Congregational Corner: Where is the Kingdom of God?
By Rev. Jordan B. Davis (M.Div.‘14)
Over the last several days…
I have read statements condemning those who don’t speak up. I have read statements saying that an individual should leave their congregation if their pastor does or does not say a particular thing. I have read statements saying that someone “can’t be a Christian” because of what they have said or done. I have even read statements condemning those who disagree with the author or even say the same thing, but in a different way.
I have read so much condemnation it is as if we, as a whole, have become so intent on making sure that those around us know “where they belong,” we have made our world a true living Hell.
My heart breaks for those who make these statements and for those who read them, wishing they could say something but they can’t find the words or the space to do so. My heart breaks for those affected by the situations which so many are speaking out both for and against. Mostly, though, my heart breaks for God who watches creation tear itself apart, claiming the destruction to be in God’s name.
My heart breaks because we are only moving further and further away from God’s kingdom here on earth.
I want to ask what a Facebook post will do when the author only sits at home, shaking their head at the TV. I want to ask what a sermon will do when the pastor has no backing from the congregation or when the congregation only nods along, no minds being changed because everyone already agrees (and those who do not agree have no space to safely say so). I want to ask what our words are worth if we are not doing something to fill them with love and action. I want to ask what a sermon is worth if it was only inspired by the judgment and condemnation of other clergy.
Someone once told me that this approach to change is full of privilege. I have spent a lot of time considering this and have to agree that yes, it is – in so many ways.
This approach is full of the privilege of God’s grace and a desire to share that with everyone and not just those who we agree with. This approach is full of the privilege of the unconditional love of God which we (or at least, I) struggle to comprehend and seek ways to emulate in all of our relationships. This approach is full of the privilege of relationships with individuals who, if we said everything we really wanted to, could be hurt far more than we can ever imagine.
This approach is full of the privilege of knowing that we have an incredible amount of privilege and knowing this, continually seek meaningful and appropriate ways of using it to bring about change – in the ways in which we live with others, speak with others, teach others, and learn from others; not just when we are angry with the government, but every single day in ways that are true to who God made each of us to be. This privilege of being an active part of the Body of Christ brings with it so much more weight than any other type of “privilege” could, because in the end doesn’t our relationship with Christ far outweigh our skin color, gender, sexuality, or any other label created by humanity?
If we don’t stand up and speak out EVERY DAY, living our lives in the full light of the unity, equality, compassion, grace, peace, safety, freedom, and LOVE which is being called for EVERY SINGLE TIME these calls are made, then what good will it do to only stand up and speak out when something goes wrong? Who will listen to us if we let our calls expire as the news story changes?
If your pastor doesn’t preach on the current events and that is what you seek, ask them if you can help lead a discussion group. If your pastor prays for something you disagree with, ask them if you can chat over coffee.
If your parishioner storms out of the sanctuary during worship, call them and ask if you can share a meal. If your parishioner sends an angry email on Monday, work with them to find ways to address the concerns of the wider congregation.
If your congregation won’t be able to hear the sermon that is on your heart, write it and save it for when they can and care for those hearts the best that you can until the time comes (if it ever does) to preach that sermon.
Not everybody is ready, not everybody is able, not everybody is at the point where they can stand up and speak out, and that is ok. We will get there each in our own time and in our own way. Condemning, chastising, punishing, and shaming are not the way to make it happen though. Encouraging, loving, welcoming, embracing, and seeking relationship through God’s love and grace for and with each and every single person – THAT is what will help each person find their voice. If that happens, we begin to see God’s Kingdom being fulfilled and what will there be to speak out against?
I don’t know anywhere in scripture where we are taught to act in the way that so many are acting right now. I don’t remember ever reading a statement of Christ in which it was okay to be hateful for ANY reason. If our end goal is to bring God’s Kingdom to fulfillment, every step of the way should match that as well.