Post-Election Evangelical:A Statement from Mark Labberton and Richard Mauw

mark-n-richardMonday, November 14, 2016

We are writing to address critical concerns about Christians in America who identify as evangelical. The issues we have in view have been intensified by the 2016 presidential campaign and exist now regardless of the outcome of the election itself. We know many evangelicals of deep faith and strong conscience who cast varied ballots, often gripped by an agonizing sense of compromise whatever their decision. Our concern is not to comment on the election but to clarify the moral vocation of an evangelical Christian faith in the midst of these times.

Since its founding almost 70 years ago, Fuller Theological Seminary has described itself as evangelical. This term has captured the seminary’s commitment to the good news of God’s redeeming love in Jesus Christ, its trust in the unique and supreme authority of the Bible, its engagement in the personal and global mission of God in the world. The term has gone through various stormy seasons of contention and debate, not least as a contrast to fundamentalism. Over time, and in distinction to some, Fuller has not used evangelical as a term of association with political, partisan, racial, gender, or sexual identity politics. The seminary has instead persisted in its use of the term to identify its particular theological and missional commitments.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, the label “evangelical” became an especially blurred category both because of the media and because of some evangelical voices. Over the course of the campaign, the press increasingly referred to evangelicals as politically conservative, and predominantly white Christians. For some evangelicals, abortion and future Supreme Court appointments were of primary concern, placed over and against concerns for women, people of color, Muslims, and LGBT persons. This polarization, even among evangelicals, led some to conclude that evangelicals on both sides were increasingly and inextricably bound to and complicit with scandalizing words and actions that degrade people and contradict and betray the gospel of Jesus Christ. At times, these associations have not just been attributed by the press, but clearly and repeatedly captured through evangelicals’ own witness. The reported influence of the evangelical vote in the post-election surveys only intensified this view.

For some who have identified themselves as evangelical, these distorted entanglements now compel them to abandon the term, to adamantly reject further identification with evangelical and with groups associated with it. Only by distancing themselves from the now pervasive and destructive associations with evangelical do they feel they can reclaim or maintain their identity and integrity as followers of Jesus. For these, anything less than this seems like a meaningless and impossible semantic position.

As President and President Emeritus of Fuller Theological Seminary, we lament and reject the disgrace that hateful words and actions by some evangelicals have heaped specifically upon people of color, immigrants, women, Muslims, and LGBT persons in our nation, as we uphold the dignity of all persons made in the image of God. We grieve and condemn the racism and fear, rejection and hatred that have been expressed and associated with our Lord. Such realities do not in any way reflect the fruit of God’s Spirit and instead evoke the sorrow of God’s heart and of our own.

To whatever degree and in whatever ways Fuller Theological Seminary has contributed or currently contributes to the shame and abuse now associated with the word evangelical, we call ourselves, our board of trustees, our faculty, our staff, our students, our alumni, and our friends to repentance and transformation. We ground our hope for the church in Jesus Christ alone, and pray that in our humble reaffirmation of that faith, God will revive and renew the church in America to be evidence of God’s love, justice, and mercy for all people.

Evangelical has value only if it names our commitment to seek and to demonstrate the heart and mind of God in Jesus Christ. This calls us into deeper faith and greater humility. It also leads us to repudiate and resist all forces of racism, misogyny, and all other attitudes and actions, overt and implied, that subvert the dignity of persons made in the image of God. The only evangelicalism worthy of its name must be one that both faithfully points to and mirrors Jesus Christ, the good news for the world, and seeks justice that reflects the character of God’s kingdom.

Because of its non-negotiable commitment to the evangel, God’s good news, Fuller Seminary will continue to identify itself as evangelical. We must understand evangelical not as a self-congratulatory description of Fuller Theological Seminary but as our commitment and aspiration: our deep desire that the daunting and urgent hope of Jesus Christ will transform us so our speech truly proclaims and our life faithfully enacts God’s good news of love, justice, and mercy.

Mark Labberton, President

Richard Mouw, President Emeritus

A Holy Disruption: No Lamb Chops Tonight: Rev. Julia Rusling*

Isaiah 65:17-25 – 26th Sunday after Pentecost – Year C – November 13, 2016

julia_ruslingThe journey had been long. Forcibly removed from their homeland of Jerusalem, driven to live in exile in Babylon for nearly seventy years, the people of Judah are now, at long last, beginning their return home. They have such hope. Surely all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.  And yet, in the years following their return, God’s beloved people find all is not well. They are bone-weary exhausted from their exile, an exile whose losses and fears permeate their every breath, an exile that literally overturns the very ground of their being–family, land, temple, culture, life.

