Pastoral Letter from Rev. Dr. John Dorhauer, General minister and President of the United church of Christ
A Pastoral Letter: That They May All Be One
January 28, 2019
Dear Partners in Christ:
The vision of a body united –in purpose, in mission, in vision – is one that inspired the birth of our denomination. All of our spiritual impulses reverberate in an effort to call us into a more perfect union. Throughout our shared history as a people of faith and as a part of the Body of Christ, we have challenged ourselves to widen the circle of inclusion. Widening the circle has always come with growth pains as we shed old skins and welcome those whom we had previously thought unwelcome. And, with each new articulation of a more fully expressed Body of Christ we have realized new joy. Through it all we remain focused on the call to be one and committed to meeting the challenges inherent in that call.
We are now living in and through a season when the threats to unity are legion. Talk of walls that mark refugees as threats, labels like ‘terrorist’ that attach too easily to Muslims, overt racial bias that normalizes fear and hatred, a pandemic of abuse to women with the trigger reflex to forgive the men who author that abuse have turned America into a land many of us no longer recognize and that too many of us are finding harder and harder to reconcile with our faith.
Now more than ever, the Holy Spirit of the Living God and the Risen Christ is seeking to partner with anyone committed to unifying the human community. The gospel mandate to love our neighbor as we love ourselves resonates deep within us. It calls for the better angels among and within us to always resist impulses to hate, to condemn, to vilify, or to castigate. In such a time as this, the United Church of Christ’s call to fulfill the prayer of Jesus, that they may all be one, stands as an urgent mandate to disciples who envision a just world for all.
United with you in God’s service,
The Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer
General Minister and President
The Executive Committee of the Hampshire Association has reached out to our congregation to ask if any of our members would be interested in serving on either the Executive Committee or the Committee on Ministry.
The Executive Committee runs the Association. It meets once a month on the first Tuesday to talk about and plan events and decisions that need to be made.
The Committee on Ministry keeps in touch with pastors and churches and makes decisions about privilege of call and ordination. There are some very experienced people on this Committee and Rev. Jill Graham is usually there. It is mostly on the job training, but there is reading material available if someone would want to study up.
The biggest thing is getting representation from lay and ordained members from various churches in the Association.
If anyone may be interested in this opportunity of serving the Association and giving Hatfield Congregational more of a voice, please reach out to Rev. Randy for contact information.
Faith Matters article from Greenfield Recorder
A member of the congregation shared this article with me yesterday after Service. The Greenfield Recorder runs a weekly column by a minister of a Franklin County house of worship. It's called "Faith Matters." It's a wonderful service to the community. I wish the Hampshire Gazette, a sister paper, would think about doing the same.
This is the article from the September 22nd edition, written by Rev. Barbara Seamon, pastor of the Sunderland Congregational Church. It speaks of the original American democracy, the New England Town Meeting.
I have hanging in my home a copy of Rockwell's "Freedom of Speech" painting. It shows an ordinary citizen standing up at Town Meeting and voicing his opinion and the others present listening attentively. Except in our small New England towns, this may seem quaint. However, this is still the pure democracy by which we run the congregations and the denomination of the UCC. I truly appreciate this spiritual and religious freedom.
I thought her words on our church's democracy were well worth sharing:
As Andy Castillo reported in June 2017 in The Recorder, our church’s history and the Town of Sunderland are intrinsically tied. In the 1600s, all New England settlements were required to have a church/meeting house in order to be a sanctioned municipality. In 1673, settlers petitioned to become a town and were granted seven years “to attract enough settlers and hire a minister.” Church history records that after securing a learned and orthodox minister, the first meetinghouse was built in 1717. A few months later, with around 40 families, the first worship service was conducted by Rev. Joseph Willard in January 1718. Having fulfilled the requirements, The First Congregational Church of Sunderland and The Town of Sunderland had their beginning. All of these events happened before the American Revolution, and before Thomas Jefferson put pen to paper for the Declaration of Independence. Now, 301 years later, our church and town are celebrating. After more than 300 years, our church is still governed in the same way. Congregational churches do not have Bishops, nor do they have a Pope to oversee their activities and mandate theology. Congregational churches are governed by the democratic town meeting model today, just as they were 300 years ago. It is a challenging way to run any kind of institution, be it a church, a town or business.
