Friday, November 5, 2010

Movement for wholeness…

I write these letters weekly, and often deciding what to write is half the challenge. Some weeks, the subject is obvious- something happened, or will happen, that needs addressing. Other weeks, finding an appropriate topic is like pulling teeth. But this week’s subject is one I’ve been sitting on since September. In part, I wasn’t entirely sure what to write. Mostly, though, I didn’t want bad timing to get in the way. I began pondering it after receiving an email from our denomination’s “News Service.” It read, “For Immediate Release,” which sounded important and urgent, so I read on. It turns out that our denomination’s leader, Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins, had a request for Disciples churches- that we hold conversations, in our churches, about immigration, on or around Columbus Day.

This request surprised me, especially its For Immediate Release format. Last week, I got another such email, announcing major staff reductions at our denominational HQ. That issue seemed more obviously suited For Immediate Release. ‘Immigration Conversations,’ though certainly important for faithful people to undertake, felt to me somehow, well, less urgent…

I was also concerned about the news release’s timing. In case you didn’t notice (of course you did!), it’s an election year, and ‘immigration’ isn’t just a spiritual topic, but a political one. People in both major parties use it to build support, and lash out at opponents. Some attempts work, some don’t, and too many from all sides of this issue (I think) are demagogic and mean. But something that seems true is that, whatever one’s perspective, immigration can stir up deep, deep emotions.

Maybe that reason- its emotional power- is why our denominational leaders want us to broach the topic. Something our church does well (or should) is unite people with differing ideologies and beliefs. And not with the expectation that we’d eventually kowtow to one viewpoint, but that we’d respectfully, honestly listen and respond to each other, even if the topic is one- like immigration- our society has trouble talking about amicably. In that sense, we can be a witness to the broader public about Christ’s love; how it doesn’t demand conformity, but is inclusive of many differences. We are, “a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world.”

But the reason I didn’t mention this before Columbus Day, as requested, is, frankly, I didn’t want elections to get in the way of doing church. I firmly believe we can and should talk about political and social issues at church; exploring together God’s role in our civic participation, without defaming each other or acting partisan. And as a pastor ordained in a congregation full of first/second generation immigrant families, I have interest in this particular topic. Nevertheless, counting as a blessing that our church has folk from different political persuasions (not many places where that happens anymore!), I didn’t think the month leading up to a national election was the right time. Our denominational leaders did; they may know something I don’t. But I figured we’d do the issue better justice, if anyone wanted to discuss it all, once partisan attacks on our radios and TVs ceased, and the environment was better suited for respectful discourse.

And again, I don’t know if y’all even care about this?! We could discuss it in Sunday School, after church 2x a month, in a mid-week forum at a coffee shop/bar. Perhaps you’ll just email me your thoughts, and I’ll compile them in another pastoral letter. Or maybe, despite the invitation, we don’t consider this important. But I think one of my jobs is to help our church connect to the denomination’s wider life. So having received this request from our leaders, I felt I should pass it on.

So what do you think? Do you want to talk- formally or not- with PCCCers about immigration? If not, why not? If so, how, or what would you want to say? They’ve provided resources to get started, or we can go our own way (Us? Shocking!). But mostly, I hope you’ll think about God’s role in your civic participation, and perhaps thank God we can have strong political disagreements at all in this country.

Grace and Peace,

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