In their release from exile, in their return to Jerusalem, to the very place for which they had yearned for generations, the exhaustion and the confusion of God’s beloved people somehow does not begin to dissipate, but rather deepens. Why is this so? Why is it that rather than freedom, they find oppression? Rather than joy, they find broken heartedness? Rather than peace they find injustice? Rather than flourishing they find their lives stunted in every way–body, mind, spirit, family, community?

Why is there fear so deep they feel it in the very marrow of their bones day and night?

Was this not the holy land of God? Was not this place, Jerusalem, filled with the presence of God? And if so, why do God’s beloved people continue to experience chaos and fear so deep that even to imagine or to hope for something else seemed beyond even the most desperate of grasping hands and hearts. Shouldn’t they be flourishing? Building and planting, inhabiting and celebrating? Living? Isn’t God here in their midst? And shouldn’t that change everything?

Chaos and fear, oppression and injustice–they are disturbing, disruptive environments in which to live, are they not? They consume us. They pull the very breath from our lungs. And we become desperate to find a way out, desperate to become free of their crushing weight. Perhaps this experience resonates in your own life or in the life of your community?

And so we commit ourselves–we commit ourselves in our churches and in our homes, in our schools and in our workplaces to the creative work of God. It’s the same work Jesus proclaims at the start of his ministry, when he comes to the synagogue in Nazareth, opens up the scroll of Isaiah and reads in proclamation:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

We commit ourselves to this work. We deeply believe in it, we proclaim its gospel promise and truth. And we remind ourselves, over and over, that God is in our very midst, and so all will be well, all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.

And yet, in the midst of fear, in the midst of chaos, in the midst of anxiety and doubt, injustice and oppression, we find ourselves, perhaps more often than we would like to admit, responding to one another and to ourselves, in ways that rather than freeing one another up, in fact perpetuate the very fear, injustice and oppression from which we are seeking and hoping and striving to be free.

Perhaps it can help us to see this piece of truth. The truth, my Beloved, that, for the most part, we are a people who are patterned in our responses. We are patterned in the way we live and move and have our being. And it can be so very hard to break free.

It’s a truth contained in the biblical narrative itself. Think of the flow of the biblical witness we hear over and over! The people of God sin and do what is evil in the sight of the Lord. God speaks up, usually through an unwilling prophet of sorts, and people wake up and repent, and all is well…and then, somewhere, usually just a stone’s throw down the road…the people of God sin and do what is evil in the sight of the Lord. God speaks up, usually through another unwilling prophet of another sort, and people wake up and repent, and all is well…and then, somewhere not too far down the road…. You get the point, yes? And if we’re honest, I imagine we find ourselves, at least to some degree, in this same kind of pattern. Just sayin’.

The truth is that we are patterned powerfully by past experiences—both the gifts and the wounds. So that more often than not the way we respond to one another, particularly when we are in chaos, deep distress, or anxiety, is more reaction than response. And we often don’t even know why. We may catch ourselves a moment or two later, or perhaps weeks or years later, and wonder–why did I ever respond in that way? Oh, my God–why did I respond in this way? And why over and over and over???

Call them ruts. Call them grooves. Call them patterns. Call them whatever you will. But I imagine we all know this experience deeply in our lives, yes? And we know this experience both as the giver as well as the receiver. And sometimes, just sometimes, we are lucky enough that it gives us pause to notice and to reflect and to wonder. Why do I lash out that way? Why do I not notice how I am stomping this other person down or perhaps even stomping down myself? And even if I do notice, why can I not stop? Why does my fear consume me so much I cannot truly see and respond to the need of my neighbor? And why do I respond in these ways over and over and over? Where is the grace of God?

These, my Beloved brothers and sisters, are deeply holy wonderings. Because through these holy wonderings we begin to notice that perhaps the rememberings, the patterns once needed for survival, the patterns that have become incarnate in our very beings, have in truth become the very tools of the destruction of one another and of ourselves, perpetuating fear and chaos, strengthening injustice and oppression.

It is here, beloved, in this very place, that God speaks to her people–“I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.”

It is the voice, the presence of God, offering good news. Offering release to the captive. Recovery of sight to the blind. A chance, a breath, a real hope to let the oppressed go free. It is an invitation, an opening to nurture the full growth and blossoming and peace and joy of all God’s beloved people, and of all God’s beloved creation. And it begins with release from the binding and blinding remembrance of the former ways of being. Not to forget what brought about their emergence, but to let go of the dominance of their pattern over us. This is grace. This is grace in its fullness. And we sure do need a lot of it. Amen?