But as Winston Churchill wrote: “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
I am the pastor of the church and although my name is on the sign, it is the people of the congregation who are in charge of this church.
Does that sound familiar? “Of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
The Town of Sunderland, began with a petition and it is still active today because our congregation continues to labor and practice their devotion to that community model.
All these years later, this church still has a deep commitment to community. That is no accident. It is part of our bylaws and our theology.
The birth of this church, of this town, and the birth of this country were founded on what some have called “the democratic experiment.” And, yes, a few things have changed in 3 centuries. For example, 301 years ago, a woman could not lead worship. I am standing here as a testament not only to this church but to the congregational form of government that believes God is active and continues to guide us actively into the future in love.
We believe that God and Christ increase our capacity to love and to care for one another. We believe we have to learn how to discern and better practice that kind of love, through study and action.
Our church in Sunderland is not large, but we are always looking for ways to improve.
I thought the June article in The Recorder last year about our church was great, but it was missing one very important aspect. There were two pictures of our church building. As beautiful as our building is, it is nothing without the people. I have asked to include the above picture of this community.
On Sunday, Oct. 7, our church will have a special celebration to honor the Town of Sunderland’s 300th Anniversary. We will have special music from our choirs. Professor Emeritus of History, Ronald Story, will speak on the beginnings of the Congregational Church. Story spent 35 years at UMass Amherst teaching and writing books. Among them were “Jonathan Edwards and the Gospel of Love.” The Rev. Kelly Gallagher, our conference minister, will bring greetings from the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ.
I hope you can join us for this important commemoration. I give thanks for this community of faith that has endured so many years, for the history and beauty of the Town of Sunderland, and that with God’s help we may continue for centuries to come.
Now let me return to the proposition of Jesus’ radical equality, especially in the case of women.
A crowd gathers around Jesus’ house in Capernaum and Jesus refers to all of them, the men and the women, as His family: “‘Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’” That “whoever” is important. Jesus is talking to men and women, thus the male and female references, and when talking to both women and men He says intentionally “whoever.” Gender differences don’t make a difference to Jesus.
Some may hear in these words the message that the “will of God” means one thing for men and another for women. This is called “complementarianism” — or the belief that men and women have distinct, or complementary, roles at home and in church, and that these should not be confused. Jesus, however, had no qualms with women providing for Him and His ministry (Luke 8:1-3) so I’m not too confident that Jesus would subscribe to complementarianism.
This gender blindness is testified to further by His visit with Martha and Mary. Martha performs dutifully the “woman’s work” of preparing the meal. Mary has the audacity to sit at the teacher’s feet to listen and learn - with the men, like a man. When Martha tries to remind Jesus of this impropriety, Jesus distances Himself from such distinctions and says, “‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’” (Luke 10:41-42). Woman or not, Jesus didn’t care. He saw someone who yearned for God. He didn’t see a woman. He saw “whoever.”
The “whoever” attitude of Jesus is screaming-loud in John’s story of the Samaritan woman at the well. The disciples go off to find food leaving Jesus by Jacob’s well. The Samaritan woman shows up and Jesus asks for a drink. She is immediately surprised that a Jewish man would talk with her, a Samaritan woman. A lot takes place in the story, but I wish to jump to its conclusion. When the disciples return, after much talk about Jews and Samaritans has intervened, they don’t stammer a stunned question about the fact that Jesus is talking with a Samaritan. They are much more befuddled by the scandal of Jesus talking with a woman (cf. John 4:27). The disciples have taken on the role of Martha, but Jesus is still Jesus. He’s still preaching the “whoever” message.
