(Though I was once on pastoral staff at a church, the very church that I have been a part of for many years, continue to love and adore, and whose physical address became the title of a book I wrote and remains the title of this personal blog, the thoughts expressed in this open letter are mine alone. Though I suspect many in my church will agree with I have written here, it is likely that many won’t, and some who do agree will nevertheless wish I hadn’t written these words.)
Dear Waco Area Pastors,
Several years ago many of you penned an open letter that was published as an ad in the Waco Tribune Herald. It aimed to express unity and solidarity concerning several issues that you deemed important. Among those issues were racism, the need for revival, and the strengthening of families, which included embracing “the biblical view of marriage.” Naturally, the letter received widespread support among many pastors in the area. It, along with The Gathering, a city-wide worship experience in McLane stadium that involved most of the people involved in writing the open letter, was heralded as a success for the cause of unity in the body of Christ.
All pastors of local Christian churches and organizations were encouraged to sign the letter. But this posed a challenge for some of them. The point you sought to make about traditional marriage was not something they could, in good conscience, sign off on. Few, if any of those pastors represented churches at the time that held a theology that was open and affirming of LGBTQ individuals and marriage. But most of them represented churches that would eventually have long, thoughtful and prayerful conversations and studies on the subject. Some of them would end up retaining the traditional view of marriage that you affirmed in the letter, some wouldn’t, and for some the jury is still out. For all of them, however, they realized signing your letter would have caused significant pain and damage to LGBTQ individuals in and out of their congregations who they loved and cared for.
The impulse toward unity was a noble one. In fact, it can be argued from Scripture that unity in the Church is one of the highest values we are called to. But by including a clause in which the Church wasn’t unified on, you made it more difficult for the Church to make a strong statement of unity for the one clause in the letter that we are unified on, which is the idea that racism has no place in our congregations and communities.
Since I am friends and acquaintances with many of you, some of us had long, friendly and thoughtful conversations and message exchanges about the letter. What almost all of you said was some variation of the following: Sometime in the future, our city or our nation will face a racial incident of some kind, and the world will need to know in that moment that followers of Jesus stand in one accord against hatred, racism, and xenophobia. We wanted to get ahead of that before it happened.
Guess what? “Sometime in the future” has arrived.
This morning, the President of the United States tweeted the following words about four women in Congress, all people of color, United States citizens, and all but one born in this country:
So interesting to see “Progressive” Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done. These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough.
I know it is difficult for many of you to be a pastor in the Trump years, here in the future. In the previous administration you could make theological and biblical statements about current political events without rocking the boat of your congregations. This is because you could pretend that it wasn’t about politics at all, but rather about “what the Bible says.”
I’m not getting political here, I’m just letting you know what the Bible says about gay marriage. (Likely said in the weeks leading up to and following the U.S. Supreme Court decision on gay marriage.)
I’m not getting political here, I’m just letting you know what the Bible says about valuing the life of the unborn. (Likely said in the weeks leading up to and following some decision about abortion.)
But Donald Trump complicates things for you. For one, he doesn’t do leadership like normal. He leads by chaos and with a sociopath’s penchant for subtlety that allows for plausible deniability. This sets you free to do what you pretended to do before, which is to “not talk about politics” while actually talking about politics.
But more significantly, it is difficult for you because a large segment of your churches voted for and supports Donald Trump. And what we all know about voters and supporters of Donald Trump is that they are laser focused on not being shamed for their vote and support of Donald Trump. So you have, understandably, decided to retreat into being apolitical.
Hey, we just want to preach the gospel!
Guess what? It’s time to preach the gospel.
The good news that in our Holy Scriptures is rarely good news for the rich and powerful, but always good news for the poor, powerless, and dispossesed.
You gave yourself a pass with “shit hole countries” and “good people on both sides” and “the people coming here are rapists,” because these incidents were all subtle and fraught with enough caveats that allowed you to “just preach the gospel” and ignore what you could call “politics.”
“People of color, go back where you came from” is fraught with nothing but pure, unadulterated racism, and you don’t get a pass this time around.
There are people sitting in your congregations who will assume this is ok, that it’s just “politics as usual,” if you don’t make a comment on it.
There are people of color in your congregations who love what you preach, love you and your people, but are still looking at you with a sliver of suspicion, wondering what you might say in a moment like this.
Now is your time to let them know what you think about them and their experience in the world.
There are people who, likely this very week, you are sending people in your church to serve and to “love on.” Serve and “love on them” by making a clear, unambiguous statement about what you actually believe about the President’s words and what they mean for people of color in this country.
And if you want to not be political, the best way to do that is to refrain from making a safe, ambiguous statement that “Racism is bad and we condemn all forms of it.” This requires a prophetic moment where you take risks and name names.
I’ll set up the GoFundMe page to pay for the ad.
The future is here. If you want to make a clear, unambiguous statement about racism in this country, write an open letter condemning the racist words of the most powerful person in our country. If you meant what you said you meant about unity all those years ago, you’ll have plenty of signatures.