Response to the Church of God in Christ’s Threat to Pull Its Convention from St. Louis

The headline reads, “Church of God in Christ threatens to pull convention from St. Louis.” And my heart sinks.

According to this and other news reports, the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) is not the only organization that’s considered pulling their events from St. Louis convention centers following the Ferguson crisis. Most are hesitant due to fear of violence in the region. Others are making more political statements with their threats to take their business elsewhere. I can understand both responses. But when it comes to a church organization, something in my gut is repelled by the approach. If it were simply a matter of fear, I’d argue that the church has always been called into dangerous situations and must simply trust that God will protect them as they do what they are called to do. But COGIC’s motive falls into the latter category of flexing its political (and economical) muscle.

Should the church be involved in political causes? Yes. It’s our right as much as any other people group to be involved in the political processes of our nation, and I even believe we are morally obligated to utilize this privilege for the good.

Should the church use its monetary resources to impact the world around us? Most certainly. And again, I’d say it’s our moral obligation to be good stewards of the financial blessings we have been given.

Since 2010, COGIC has indeed blessed the St. Louis area during its convention stays. According to COGIC’s own convention recap, the work convention attendees, some 40,000 plus, accomplished while in St. Louis this year included the following.

During the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) 107th Holy Convocation in St. Louis, MO, November 3-11, 2014, many tremendous things occurred that demonstrated the church’s love for community and for the whole man.

Through a number of COGIC Cares initiatives, the St. Louis and metro east communities were helped in some of the following ways:

During our Health Fair and Job Fair, hundreds received free healthcare services while many unemployed attendees were able to network with St. Louis employers;

5,000 people received assistance in the form of food, clothing, blankets, toys, haircuts and medical check-ups at our Christmas in November event on Saturday, November 8, 2014;

Members of our denomination dispersed within the North St. Louis Fourth Ward community to provide cleanup assistance to blighted areas; and

Several COGIC leaders visited a St. Louis Public School to conduct “a day of reading” among elementary school children.

In his official video response on the convention, Presiding Bishop Charles E. Blake added, “Prior to the convocation, denominational leaders and members went into Ferguson to support and to participate in the struggle for justice after the shooting of young teenager Michael Brown.”

After such an impressive list of loving action, charitable endeavors, and positive activism it is hard to imagine the church following all that with the threat of discontinuing its positive work here if local politicians don’t meet specific demands. I have no specific grievances with the list of demands, as presented in COGIC’s letter to Governor Nixon. There are legitimate concerns that I, too, hope to see local government continue to address. My issue comes with the idea that they are demands, made by the church, to political leaders.

To me, this is akin to Jesus saying, “I’m no longer going to feed thousands of hungry people, or continue to heal the sick, or minister the gospel of spiritual deliverance to your region if your political leaders don’t do what I think is appropriate.” Jesus never did this, despite the fact that His people were oppressed by both the Roman government as well as corrupt Jewish leaders. He continued to do good and to teach His people how to live godly lives in trying times. His church should follow His lead.

 

4 Reasons You Should Vote Today – Even If You’re Sick of Politics

I was always an enthusiastic voter. I voted as soon as I was old enough and was proud and excited to take my daughter to her first experience at the polls when she turned 18. Yes, I was enthusiastic about voting – until about the last decade. There have been several times I almost decided not to go to the polls because I’m fed up with the whole political scene. I am tired of my party offering up candidates that are an embarrassment. And I’m especially disgusted with the idea that I can’t trust that anyone is really telling the truth – about themselves, about other candidates, about the issues at hand. I used to like doing my research to ensure I was an informed voter. The process now just wearies me. So, what keeps me going to the polls? Here are a few thoughts that keep me motivated and I hope they will motivate you, too.

1. Voting is your right. We protect the right to vote by voting.

Don't give up your right to vote.

Don’t give up your right to vote.

2. Voting is your privilege. Insightful discussion is abounding on the idea of “checking your privilege” (see some great links below). The Oxford Dictionary defines privilege as “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people.”

