Blog Series: Your Perspective, Insights, and Witness Make a Difference
Dear friends, TMC thrives on listening to and learning from you – ministry leaders, TMC cohort facilitators, and other conversation partners across the country – who continually provide deep insights, alternative perspectives, and imagination that helps us discern where the Spirit is blowing and how the TMC network can faithfully respond. Your collective feedback is a powerful witness to what God is doing in the world. So, as always, we want to hear from you! Each post in this blog series is a question directed to you, accompanied by short reflections about why we’re drawn to these questions, and a simple way for you to respond. We hope these questions resonate with you and others in your ministry context.
“During times of war, hatred becomes quite respectable even though it has to masquerade often under the guise of patriotism.” Howard Thurman
Howard Thurman’s words here are just as relevant, prophetic, and powerful now as when he wrote them in his groundbreaking work, Jesus and the Disinherited in 1949. With Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor and the adjacent atrocities of World War II in history’s rear-view mirror, Thurman deftly and precisely illustrates how insidiously hatred can take root in our hearts blossoming into seemingly innocuous rhetoric. To be clear, Thurman’s words were less a commentary on patriotism, and more a critique of the ways that hatred can twist and warp the function and meaning of the word “patriotism” from “the devotion to and vigorous support for one’s country” (Oxford American Dictionary) to a means and/or measure of othering, disenfranchising, marginalizing, and oppressing others. As we stand on the verge of another election year and cast our eyes over the political landscape, it is necessary for us as followers of Jesus to decide where we will stand. Not in terms of social issues, legislative policy, political party affiliation, or candidate, but where we stand on the Truth rooted in our belief in the Bible and the Lordship of Jesus Christ. We can no longer allow ourselves as Christians to be silenced…twisted, warped, and manipulated in the tug of war between the Church and Culture.
My hope this year is that my congregation, The Breakthrough Fellowship, and all congregations can focus on and go deeper in Jesus so we can sift through all the portentousness, hyperbole, and verbosity that tells us that we as believers are somehow other, set aside, distanced, and at odds with culture. That we don’t belong in certain conversations, in certain places, and among certain groups instead of being the people of God swimming in the sea of culture that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. envisioned as the Beloved Community. Dr. King’s vision of the Beloved Community was anchored by a web of mutuality and Christian love and charity for each other. Instead, we are becoming isolated, fractured, and fearful of one another. The hatred, scarcity, covetousness, etc. in our collective hearts have made us choose sides that masquerade as pro-life, pro-choice, pro-gun, pro-vax, pro-tax, instead of pro-love, pro-Truth, pro-justice, and pro-peace.
Now more than ever Howard Thurman’s words break through the false binary of good/respectable/wealth/power vs. bad/ratchet/poor/disinherited. For many of us in the church, this tension I call the tyranny of the binary, lulls us into a false sense of security believing that a side – our side – is somehow better than another. We believe because we are “good,” “law abiding,” “smart,” “respectable,” “contributors,” “patriotic,” or any number of attributes we prize, that we are somehow better than others and that our humanity, Christian witness, and expressions of holiness are more meaningful, right, or just. We have forgotten that we, our ideals and our truths, are only as good as the Gospel witness we exemplify. We are not better than “them” because in the Kingdom economy we are them and they are us. There is no us vs. them binary in Christ, we are all God’s children… Howard Thurman helps us to understand that if we find ourselves on the “good” side of the binary, our calling as Jesus’ followers is to abolish the binary divide and be in community, in love, in freedom, in justice with those we see as “other,” because in Christ there is no binary, no us and them, only we who believe in Christ Jesus.
Growing up my grandparents always said, “to whom much is given, much is required,” and I believe that adage applies to those of us who have received the gift of salvation. As the receivers of the gift, we are now “burdened” with the responsibility of lowering ourselves like Christ to serve this present age and not lording our opinions, theology, and ideology over others in oppressive and manipulative ways. As believers we are called to be counter-cultural but that doesn’t mean we have to be anti-cultural. Jesus was all over the place and defied convention, expectation, classification, and cultural appropriation. Jesus engaged with everyone… the Pharisees and the Sadducees even though they disagreed with him, with tax collectors even though their society loathed them, women of “ill repute” even though folks tried to kill them, and wealthy women who supported Him alike. He touched untouchables, sought out the demented wandering the tombs, fed the multitudes, welcomed strangers, celebrated, mourned, feasted, gave new life… The distinguishing factor for Jesus wasn’t political affiliation, church polity, denomination, identity, works, or external worth, the distinguishing factor for Jesus was belief in HIM. We are not called to places, platforms, parties, personalities, or politics. We are called to a person, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and this year I hope we can focus on Him and go deeper in Him because the world still needs to know that Jesus saves.
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.”
Matthew 7:15-20 (NRSV)
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