Recent scientific studies back up this holy noticing, as they reveal to us the reality of the patterned thinking of humans. What has emerged in these studies is that approximately 93% of our thoughts are repetitive and useless. Shocking, isn’t it? But it gets even better! Of this 93%, nearly 80% of our thoughts are negative. Fear and anger and anxiety truly are all around. It makes sense of the overall flow of the biblical narrative, doesn’t it? It makes sense, perhaps too, of our own narratives, both individually and collectively.

So what do we do with this? What is God’s holy, healing, living invitation in this place?

We begin with noticing, and the gift of a holy breath to catch ourselves in the middle of a patterned response. And perhaps we commit ourselves to seeking to practice another way of being. I say practice, because that is what it takes to learn a new behavior. I say practice too because it is a deep truth that in practice, in the intentional seeking and striving to live in a new way to which God is calling us, grace does abound as an ever flowing stream.

But this is hard work! Just ask the lamb and the wolf! Did you catch that little image in our reading? The one where Isaiah proclaims, “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox….” It is an image that, while so deeply loved, has in many ways become domesticated in its commonness, to the point that it perhaps no longer catches our breath with its powerful proclamation of transformation.

For transformation, and that is what we are talking about, while deeply filled with grace, can be disorienting to our very core. This image of the wolf and the lamb thus points powerfully to the disruptive power of God’s grace to change, to transform, even the most ingrained ways, the strongest patterns, in which we habitually live and move and have our being.

So let’s explore this just a little bit more. And let’s start with the wolf, because this is a major game changer!!! Can you even begin to imagine the wolf’s confusion at that first inkling of an urge to have table fellowship with that lamb upwind from him, without the lamb being the main course??? What would the wolf’s mother think? And what would they possibly eat for dinner that night?

And what about the lamb? Taught by her elders from day one to stay far away from that mean old hungry wolf and to run like the wind with that first whiff of his presence! What would her flock say if it ever knew of that strange desire that bubbled up in her to invite the wolf over to play, to romp in the grass?!?

It’s disruptive, is it not? And yet the image holds within its offering the proclamation of the truth and the good news of God’s power and grace to transform even our most ingrained ways of being.

This is not to say that it happens right away. Transformation just doesn’t seem to be instantaneous, at least 99.999% of the time. Transformation rather seems to emerge and to blossom over time–one noticing, one wondering, one opening to new possibility, one trusting of the realness of God’s presence and grace with us, at a time, and often just enough to have the courage to choose something new in that moment. It is truly a journey that unfolds one grace infused breath at a time.

And yet as we are on this journey, we notice that the world begins to open up to us. We notice that the fear that ate at the very marrow of our bones begins to lose its grip. We notice that the very places and circumstances where we never thought we could choose differently, begin to blossom with possibility infused with the goodness of God–we begin to notice the possibility of a real opportunity to choose to respond in love and presence, to find and work for ways to lift up the brokenhearted, to join with God and one another to do the work that will let the oppressed go free, to move into a new way in which we live and move and have our being so that our every act, or at least a good sized chunk of them, are the embodiment of proclaiming the presence and the blessing of God in this very place.

And that, my brothers and sisters, is how we join with God in creating God’s holy mountain in every place we stand. A place where all are invited to live and move and have their being free of fear, free of injustice, free of oppression. A place where all are invited to live and move and have their being in fullness of life and joy and vitality and delight. A place where all can flourish–where all can enjoy the work of their hands, where all can dwell in the homes they have built, and where all can delight in the fruits of the vineyards they have planted. Where all can live together in peace and wholeness.

This takes works, brothers and sisters, co-creating with God this holy place. But it is exciting, is it not? It’s wonderful, is it not? And it is the most real ground of our being, of our life with God and one another, and so we rejoice as we let these words from God forever reverberate in our hearts:

“For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.”

We rejoice because we are active participants with God in this great ongoing act of creation, creation that is filled with joy and delight, that is filled with justice and love and fruitfulness as it comes into being one sacred breath, one sacred noticing and grace-filled choice at a time, this creation, this holy ground, in which all are invited to live and move and have their being in the fullness and goodness of God. Amen.

*Rev. Julia Rusling is a Priest Associate at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church in Dunwoody, GA. This post is used with her permission.

 

 

 

Skunk Hour – The Rev. Deborah Meister* – The Daily Cup

Skunk Hour
 Oct 12, 2016 07:40 am

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Two weeks ago, I was sitting on a bench in a field, watching the sun come up over the river. A thick mist rose from the water and made the field, the trees, the hills, the river itself vanish into a gray haze. Near the river, I saw three tree-stumps, which then began to move. The fog had been so thick that I had not been able to see that they were deer.