The “check your privilege” movement is meant to … well, I’m not sure what it’s meant to do. In some cases it seems to promote discussion between privileged groups and those without said privileges. In other cases, it appears to be a quick come-back meant to stifle discussion by telling the one perceived to be privileged they have no right to speak on a matter because they have not experienced the hardships of the group most harmed by the issue at hand.

For the purposes of this discussion, I’d like to broaden the concept of privilege beyond the borders of the United States. Compared to many other nations, we are privileged with our system of government. Others, like those currently protesting in Hong Kong, are still fighting for the rights and privileges we take for granted.

One notion in the “check your privilege” concept, at least by some, is the challenge to use whatever privilege you do have for the good of others. This I wholeheartedly support. As US citizens, we should exercise our privilege to vote because it can impact the lives of those less fortunate both here and abroad.

3. Voting is your responsibility.  Voting is a civic duty that has a lasting impact on future generations. I have been most apathetic about voting when the choices come down to the “lesser of two evils” in my thinking, when there’s no one I can really support. But if you think about it, keeping the worst of two evils from taking prominence really can be turned into a motivator.

4. Voting is the credibility behind any complaining or protesting you’d like to do. I’ve been happy to see the “get out the vote” campaigns in the midst of the protests over the Mike Brown shooting in my St. Louis county, which includes Ferguson, Missouri. Now, I want to see a good voter turn-out as a result. I’m tempted to say all future protestors of voting age must wear their “I Voted” stickers to the next rally or not be allowed to protest. And, please, tell me you voted before you go into any kind of social media rant on the state of the world. Otherwise, I may be tempted not to listen to you at all.

Yes, I may be tempted to hold my ears while you try to speak if you haven’t voted at the end of the day, but I won’t. After all, one of the goals of this blog is to bring everyone to the table for good dialogue. So, if you don’t vote, maybe we can start with that. Why don’t you vote? What would it take to get you to vote? And if you are an enthusiastic voter, or an “I’ll still force myself to vote” person like me, do you  have any reasons to add to my list?

 

Further reading to get you thinking about the idea of privilege:

http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/the-origins-of-privilege

http://www.newrepublic.com/article/117665/princeton-essay-check-your-privilege-raises-legitimate-gripes

http://theprincetontory.com/main/checking-my-privilege-character-as-the-basis-of-privilege/

http://blog.shrub.com/archives/tekanji/2006-03-08_146

http://www.buzzfeed.com/regajha/how-privileged-are-you

5 Controversial Statements about Race and Gender I’ve Really Wanted to Post on My Blog but Haven’t – Until Now

If you’ve read much on my blog at all, you’ve probably noticed I’m a promoter of peace. I encourage people to look at all sides of an issue and strive for healthy dialogue. You’ll see on my “About This Blog” page, that one of my goals from the start was to bring people “to the table” and let their voices be heard. Among the six goals I list for the blog is the following:

Conversation – I believe the best solutions come when we do life in community. Whether we’re looking for answers to global problems, theological debates, or just day-to-day conundrums, we’ll take a look at varying opinions and develop an ear to really listen and hear what others think and feel about the issues at hand. Open-mindedness and civility will be part of our core values, but that doesn’t mean we’ll tip-toe around the issues.

Tonight I’m wondering why I’VE been tip-toeing around the issues that are very important to me. Why am I not really letting MY voice be heard?

I can come up with several answers that sound good on the surface. For instance, I’ve kind of prided myself on the fact that as much as I’ve written on the topic of Ferguson/Mike Brown (nine posts), I’ve not tipped my hand to let people know where I stand on the particulars of the situation. In this case, I’ve viewed myself more as the moderator than the debater. But I do have some definite opinions on the matter (get ready, they’re coming below).

Then there’s the issue of gender equality. As a woman pastor, I have experienced much opposition, discrimination and even hateful behavior in my life. And yet, I have only one post in the category of gender issues here. For that, I really have no excuses.

After writing those last two paragraphs, it seems obvious to me why my blog has not accomplished the goal of creating the dialogue I had hoped. How can I expect others to be comfortable expressing their opinions if I’m not comfortable expressing my own? So, with no more ado, here’s my list of controversial things I’ve wanted to say on my blog but haven’t. It’s a partial list, but it’s a start.