Jesus’ teaching on divorce is based on this radical equality. In that day, in the Jewish tradition, a man could divorce his wife easily and for no reason. A wife could not divorce her husband no matter what. Jesus is asked about divorce by people who want to trap Him because under Roman law a wife could end a marriage. They’re testing Jesus. They’re figuring that however He answers, they’ll have Him. But in the oldest Gospel tradition, Jesus doesn’t allow for divorce at all. He speaks of the ideal of marriage where the two become one. This means that the husband can’t simply write off his wife for some real or imagined infraction or if he just gets bored with her. Jesus treats the wife as a person not as a piece of property. And then on top of this, Jesus holds the wife to same moral standards as the husband. Roman law would allow for her to divorce a husband, but Jesus holds the wife to the exact same standards as the husband. They both must work at the marriage ideal - equally.
About ten years later, Matthew retells this story and surprisingly (not really) he leaves out the passage about the wife having the possibility of divorcing her husband (because Matthew is writing for a Jewish-Christian community where such a possibility is not even considered). Then Matthew creates a proviso that the husband can divorce his wife for infidelity; the old ways are slipping back in. The church, right in the canonical text, is already interpreting the written words of Jesus. This is necessary, but we need to remember that the oldest tradition was Jesus’ insistence of complete equality before God and this should be honoured and carried forward if the interpretation is to remain faithful to the original.
And let me share one more story. Part of the story is the story. John 7:53 - 8:11 probably wasn’t a part of the original John. It probably was written after what is now Luke 21:38. We were just talking about interpreting the text right in the canonical text. Well, it may be that a Lucan editor was not too pleased with this story of the woman caught in adultery and forgiven so he excised the passage. John is a good ten years after Luke and the period is closing when eye witnesses to Jesus’ life are available. The window is closing on the biblical period. Rather than let this pericope disappear from the tradition, the editor of John works it into his Gospel.
It seems that the story was unnerving in its equality. As far as I know, it takes two to commit adultery. The woman was said to be caught in the act. The men filled with righteous indignation haul this sinful woman into the Temple courtyard to dispense the religious justice of the mob just like has happened throughout history and still today. The most vulnerable are always the victims. The powerful escape. The religious mob asks Jesus for His opinion. They should be more careful. Jesus calmly bends down and begins writing on the ground. We know not what. But I wonder if it had anything to do with Leviticus 20:10, which reads: “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbour, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death.” The ones dragging the woman to judgment, they knew this law, but they didn’t really want to punish the man, they only wanted to kill the woman. Jesus would have none of this blood lust, this sexist savagery. He would not allow these men cloaked in religion to cover their offense with God-talk. Jesus would have none of it. The mob slowly disperses and Jesus talks with the adulterous woman as a person and moves her closer to God.
These are the reasons why I find it so hard to accept that churches continue to relegate figuratively women to the back pew in the name of this Jesus. You can see the more traditional worldly standards creep into the Christian text as the church grows older and strives to fit in more conventionally in the patriarchal society around it. In the authentic Pauline Epistle to the Galatians, for example, Paul writes: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (3:28) In a later letter that is not considered to be among the seven authentic Pauline Epistles, the gender equality is stricken from a similar text: “In the renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all.” (Colossians 3:11) Where did the “no longer male and female” disappear to? The church gave in to the world around it and then in a weird turn of events the ones who so often call the ways of the world corrupt hang on to these changes and force them upon the church. This tendency only becomes more pronounced in the definitely deutero-Pauline Pastoral Epistles to Timothy and Titus that complementarians love to quote. But when Paul stands up for Jesus with this radical equality and then someone usurping Paul’s name writes against it, I have to stick with Paul.
Much earlier I mentioned how religion as an institution has played a huge part in this separation between the message of Jesus and the earliest church and the message of Christianity. Religion as an institution has a built-in preservation mode. That’s the “traditionalism” we spoke about in the May 28th post. Women have not fared well in much of religious history, and even Jesus is having a hard time correcting this “traditionalism.” It’s not easy or even natural for a self-preserving institution to express the constant vibrancy of Jesus and the earliest church.