After a space, there was movement: a frisking and frolicking somewhere near my feet. I looked over and saw a skunk, dancing its way along the ground. It was small and delicate; its white stripe painted jauntily over thick black fur. It hopped and skipped and smelled the flowers.

I don’t think I’d ever been that close to a skunk before. (It’s not wise.) And so it had never occurred to me that they might be joyful creatures. All we ever hear about is the stench: fear and reaction, and lingering soggy shame. But my eyes were opened to the beauty that was there, beyond my fears, beyond my stereotypes, in the real and living beauty of God’s world.

So much of our experience is like that, I think. It is so easy to take one thing, one event, and let it color your sense of a whole person or community. Sometimes, I guess, that’s appropriate. I would never urge a person to be alone with someone who had assaulted him or her, or pretend that there was nothing sick in Weimar Germany. But most of time, taking that narrow view merely deprives us of much that is good.

The person who let you down still has a rest of their life. The community that is facing change may well grow in ways that are more beautiful and sustaining than it has ever been before. All we can do is trust and hope — and work for the future we want, maybe even beside people who have failed us before. After all, each of us needs to be redeemed, and the hope we long for in our own lives is the same hope that nurtures others through their bitter, dark nights.

There s one Hope, and one Future. And when we get near it, the very thing we dread might surprise us by dancing.

“The Rev. Deborah Meiister serves as rector at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Washington, DC. The Daily Cup is one of my favorite blogs. This post is used with her permission.

Wanting to Live in a Pelagian Universe, if at all possible now!

 

Linda McKinnish Bridges* October 26, 2016

I must confess.  I am weary, and I am tired.  Weary and tired from hearing bad words from bad people who do bad things and create bad worlds.  I need a little peace from the rancor, a little quietness from the chaos, a little respite from meanness.   You know what I mean.  I need to go sit on a long front porch on one of these beautiful autumnal, crisp mornings, surrounded by color, and just remember what a good world we live in, the absolute goodness of people who live in it, and experience rejuvenated hope that the world is not going to collapse in on itself from all of this hate and divisiveness.

I was raised in an Augustinian universe, as is most Christianity.  The idea that we are sinners by nature, even the little baby fresh from the womb, prevails.  That we all bear this tremendous stain of guilt and sin until we are washed in the blood and cleansed to be made holy is my default theological position.  Both tradition and scripture uphold this truth.  And certainly our favorite hymn, extolling our badness and the joys of grace, now regarded as a kind of national anthem played at funerals, weddings, and military battle, regardless of religious affiliation: “Amazing grace . . .  that saved a wretch like me.”  Wicked, wretched, sinful, bad, prone to evil rather than good—all these attributes given to human nature, some say, originated from Augustine (d. 430), who with great influence and power over Christian thinking, introduced the concepts of original sin and the need for redeeming grace in the fifth century.

Much of my youth was spent in trying to eradicate those sins—daily list of sins, overt and covert, early morning prayers in the top floor of the college dormitory to cleanse my thoughts for the day ahead, confessions of those sins in the evening in late night prayer group, in front of really holy leaders who demanded an accounting of every minute of the day.  (We forgot to ask the leaders to do the same!) The idea was clear—if one can list all of one’s sins, go to the one to whom you have abused and confess your sin, then ask God for forgiveness, only then you can be whole and righteous.  Lots of list making, lots of personal contact information, lots of prayer.  Then wholeness, maybe . . . . . .

It really was not until my middle life years, upon meeting Dr. John Kinney, Virginia Union Theological Seminary, Richmond, Virginia, that I really knew how to respond to my neat and dramatic, to say the least, Augustinian universe.  John Kinney, who has shaped the theological thought, especially for the African American community, and a not a few white people who could see the theological jewel therein, helped me to see that if you are broken, the least possible help for restoration is the Augustinian universe.  Kinney explained in both personal conversation and public lecture, to a group of already broken, busted, downhearted folk, to stand in the pulpit and declare their wretchedness is not going to change a thing—except to make more wretchedness.  I began to see it!   Kinney has a way of making it clear.  For those busted, broken, downhearted people need to hear that they do hold a God-light inside them that can make them whole—that their life, even though busted and broken, has the seed of wholeness.  And the goal is to grow that seed not kill it.  Kinney used to say it this way: “We begin with the credit column, not the debit one.”  I began to see another universe—slowly but surely.

