I know many of the blog readers here are pastors of all sorts of denominations from all over the country. I thought it worth sharing the letter we sent out to my congregation regarding the Recent Executive Order on Refugees.
Back in November, we wrote to you, observing how it’s hard to imagine 1st century Christians caught up in whether Nero or Britannicus was the better successor to the Emperor Claudius. We may love America, but America’s politics is not the lever that turns the designs God has for this world; the Church is supposed to be the design God has for the world. The Gospel, we encouraged you to remember, is about Jesus the King who calls Kingdom citizens to live under the King in communities called Church regardless of who occupies the White House.
We wrote to you in November because many of you had expressed to us conflicting emotions and desires. Some of you were euphoric at the results and now wanted all Americans to come together behind our new President while others of you were despondent, determining the most patriotic posture towards the new President was to be the loyal opposition. We write to you again because in the days since the inauguration those emotions and the polarization between them have only grown.
Many of you have expressed to us your fear of the new administration just as many of you have expressed to us your fear of being judged for your support of it.
We wish to emphasize that this diversity of views in our congregation is not an obstacle to be overcome but–we believe–is itself a sign of the Gospel. As Paul tells a congregation every bit as heterogenous as you “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male nor female, and neither is there Republican nor Democrat, for you all are one in Christ Jesus.” Since its founding, Aldersgate has been a church where Goldwater Republicans have worshipped alongside Civil Rights marchers. Just this Sunday, a spokesperson for the Obama White House sang two pews in front of the kids of a Republican ad maker. In that same pew, a service later, two immigrants–refugees actually–from Africa prayed the Lord’s Prayer.
This diversity of viewpoints is true across both our campuses, Collingwood and Kingstowne, and it is reflected among our pastoral leadership as well. We do not believe this diversity of views is to be lamented, for in a time when our culture is so Balkanized by labels and loyalties we are a community where those worldly distinctions can exist in submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
If the Gospel creates communities where there is neither Republican nor Democrat, then to say we must be a community of only Republicans or only Democrats is to place party over Christ’s Lordship. Such a move is what the bible calls idolatry. The Gospel instead creates community that is a “fellowship of differents.”
The Church is political in that it subverts the politics of the day by refusing the either/or dichotomy so often found in our politics. Indeed in such a partisan, divided culture we believe this is the gift Aldersgate can offer the wider world. Like the community we call Trinity, we can be a community of both difference and peace, which is an ongoing–and not always easy–process that Paul calls the ministry of reconciliation.
To be such a church does not mean we avoid controversial issues nor does it require that we opt out of the day’s politics when those politics encroach upon our summons as baptized Christians. In fact, the vows of our ordination require that, at times, we speak to the issues before us.
We write, therefore, to bring to your attention the concerns expressed by the wider, global Christian community over the executive order “Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Attacks by Foreign Nationals.”
Christian opposition to this particular policy is not about party, politics, or who is President.
From the conservative Evangelical Church to the Roman Catholic Church to the relief organization, World Vision, to our own United Methodist Council of Bishops: The consensus judgment of the Christian Church is that this executive order contradicts and impinges upon our obligation as the Body of Christ to care for the vulnerable, the marginalized, the immigrant and the refugee.
After all, as Christians we mean by the word “God” whomever raised Jesus from the dead, having first raised Israel from slavery in Egypt; in other words, we profess that God sojourned with Israel when they were refugees from Pharaoh and that, in Christ, God became a refugee (from Herod) and upon setting his path for the cross he warned us that our eternal judgment will be weighed, in part, by how we care for the refugee (Matthew 25).
We bring this issue to you now because the headlines in our newspapers, the chaos in our airports, the questions in our inboxes, and the acrimony on social media make our speaking out unavoidable, while our silence would, in fact, make us outliers among the Christian community.
Here’s a sampling of the consensus from across the Body:
Bishop Bruce R. Ough, President, Council of Bishops, United Methodist Church
World Relief (National Association of Evangelicals)
Christianity Today magazine
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
We understand–some of you support the executive order for commendable reasons, including concerns for national security and a desire for secure borders.
We understand–some of you oppose the executive order for commendable reasons, including fears that it undermines our national security and a desire for a more compassionate posture towards the vulnerable.
Wherever you fall on this issue, we believe there’s a place for you in this community and a way to practice your faith.
For those among you in the former category, we encourage you to support refugees around the world through other means, by giving financially to a ministry like World Vision.
For those among you in the latter category, we encourage you to advocate through groups within Aldersgate and Kingstowne and through the wider United Methodist Church such as the United Methodist Committee on Relief.
Faithful Christians can disagree about the politics of red and blue.
Faithful Christians cannot disagree about the politics of Jesus.
That is, Christians cannot disagree about our obligation to care for and show hospitality towards–even at risk to our own expense and safety–the vulnerable.
And as the Body of Christ the scope of that compassion extends beyond our borders.
We’re a fellowship of differents, and on both sides of this issue there is scripture that challenges us:
Scripture, both Old and New Testaments, commands us to care for the refugee (Matthew 25).
Scripture also commands us “to honor and pray for the emperor” (1 Peter 2.17).
Remember, too, that when Peter issued that command he had in mind Nero–whom Revelation marks with the number 666–and not an elected president.
Christians are called not simply to make the world a better place; Christians are called to be the better place God has already made in the world. In our time and place, we believe what it means for Aldersgate and Kingstowne to be that better place is to be a place where all our differences about the kingdom we call America are transcended by the Kingdom to which we’re called in Christ.
We believe we are that better place God has already made in the world when we balance–in tension–those two scriptures, Matthew 25 and 1 Peter 2.
We understand you bring a variety of lenses to bear on an issue such as this; we trust you understand it’s our calling to bring, as we’ve done here, a biblical and theological lens to your attention.
Obviously, this letter is necessarily a monologue. We invite you to make it a dialogue by sharing your questions and thoughts with us.
If you’re interested in a forum where we can all gather to share with one another our views and how we can practice them through this faith community, please let us know. We hope to offer such a venue in the near future.
We pray this letter is received in the same spirit with which it is offered.
Grace and Peace