Thomas Aquinas, and I’m indebted to an article by Peter Harrison for this information, discusses “religion” (religio in Latin) in his Summa Theologiae not as a systematic set of beliefs and practices, as we tend to do today, but as a moral virtue. In its primary sense, religio refers to interior acts of devotion and prayer, and these interior aspects of religio are more important than any outward expression of religio. Even the outward expressions of “religion” are defined in the Epistle of James as acts of compassion rather than of worship (1:27). But somehow religion has moved from personal qualities and compassion to a strict system of beliefs and practices. The personal qualities of religion are orientated toward progress toward a goal. Religion as a system prefers the static.
The UCC recognizes this conundrum and has proudly re-proclaimed consistently and institutionally words of one of her earliest leaders. John Robinson was the pastor to the Pilgrims. In his farewell remarks to them as they embarked for the New World, he promised, “The Lord hath more light and truth yet to break forth from his holy Word.” This is the basis for our current theology of “God is still speaking,”. We are supposed to be constantly prepared to be surprised by Jesus. In a world where religions still act as a bulwark of sexism, the UCC is trying to follow Jesus’ genuine equality of “whoever” so that sermons about a girl’s appearance, or preaching that a wife needs to endure an abusive marriage, or that woman must be submissive, or that rapists should be forgiven so that the institution isn’t embarrassed, that such nonsense as this is not allowed to continue, that instead the Jesus of “whoever” may lead us forward.
A certain little girl, when asked her name, would reply, "I'm Mr. Sugarbrown's daughter." Her mother told her this was wrong, she must say, "I'm Jane Sugarbrown." The Vicar spoke to her in Sunday School, and said, "Aren't you Mr. Sugarbrown's daughter?" She replied, "I thought I was, but mother says I'm not."
I laughed out loud when a friend shared this joke with me online. For as funny as it is, however, there’s also a message buried in it that I would like to explore a little, and yes, this does suck all the fun out of a funny joke. Sorry. The mother is trying to help her daughter define herself, but the church thinks of her as identified by the male in her life.
It is hard for me to understand how Jesus’ relationship with women led to Christianity’s relationship with women. I think it has a lot to do with “religion” as institution, but I’ll talk about that in a bit. Somehow the radical equality of Jesus and the earliest church got turned around and Christianity joined the religion-parade that hallowed the idea of women’s inequality. One of the reasons that I am so happy to belong to the UCC is that this is a church that has stood up for Jesus’ radical equality even before it was mainstream.
The central offices of the Massachusetts Conference are located at Edwards House in Framingham. My wife Sharon and I attended recently a clergy tax conference there. Sharon is the practical minded one in our relationship. She’s the one who stayed through all of the session. I wandered. There are various meeting rooms in Edwards House and they’re named after religious pioneers. Please check out the link to read about the various rooms: https://www.edwardshouseframingham.org/meetingrooms I hope you noticed that the Brown Room is named after the first woman Ordained in the United States. It took place in 1853 in a Congregational Church! Rosie the Riveter wouldn’t appear for another nine decades. The Women’s Rights movement would be three more decades after that, and the #MeToo movement is our current history. 1853! That’s something to be proud of. As opposed to …
This Spring the Southern Baptist Church had to slowly (begrudgingly?) fire their President, Paige Patterson, as the leader of the denomination. As the head of a seminary, he had advised a young woman who came to him with an accusation of rape against another seminary student. In words not unlike that of the Roman Catholic bishops during the clergy sex abuse scandal, he told her to not press charges for the sake of the good name of the church and that she should forgive her attacker. In a similar episode in 2015, he arranged to meet alone with another woman who was making accusations of rape. He did so in order to “break her down.” Patterson made front-page news recently after taped comments were aired in which he advises from the pulpit that an abused wife should pray to be “submissive in every way that you can” because divorce would be the true sin. This religious leader also preached a sermon that included a comment “on a teenage girl’s body and told his female seminary students to pay more attention to their physical appearances.” (Washington Post, 6/2/18)
With this sort of religious thinking about women still coursing through religious institutions today, and with limits placed on how women may serve Christ in so many denominations because they are women and not men, it only makes that 1853 Ordination that much more amazing. And as you can see from the other named rooms at Edwards House that tradition of being trend-setters continues in the UCC.