Studying a contemporary of fifth-century Augustine in my research in Celtic Theology—Pelagius (d. 418)– gave me more words and much hope.  Thought perhaps to be from Ireland, and certainly a participant in the fifth-century Irish Christian movement raised without conformity to Roman standards until the 10th century, Pelagius introduced another way.  That way was, of course, denounced and condemned, as the concepts seemed light and airy compared to the heavy-weighted dicta of the Roman church and Augustinian pillars of thought. Pelagius believed in the power and quality of human nature—not deeming all flesh as ineffective and sinful.  That the human spirit had promise and could do the right thing.  In other words, human nature has a propensity for goodness not badness.  Why should that be a such a surprise, we are created in the image of God, right?  Pelagius believed in God’s grace, certainly.  But free will also reigned.  That is why John Wesley and Methodism even today can describe Pelagius as a “wise and holy man.”  The universe that Pelagius inhabits says that we can create goodness, that we begin as whole and then err, but that we can begin again. Our nature is bent toward the Light, rather than Darkness.

What a difference that would make if we could reclaim hope, compassion, goodness in this world.  If we could see the goodness in our neighbor—deep inside, resting, sometimes hidden by bluster, ego, wounds, but still there deeply within the soul, how would I treat the guy beside me on the plane, the young woman at the stop light in the car beside me, my estranged family member, my bully colleague?

We need help these days.  Bring back the noble character of those who refuse to call names, who refuse to talk when someone else is talking, who makes a point by acknowledging the point of the other, even though vehemently disagreeing, but politely, with civility.  Bring back “yes, sir,” “yes ma’am,” “you go first”, “I understand you”. Bring back a basic belief in the human nature of all of us.  We have all that we need to be all that God has intended us to be—with us, in us, around us, through us, behind us—all around us.  Hope in the goodness of our neighbors, compassion for the world, kindness and civility even in heated disagreements, and a general awareness that the Grace—that Amazing Grace– is available and has been there from the beginning—inside all of God’s created order.  Live into it, my friend.  It is time to find an alternative universe, don’t you think?

*Rev. Linda McKinnish Bridges and I first met in 1991 at the Chautauqua Institution in Western New York State. She was the chaplain of the week and it was my first time attending there. She made a lasting impression on me and I have followed her career since then.

As a Man Thinks in His Heart, So Is He = Pastor Brian Skar – Immanuel Baptist Church

Minot, ND
p2Romans Chapter 12 is one of the most remarkable and important chapters in all of Scripture.  It starts with a call for believers to live extraordinary lives as living sacrifices and to conform not to the world but be transformed by the Spirit into instruments of God’s will.  Then Paul goes on to encourage us to discover, hone and put to use our spiritual gifts.

The last half of the chapter, starting with verse 9 is an exhortation to embrace love in its greatest and purest form.  It is a call to humility and service and forgiveness.  And then verse 18:  “If possible, as far as it depends on you, live in peace with all.”

Peace is included in the list of the fruits of the Spirit found in Galatians 5:22-23.  Peacemakers are counted among those who are blessed in the Beatitudes.  Now, there is an inner peace, “the peace that passes all understanding,” but that’s not the peace of the above passages.  Having that inner peace certainly makes it easier to live a life seeking inter-relational peace as well.

So if a desire for living in peace with others is one of the primary Christian virtues, why do Christians have such a reputation of belligerence.  We like to say it is because we are taking strong stands on morality and defending our faith.  But in my experience, many Christians just like to do battle.  They like the confrontation. They like to stick it to those who oppose them.  Perhaps they are even sold on the lie that wrath confrontation is profitable for the Kingdom.

Many Christians honestly believe “If we can just punish those sinners enough, they will see the light and repent and convert.”  But both experience and common sense teach that such a strategy never really works.  Coercion is not the Biblical means for bringing people to the Lord.  The adage “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still” is an absolute truth.

So if we are to be peacemakers rather than strife mongers, where do we start.  First, we have to change our minds.  We have to believe in our hearts that what the Bible has to say about this is the truth.  Second, we have to change our words.  Jesus taught us in Matthew 15:11 that it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles a person.  In Matthew 5:22 Jesus give a harsh warning to those who hurl insults.  Paul warns about the dangers of foolish joking and crude talk in Ephesians 5:4.   Earlier in Ephesians 4:31, he admonishes believers to put away all forms of bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander and malice.

If we can replace the malice in our words with kindness, it will not be long before our hateful actions will turn to acts of love.  That’s where we should live.  That’s what will truly profit the kingdom of God.  Quoting Publius Syrus:  “Speech is the mirror to the soul; as a man speaks, so is he.


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