1. “Stop snitching” is no different than cops covering for cops. If you hate one you have to hate the other. If you oppose one, you have to oppose the other. If you protest against one, you have to protest against the other. They are the same thing. Both hide the truth. Both give preference to the perpetrator over the victim. Both hinder justice.

2. I am sick of the hate mongering of racists and sexists, especially from those who profess to be Christians. You might be a racist or a sexist if …

  • The only social media posts you make are about how despicable the “other side” is. Can you seriously not see one valid point your “opposition” is making?
  • You post ugly stories about the other gender or another race to justify the ugly stories you see about your own. You don’t post these stories to show how sad the situation is, or to foster discussion with the opposition. You do it to stir up your side in anger. You do it solely to prove this is why your side is “provoked” into doing the ugly things it’s doing.
  • Your side has done absolutely nothing wrong, ever.

3. Wal-Mart is not the same as Woolworth. The sit-ins at the Woolworth stores in the 60s made sense. Woolworth had a policy of denying blacks the right to sit and eat at their lunch counters. The sit-ins there showed courage and took action against the actual perpetrator of the injustice. It is not the same with Wal-Mart and the shooting of John Crawford. Wal-Mart just happened to be the location where a terrible tragedy occurred. If you want to stage a protest that actually convinces the other side to hear you out, do it in a location and a manner that makes sense. Shutting down a business that was an “innocent bystander,” and creating loss of income for the employees, only furthers the annimosity of those who are prone to turn a deaf ear to you in the first place.

4. To completely throw your support behind Officer Darren Wilson before all the facts are known is just as incredulous as throwing all your support behind Mike Brown before all the facts are known. Yet, again, both sides see the injustice on the one side, but not on their own. I am flabbergasted.

5. I will not have my “role” in the church, society or home defined by the curse found in Genesis 3. I do not understand how the ONLY result of the curse which is defined as “God’s creative order” or “original plan” is the one line that says man shall rule over woman. In every other aspect of the curse – the serpent will now crawl on its belly, woman will have pain in childbirth, man will have to struggle with the earth to get his food – no one will say those things are God’s original plan or desire. They are all seen as the results of sin and the fallen state. Yet, man’s rule over woman is not? I understand that a full theology of the roles of men and women must encompass the whole of Scripture, but how can we even move on to further discussion if the foundational premise is this flawed?

I was wondering how I was going to conclude this seemingly hodgepodge list post, but as I wrote that last sentence the connection of all the points became clear to me. The basic issue behind all of these controversies is the inability, or unwillingness, of one side to concede ANY point to the other. Likewise, there is a failure to recognize ANY common ground.

One place of commonality for those active in the causes of both gender issues and racial equality is supposedly a call for justice. So, let’s start by talking about justice itself – with open minds and open hearts – with a true desire to have justice for ALL. It might start by asking questions like the following and really listening to the perspective of the other. Where do you feel like I have been unjust? Do I come across as saying justice for me is more important than justice for you? How can we work together more effectively for the cause of justice? What will a just society really look like?

And more specifically in the realm of Christian dialogue on these matters, our common framework is supposed to be the love of Christ. So, the questions to start with might be … How do you feel I have been unloving towards you in this debate? Is our approach to this issue showing Christ’s love towards each other and to the world?

Now that I’ve overcome my hesitations and thrown all this out there in the blogosphere, I’m sure I’ll have some follow-up posts. I hope you will join me at the table today and in the days to come.

The Pain in Peace

The labyrinth at Trinity Episcopal Church, where I sometimes go to find inner peace.

The labyrinth at Trinity Episcopal Church, where I sometimes go to find inner peace.

My husband will be very happy to see I’m admitting this in public. I have a hard time saying I’m sorry when it comes to an argument.

It’s not that I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong. I’m a firm believer that both sides have usually fallen into some form of error when embroiled in an argument – if not from the outset, most definitely once the battle begins.

And it’s not even that I don’t feel sorry for something along the way. At the very least, even when I feel like I’m 100% correct in my original point of contention, I’m always sorry we’re fighting. And I’m sorry the other person has been hurt in the process of airing out our grievances.