I hardly ever go the movies, but I’m so glad on this extremely hot Saturday I ventured off on my own to the Amherst Cinema to see “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” It’s the story of Fred Rogers, aka “Mr. Rogers.” If you want to be uplifted, if you want to be challenged, if you want to see what really living the gospel is rather than only preaching it with words, then find the time to see this movie. This is not a movie for children. This is a story for adults. The tone of our world has become extremely mean-spirited. Thank God for people like Mr. Rogers.
There are too many things to talk about in this movie, so I’m only going to offer one insight that I gathered. I’ve often spoken about how Jesus continued on to Jerusalem at the end of His ministry even though everyone around Him seemed unable to grasp His message. He went forward anyway because it was in Him to do this. I could never find a suitable example to convey this struggle and this determination. I saw it in Mr. Rogers. I saw it in his battle against the violence and hatred marketed to children. I saw it in his embrace of unequivocal, unconditional love. As strange as Mr. Rogers may seem to some, I think he gets what Christianity is all about.
This was a saint among us. Like I said, if you have the chance, catch this movie
This is not meant to be partisan. That is to cheapen the discussion. I appreciate the opinion that immigration needs to be regulated, but this Presidential action is much more. Horsey’s editorial cartoon quotes a particular judgment-saying of Jesus, but the Bible – the Law, the Prophets, the Gospels, the Epistles – holds a rich history of concern for the less fortunate.
Furthermore, Jesus was a rebellious sort. His teachings and lifestyle were reflections of the radical nature of God as holy, which means as other, as separated from the common human expectation. Think about the early Christian parallel He inspired between spiritual perfection and human mercy that emerges when we compare the same source material as recorded in two different ways by the Evangelists. The Matthean Jesus advises: “‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’” The Lucan Jesus takes that same source and says instead: “‘Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.’” Perfection and mercy are interchangeable.
This is why it was awkward, to say the least, to hear the Attorney General quote in isolation from Romans 13 about follow the law or “incur judgment,” when he knows (I hope) that this often-misused statement is followed by “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” The throwing around of Bible-talk debases the subject and the speaker, and verges on the sacrilegious. If the administration is serious about enacting Christian policies, then it must move beyond the practical concerns of stopping desperate human beings seeking a safer life. If the administration is serious about following the Bible, then the human logic of making illegal immigration so unappealing that even children and infants are depersonalized and used as a cudgel to beat back their parents must give way to the Christian equation of mercy as spiritual perfection.
At the 2018 Tri-Conference Annual Meeting, much time was devoted to worship. We had gathered as representatives of Christ’s body, the church. The worship was to prepare and excite our spiritual selves so that we could be better in tune with the will and work of the Spirit. Music was an important and beautiful part of the worship. One of the hymns included this repeated refrain: “The world won’t get no better, no, if we just let it be. We gotta change it, just you and me.” It is agreed that illegal immigration is a problem, but it must be dealt with as a humanitarian tragedy as well. If the Bible quoting Attorney General is serious, then “we gotta change it, just you and me.” Jim Wallis is the founder of Sojourners Magazine. Speaking for people of faith, he has said that our job is not only to pull people out of the water, but to go upstream and see who or what is pushing them in. Rather than spend $70 billion on a wall (because the Mexicans never were), a more ethical plan may be to spend that kind of money upstream to fix the problem. It may not seem practical, but it sure beats Jesus huddling with children who are terrified and traumatized by our own government, and under the cloak of Bible-talk no less. It’s time to start paying closer attention to what evangelical really means.
