with rage or feel powerless before the bravado of white supremacy’s sympathizers. We wonder what we can do. I write to remind of what God’s Spirit has given us in strength in good courage to do.
We do what Christ told us to do. We pray and we love.
Our faith commands and empowers us to pray and care with equal specificity. So now we pray for Heather Heyer, whose life was taken and for her family and friends who grieve. We pray that her example of commitment to justice will inform the ways we each uniquely will pray and work for the rule of God’s love in the world.
We pray for Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates, who fell in the line of duty, for their loved ones in grief, and for all those in “the blue line” who present themselves daily to secure and protect our personal freedoms and ensure that freedom is enjoyed by every citizen of every color, class, and faith.
We pray for all those who were hurt physically and spiritually as they answered to the call of peace-making over the weekend.
We pray for all who for generations have suffered the bigotry we privileged people so often overlook. What has shocked us has been a daily grind and threat for our sisters and brothers of color for generations. As the refugee poet Emi Mahmoud writes, “I never wear shoes I can’t run in.” Prayer thus also means a commitment to understand the situation of the oppressed. Prayer means that we strive rightly to name that about which we pray, including the causes of racism and the repentance necessary for its spiritual surgical removal from the bodies politic and religious.
We pray for our local, national, and global religious and civic leaders; that they with humility, honesty, and wisdom act above all for the equality, dignity, and peace of all people. And we give thanks to God and to our servant-leaders when and as we can for the good they do, while exhorting them also to do better where they fail.
Love is integrally related to prayer and includes specificity, too. The love of which I write is not about affection, “liking,” or desire. It is about principle; about according the respect and dignity due every human being because every human being bears the image of God, no matter how hidden by the other or distorted by our own vision. We act on principle and relevantly to the occasion presented to us. Does the neighbor need a friend and accompanier? We listen and we walk with them. Does the neighbor need a home or transportation? We provide shelter and maybe a bicycle. Does the person of color or a Jew or Muslim or LGBTQ person need protection and advocacy? We put ourselves between them and the evil doer by policy and with, perhaps finally, our own personhood.
Sometimes love generates anger, but never hate. Anger can be an appropriate catalyst for loving action now. But anger can only be a temporary agent in service to love, and only principled love is the lasting antidote to hate.
Some acts of love may look much “smaller” than others. But all are important and needed. We do what we can as we can, confident that God blesses each and every act of love, from personal private word, through a tweet or call to a public official, to a massive public movement. If you want to learn more specific things, let’s talk and plan about them here at church. In sum, anything we can do is as worthy as learning and leaning into the non-violent activism of a Charlottesville clergy colleague who resolutely “blocked-off” a hate-monger for hours on Saturday, finally to leave him with the words “I love you,” eliciting from that perhaps softening supremacist a mumbled “I love you too.” That colleague could not have stood so faithfully had she not practiced long and hard with her own faith community.
Love God above all else and love your neighbor as yourself. These are the two great and summary commandments that Jesus gave us Christians. In God’s wonderful grace and wisdom, God has given us people with whom we can practice love, starting with our families and with each other in this precious community of Christ the King. Daily. We pastors have the great privilege of loving you (which also is why we believe God has a keen sense of humor). Sometimes we fail in our words and do not meet your needs or expectations. We depend upon your forgiveness and wisdom so we together may move forward in God’s cause.
We also are gladdened that God provides all of us regularly with means other than just ourselves to be strengthened for the journey. God has given us each other to practice God’s love with each other for love beyond our walls. We are given to each other to be Christ’s Body in the world. A beautiful aspect of that gift is that we are not just white here at CTK. We are blessed by LGBTQ persons and persons of color whom we love deeply and are important to us. This makes us an even better training ground for God’s mission in the world. If we, in this Body, do not learn and live love with each other, how will we be able love those beyond our familiar times and places, including our enemies for whom we are commanded also to love and pray?
The fact is, love has already won and we are not alone. Christ is risen. Love lives. Let us together for the world practice as a public example the more excellent way of love that Paul exhorts (1 Corinthians 13). Let us of Christ the King Lutheran Church be known in Houston and beyond as “living and learning love of God and neighbor.”
Love, God’s Love!
Your brother in Christ,