Here’s where my hang-up with “sorry” comes in: I can’t stand the thought of it being issued prematurely. I refuse to make an apology until I feel like my voice has been heard. I dislike the idea of a peace treaty that comes from either of us not having said what we’re really thinking and feeling. For me, a peace that stems from sugar coating or backing down from a perceived truth is only temporary. The issue will inevitably come up again because root issues were never really resolved.

I share all of this, not because I think I’m right or justified in this approach to conflict mediation. Rather, I put all this out on the table as an introduction to processing the quote from Jean Vanier. Here, I will share how I am working through the challenges presented in the quote, with the hope that the lessons I’m learning will also be seen as applicable to those who are praying for peace and justice in Ferguson, Missouri and beyond.

The quote really challenged me to think through the idea of what I’m willing to lose in an effort to pursue peace. Now, I’m still working through the processing of this, but here’s what it looks like so far:

Contemplating the loss of certitudes – Am I willing to admit I may be wrong? If I am, then the resulting action would be to listen more closely to the person on the other side of the debate. Instead of only listening for signs that they hear my point of view, I will listen more closely to theirs. What hurts are they expressing? What feels like injustice to them? What valid points are they bringing to the table? Instead of only seeking to be understood, perhaps I should ask questions about their history and what has led them to the conclusions they are expressing.

Contemplating the loss of comforts that shelter and define me – Am I willing to get out of my comfort zone and explore this issue from the perspective of “the other”? Am I willing to probe my own heart and see why I think saying “I’m sorry” is equivalent to saying, “I’m wrong”? Why does the withholding of my apology bring me comfort and a sense of security? Am I willing to give up that security in order to pursue peace? Why must the apology only come at the end of the discussion? Perhaps mingling in a few sincere apologies along the way would bring a level of comfort to the other person and foster truer, more effective dialogue. After all, I’m not just sorry after they’ve acknowledged my points. I’m sorry at various points in the discussion, so why not throw it out there as it’s occurring instead of waiting for them to earn it? (Darn! This is a difficult thing to admit.)

Contemplating the loss of hurts that shelter and define me – As difficult as that last area of contemplation was for me, this one is even harder. Am I willing to let go of my hurts? Holding on to my hurts shelters me from being hurt again. Will I risk all that in order to restore relationship? How does my hurt define me? Not just this hurt, but all the past hurts that feel similar to this one. Is it fair to bring all that baggage into this current conversation? It seems reasonable to allow both sides to acknowledge those hurts as reasons for their current stance on the issue and to promote understanding. If, however, I’m unwilling to release my grasp on those hurts … well, then I’m still in self-preservation mode and not yet working towards relationship preservation.

“Peace is the fruit of love, a love that is also justice.” In seeking peace and justice, which of the losses is hardest for you to take?

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Romans 12:18 (NASB)

Weeping for the City

Mark_Twain_statue,_Garden_City,_KS_IMG_5875

Today, I feel connected to the heart of Jesus when he looked out over the city of Jerusalem.

“As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, ‘If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.'” (Luke 19:41-42, NIV)

I am disheartened by the way people indiscriminately latch on to stories, pictures, and social media posts that support their view of events – regardless of whether those things are based in truth. No fact checking. No hesitation to hit “share” even if the post might be offensive, or a lie. And for those who profess to be Christian, I have to wonder, where is spiritual discernment?

I’ve said before [see prior post], and will continue to say, the biggest challenge in finding the truth in the Ferguson situation will be that many do not really want truth. They just want to support their agendas.

I’m all for working for causes, promoting change, and letting our voices be heard. But for Christians this simply cannot be done at the expense of truth.

When Christians have blinders on that prevent them from even considering possible truths in the perspectives of “opponents” – or worse yet, when we willingly align ourselves with those spreading lies – it is imperative to lay our hearts before the Lord, yet again, and ask him to reveal the sins we hold in our “hidden parts.”

If you’re willing to challenge yourself in this way, here are a few Scriptures to guide your prayer time:

Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being. And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom. (Psalm 51:6, NASB).