Today is Memorial Day. A day of remembrance. Remembrance is not a concept locked in the past. Remembrance carries the past forward. I am terrible at remembering the exact wording of even the most common of phrases. There are so many songs that I love and have heard hundreds of times, but I can remember the lyrics of only a few. Something is miswired in my brain. When I try to memorize something, the new line usually replaces the line I had down pat. It doesn’t build on it; it replaces the previous. But a statement of Jaroslav Pelikan, an historian of Christian thought, has remained somehow with me for decades. He stated: “Tradition is the living faith of the dead. Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.”
Traditionalism is the uninspiring repetition of the past simply because it was in the past. I remember being terribly agitated by most of my seminary classes because the answer to many of my questions of “Why?” was “That’s the way it’s always been done.” For one, I knew this wasn’t true. Also, it’s a cop-out. If we can’t answer why we do something, it has lost its meaning and power. It is uninspired and uninspiring.
Tradition, on the other hand, is the continuing relevance of the past. It is the translation into a presently meaningful form of what was meaningful to previous generations. It is, for instance, taking Jefferson’s “all men are created equal” and realizing that even if Jefferson never intended it to mean slaves and women that this is actually what it does mean. Tradition seeks to understand the “why” of what we inherit and to carry the “why” forward rather than just mimic what once was.
For me “tradition” melds with “progress.” Tradition, in this sense, must be open to discovery and even creation, and discovery and creation carry with them that fearful concept of change, and it is that fear of change that stifles tradition and demotes it to traditionalism.
Isaiah shares a powerful warning against such a fear of change. King Uzziah reigned for 52 years over the land of Judah. When he died, Isaiah feared the future. The past was not exceptional, but it was steady. The future was unknown. The fear of change overwhelmed the possibility of progress. The northern kingdom of Israel and its ally Aram (modern Syria) threatened Judah. This was the reality that beset Isaiah’s people during the dangerous period of transition. But it was in this same circumstance that the prophet was the privileged witness of God’s heavenly throneroom. God reminds His prophet that He remains in power even as change envelopes Isaiah’s people.
It is in this context that we first hear of Immanuel, the Prince of Peace. For Christians, Immanuel is Jesus - “a child has been born for us, a son given to us.” Jesus personifies change and tradition simultaneously. Without tradition as change, there is no Christianity. And it probably does not serve us well to re-imagine the Saviour who more than likely referred to Himself as Son of Man, as a brother in our shared humanity, rather than as Messiah, who eschewed the trappings of power and prestige to walk among fishermen, farmers, shepherds, prostitutes, tax collectors, the sick, the disabled, and women and children, to then paint Him in the likes of human royalty. Jesus of Nazareth was not an act endured for 30 some years. Jesus of Nazareth is the perfect revelation of the eternal nature of God.
So let’s not be afraid to maintain the tradition of our Immanuel, God with us - now, still, always. Let’s remember that our past embraces change. Let’s remember the “why” of a humble, joyous Saviour as we dare to move forward as His church in our present, making the church as welcoming as our welcoming Saviour would intend. Let’s remember that this is why Hatfield Congregational is an Open and Affirming Church. How does Jesus want us to continue to express His lived revelation of love, compassion, empathy, joy and community? That’s remembrance. Let’s remember our past and see where it takes us today. As a friend posted recently as she looks toward the future: “But Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.’” (Matthew 19:26)
A forced patriotism is not patriotism. I see thousands of people on television celebrating their leaders, but its meaningless if not participating in these patriotic demonstrations may lead to abuse, arrest or even death. I cannot imagine how many hours those North Koreans must practice to put on their choreographed demonstrations for their Supreme Leader, but they mean nothing.
I grew up when the Berlin Wall was still standing. I remember well the fact that citizens of East Germany were locked inside their country. They would have loved to leave; they actually died trying to escape to freedom. I was proud of the fact that I and every other United States citizen wanted to be here. We were patriotic because we wanted to be patriotic. We were free and because of that freedom we stood erect and sang the National Anthem.
