Over the past week our nation has processed the horrific, violent images on our screens of the events that took place at the U.S. Capitol on Epiphany – January 6, 2021. I was proud to join other CBF state and regional coordinators in condemning the actions of the rioters who stormed the Capitol (https://cbfnc.org/blessed-are-the-peacemakers/).
I commend to you the words of CBF Executive Coordinator Paul Baxley (https://cbfblog.com/2021/01/07/lets-begin-by-telling-the-truth/), as well as BJC Executive Coordinator Amanda Tyler (https://goodfaithmedia.org/an-attack-done-in-jesus-name/) and other leaders in our larger CBF family who have spoken with eloquence and substance on this topic.
Today, I appeal to North Carolina Cooperative Baptists to reflect on how we respond to this event and to the larger context of political division that has plagued us for much longer than the past week.
I have been in full-time vocational ministry for three and a half decades. The churches I have served as member, pastor and CBFNC Coordinator have always been politically diverse, consisting of Republicans, Democrats, Independents and others. Only in recent years, however, have I seen partisan politics injected into church life in ways that have pitted member against member, deacon against pastor, and members of the same family against one another.
As our political leaders seek to find a way forward for our nation, I appeal to the ministers and laity of our fellowship – our “priesthood of all believers” – to seek a way forward for our churches that rises above divisions caused by partisan politics that divert us from our calling to Christ’s “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18).
I appeal to our fellowship first to seek common ground. There will always be differences among us, including political and theological differences. But as Christians and as Americans, there is more that we hold in common than not. While not ignoring our differences, let us focus first and foremost on all that ties us together – beginning with Jesus and the Bible – but also our nation’s sacred documents, the Declaration and the Constitution.
I appeal to our fellowship to disagree without demonizing. We believe that all people are made in the image of God. We believe that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 6:3) – including us. We believe that Christ died for all people. We are also called to pray for civil leaders (1 Timothy 2:1) and “be subject to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1) whether we voted for them our not. Let us vow never to dehumanize or demonize those with whom we disagree, whether they hold an elected office or membership in our congregation.
I appeal to our fellowship to support your pastor’s efforts to preach the Gospel. Long before last Wednesday, I repeatedly heard disturbing reports about pastors who were criticized for preaching their understanding of God’s Word. One pastor was called a “communist” because he simply read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) from the pulpit.
Too many congregants are taking their cues from toxic media channels rather than from the one who was called by God and the congregation to shepherd their flock. You will not always agree with your pastor’s sermons, but respect his or her calling, education and right to preach as the Holy Spirit convicts.
I appeal to our fellowship to fulfill the Great Commandment in all things. When asked to name the greatest of all the commandments, Jesus was crystal clear. Love God with all your being and love your neighbor as yourself. Before we utter any word or take any action, may “Christ’s love compel us” (2 Cor. 5:14), not partisan politics.
On the Monday before the attack on the U.S. Capitol, I had a long conversation with a pastor. Both he and his wife have health conditions that put them at significant risk if they contract Covid-19. The deacons of the church will not consider ceasing indoor, in-person worship in light of a surge in Covid-19 cases in their area, including their own congregation. The pastor said to me, “I feel like they are forcing me to choose between my health and my calling, between my life and my livelihood.”
As Americans, as Christians, and as North Carolina Cooperative Baptists, we can do better. Let as all repent of the ways we have contributed to our current crisis, which precede January 6, 2021. May we come together to find “a more excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:30).