This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. (John 3:19, NASB)

And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit. (Matthew 15:14, NASB)

Dancing for Peace

As I was trying to gain focus for a Facebook prayer group I’ve started to unite people in prayer for Ferguson today, I kept thinking of dancing. Yeah, it sounded strange to me, too, so I moved on to try to think of more spiritual things. I decided I’d like to find a quote by Nelson Mandela. When I found this quote, I realized the earlier prompt regarding dancing just might have been Spirit led after all.

“It is music and dancing that makes me at peace with the world, and at peace with myself.”
— Nelson Mandela

I’ve been using the phrase a lot lately, “putting feet to our prayers.” Today, I’m saying, “Let’s put dancing feet to our prayers.” Dance alone to be at peace with yourself so you can then bring that peaceful spirit to others. Dance with someone in solidarity. Dance with someone you have not yet found a way to engage with relationally. Dance with someone as a first step to dialogue.

As for me, I’m declaring tonight at The Merge Coffeehouse a night for dancing together. If you’re in the area, come dance with me. If you don’t live nearby, create a dance party of your own. Let’s dance to set our hearts free. Let’s dance for peace.

And for a more philosophical look at the effects of Mandela’s dancing, and the power of dance in general …

A Prayer Prompt As We Continue to Pray for Ferguson

Notes/disclaimers/ground-rules before you read this prayer prompt:

1) This kept coming to mind yesterday, but I hesitated to post because I really want it to spark personal prayer and not discussion or debate. So, please, know the purpose is NOT to have you post your responses here, but to ponder your response before the Lord today.
2) Despite yesterday’s hesitations, it continues to come to mind, so I’m posting despite the fact that I’m not really sure about it.
3) This is not meant to promote any one position over another. It is meant as a prompt for each of us to lay our own hearts bare before the Lord.

So, with all that said, here’s the prayer prompt:

If it was actually possible for the truth of what happened in the Michael Brown shooting to be revealed with absolute certainty, but the truth was contrary to what you have been prone to believe … if that were the case, how would you FEEL? I’m not asking whether you would doubt the outcome. Remember, in this hypothetical scenario, the truth has been proven without a shadow of a doubt. I’m asking how you would feel if the truth was contrary to your current presuppositions.

Would you feel glad and relieved that truth was found and justice served? Would you be disappointed that this case no longer served an agenda you promote? How might your heart be changed? Could your heart be changed? How would you feel towards the people “on the other side” of the issue? Would you desire to tag on a “yeah, but …”?

Wondering if maybe this prayer approach will let us know if our hearts are truly seeking truth and justice … or something else.

Holy Spirit, please guide us into all truth (John 16:1-15) – especially to the truth in our own hearts.

Initial Prayer Thoughts after a Walk in Ferguson

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While participating in a march in Ferguson last night, I talked with five or six different young people. I asked two quick questions: 1) What do I need to know? and 2) What do I need to do?

Here are their responses:

1) What I need to know –

“We’re living in prison.”

“We’re all in this together.”

2) What I need to do –

“Speak”

“Pray”

“You’re doin’ it.”

“Walk with us.”

My mind and heart are stirring following this event, and I will be writing more on this later. But for now, I want just give some thoughts for those who are praying with us here and in our Facebook prayer group.

As you pray, you might want to think about these things:

  • How will you help continue Christ’s mission to free the captives?
  • How will you show that we are all in this together? If you don’t believe this to be true, put that before the Lord in prayer.
  • Will you obey Proverbs 31:8-9 and “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy”? If you’re not sure how you can do this, pray for direction.
  • What can you DO? How can you walk with others in their struggles?

And for a more positive look at Ferguson, Missouri …

And for a more positive look at Ferguson, Missouri …

Amidst the chaos of recent events in Ferguson, MO, it is good to remember that this is occurring in a community filled with wonderful people. Please continue to pray that peace will be restored, justice will be served, and that we will come out of this a stronger community.

To join our Facebook prayer group, click here.

If you would like to join us in prayer for St. Louis …

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(image source)

I have started a Facebook page for those would like to join us in prayer for St. Louis, specifically regarding the recent events surrounding the death of Michael Brown. To see more details on this tragic event and the aftermath, see my earlier post or this recent news story. To join the Facebook prayer page, click here. I very much appreciate your prayers for this city that I love.