If this NFL rule stays in place, if players are fined for not acting patriotic on the field, it cheapens patriotism. When we have reached the point that an employer can demand that an employee act patriotic or suffer financial penalty, then those employers, not the players, but those employers are acting unpatriotic.
A group from the church attended a concert of the New Valley Singers. The pieces hailed from Mississippi. The director introduced “This little light of mine” with a story about Fannie Lou Hamer. She jumped numerous hurdles in order to vote in the Jim Crow South. When she finally registered to vote, her employer threatened to fire her and her husband if she did not back down. He used her employment status against her to protect his warped idea of patriotism. Instead of un-registering, Hamer became a civil rights activist and worked to sign-up thousands of other “unpatriotic” African-Americans in Mississippi. And at the end of all of her voting rights gatherings, she closed with the religious hymn “This little light of mine.” Faith inspired her to be truly patriotic. She was extorted, threatened, harassed, shot at, and assaulted by white supremacists and the police while trying to register for and exercise her right to vote, and it was her faith in Jesus that kept her strong.
There are serious issues behind “taking the knee.” We can’t paper over them and equate patriotism with “America - love it or leave it.” We need to be a country that treats equality and the rule of law as more than slogans. We need to face our problems and deal with them. Those are the hard questions of a real patriotism.
I believe fervently in what the Declaration of Independence professes: ““We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness….” God is the source of human equality. Not government paper. Not even the loudest voices. Churches, therefore, need to stand up for a sincere patriotism that is offered because it is deserved. Churches need to be government’s conscience not cheerleader. When the government says, “You have to stand proudly for the National Anthem …,” and if you don’t then “you shouldn’t be in the country,” when employers can threaten employees for not being properly proud, then it’s time to have an honest talk about what patriotism really means, and to start sharing more deliberately “this little light of mine.”
Hooray, chaos and cataclysm are building in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, let’s push it along and force Jesus to come back and save us.
Hooray, the climate is changing and people are going to suffer and die, but let’s do nothing because if it really needs to be fixed Jesus will take care of it for us.
Liya Rechtman’s article is disturbing and depressing because it reveals a strain of religious thought that sees humanity as utterly helpless. Infantile actually. The only hope we have is for the world to go to hell in a hand-basket so that in a final act of desperation God must intervene to save us from ourselves. With such an outlook, people of faith must actually hope for Armageddon.
David Wootton in The Invention of Science writes, “[I]n science, gains made in the past are only ever given up (except where there is censorship or religious or political interference) in order to be exchanged for greater gains made in the present.” This equals a history of progress. I think this is why I like reading about science. Scientists recognize the danger inherent in their work, but they believe even more strongly that what they discover and create makes us better.
In the last episode of the 2018 season of The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon tells his fiancée Amy that he’s not a Renaissance man because he favours the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment Age is one that embraced the idea of progress through human effort and intellect. The religious idea of hoping for God to nurse us constantly as in the Rechtman article is not a Renaissance thought; it is a Dark Ages thought! Everything that could not be understood was mystery or magic and neither were to be tempted, and human understanding withered.
The UCC, on the other hand, embraces a theology of Postmillennialism. This is based on the Book of Revelation. It proposes that we humans will create a thousand-year reign of peace on earth in preparation for the Second Coming. Idealistic? This is the religious backbone that supported efforts such as the Abolitionist Movement to end slavery, the Social Gospel Movement that stood-up for worker’s rights, and the Civil Rights Movement that we must continue to press forward. Jesus is our Saviour, but He saves us in part by His example and His trust that we will continue to imitate Him, which is the profound New Testament thought that God came into our world so that we can become like Christ.
Christianity is so much more profound than a theology of surrender. Believe deeply in Christ, not by sitting back and waiting for Him to do everything, but by trying to make the world better with Him. Otherwise, religion is more dangerous than uplifting.
Faith, love and chitchat.
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