This is the Rector’s letter from the September 2017 of St. John’s monthly newsletter, “The Good News.”
I would normally write at this time about fall programs starting up, etc. You can find that information elsewhere in this newsletter. But I am compelled to say something here about the current state of our national life, and what we as Christians may be called to do. The recent events in Charlottesville have brought this to a bit of a head, although where we find ourselves now is part of a much longer story, which I do not believe is nearly over.
While I have some strong political opinions and stay reasonably well informed, I have eschewed politics in my church work. This is not because I do not think our political climate important or because I don’t think Christians and Christian faith should be part of our political life. I do not want politics to define the church, or people’s relationship with me as a pastor. Some church traditions embrace strong political activity. We have not.
Part of my summer reading this year was “The Benedict Option” by Rod Dreher. The reference is to the Rule of St. Benedict, a centerpiece of monastic life for some 1500 years. It is a pattern of life designed to develop a Christian community that is distinct from the surrounding culture. While he does not argue that Christians should move to the desert and cut off all contact with the modern world, he does argue for a distinctly Christian Church that is more carefully insulated from the world by its patterns and disciplines. While there is wisdom in this, I also believe that we cannot abandon the world to its own devices, even if the cause may seem hopeless!
My concern is to work together to understand how the Bible calls us to speak and act in our current context. I have written for the August 20 eNews about race and faith. If you didn’t catch the eNews, you can read the full article on the Rector’s Blog by visiting stjohnsmlb.org, clicking on the Rector’s Blog link and reading “Race and Faith.” I’ll quote just one sentence here: “Whatever one may think of Confederate statues, any notion of white supremacy or white nationalism (and the related ideas that under-gird neo-nazism or other racist ideologies) is antithetical to Christian faith and always has been, even if the church has failed to live that out at some times and places.”
On the issue of racism, we must be clear and uncompromising. To embrace any form of racism is to deny the fundamental Christian truth that we are all created in the image and likeness of God. Even to allow racism to go unchallenged drastically compromises our witness. This is one place where I believe Christians need to speak up. When you hear racism among your friends, call it out. If you see it in the church, call it out. When you see it in yourself, repent. Whatever you do, this is not an issue on which we can “go along to get along.”
It should go without saying that the killing of innocent people is always to be condemned. Whether it is a violent white supremacist in Charlottesville or an Islamic State sympathizer in Barcelona, such acts are unequivocally evil and must be condemned and, whenever possible, stopped.
I’m less clear about the issue of Confederate statues. I don’t like historical revisionism, especially when that history includes challenging realitides like racism and slavery. We must remember our past with an unvarnished view in order to have the best chance of avoiding repetition. I also understand these have become, for many, a powerful symbol not only of a racist and slave-owning past, but of the reality that these evils have not been adequately erased from our common life.
I believe that the role of Christians and the church in a time like this is to call forth in ourselves, and commend to our neighbors, a vision for a truly just society in which all God’s children are treated with love, dignity and respect. Sometimes that means we must take the risky step of condemning that which moves us in a different direction. More often, it means that we must live out and commend such a vision with love and charity for all, in a way that is so attractive and compelling that others are drawn to that vision and ultimately to God.
How can we each live a life more in line with that vision?
Fr. Eric Turner