Linking arms around the world
How can the global Christian community address the needs of today’s world? Reform joins a round table discussion
Representatives of two North American Churches embarked on a 17-day tour of global partner churches in September. The United Church of Christ (a US denomination) and the United Church of Canada are both uniting churches in the Reformed tradition, like the United Reformed Church. When they visited the URC, Reform was there to hear about the challenges facing Churches in North America today and the value of international cooperation.
Pictured clockwise above: JD: The Revd Dr John Dorhauer, General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ (UCC)
TB: The Revd Traci Blackmon, Executive Minister of Justice and Witness Ministries for the UCC
MB: The Revd Michael Blair, Executive Minister for Church in Mission unit of the United Church of Canada
KGT: The Revd Karen Georgia Thompson, Minister for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations, UCC
JM: The Revd Dr James Moos, Executive Minister for the Wider Church Ministries of the UCC and Co-executive of Global Ministries, which is an ecumenical relationship between the UCC and the Christian Church, Disciples of Christ, in the US and Canada
MJ: The Revd Dr Michael Jagessar, United Reformed Church Secretary for Global and Intercultural Ministries
Reform: How do you see the present political situation in the States?
TB: We’re living in a period unlike any we’ve seen before. Ta-Nehisi Coates recently talked about the United States having its ‘first white president’ – the first who won the election solely because of disgruntlement with having had a black president. We took a TV celebrity who had not done his homework, and made a president. We’re dealing with the consequences of someone who is very wealthy and has not been in touch with people who are not wealthy, making decisions – specifically the appointing of judicial seats – that will affect us for generations. It’s a frightening time. Everyone of course does not share my view – and that too is a part of the issue we’re dealing with.
JD: The United Church of Christ is seeing decades of commitments to social justice – eco justice, women’s rights and reproductive justice, marriage equality – unravelled before our very eyes, and it’s traumatising. People have sweat and toiled and bled for decades in order to get this far, only to have one person unilaterally and singlehandedly unroll all of that. The disregard that this person has for the dignity of the presidential office endangers the democracy upon which this nation was founded, and that is deeply concerning. We have to ask: ‘Who is America?’ That we chose this candidate as our best option says something about who we are.
JM: We recently adopted a mission vision which includes the phrase: ‘a just world for all’, which we see as part of our calling in the United Church of Christ. The current administration is going in a very dysfunctional, nationalistic direction which disconnects us from that world. Examples of that include the Paris Accord and the sinful rhetoric around Muslims. This is impacting our work with global partners.
How different is the situation in Canada?
MB: In Canada, politeness comes into play, but under the surface similar things are happening. The US experience has helped us see the cracks, and to recognise that we’ve often fought for our social policies in the courts, but we haven’t really changed the moral imagination of people. We had a candidate for one of our political parties recently who was espousing the same kind of things that the 45th is doing in the US. Thankfully she didn’t make it, but we’re seeing the cracks all over the place.
What is the most pressing issue facing the communities you serve?
TB: The assaults are coming so rapidly, it’s something new every day. The greatest issue concerning people of faith is the absolute necessity for us to move past our differences and work collectively. This moment calls for everyone to come together and say: ‘This is who we believe God is.’ That’s difficult because we hold our beliefs so tightly, but there is something higher calling us.
JD: I’ve been saying for a while that if we don’t solve the issue of environmental justice it will solve every other justice issue for us, and it will do it before too long. Two massive parts of our country were threatened with utter annihilation by hurricanes. This is our new norm. In the past, we would take decades to recover from something like this before another would come, and now they’re coming within a week of each other. So, care of the earth is necessary for the perpetuation of human community as we know it.
KGT: Part of our challenge is how we, as faith community, come together in addressing all these issues. We’ve seen clergy, ecumenically and interfaith, and across racial lines, marching in the streets to protest against the government. That’s huge. I would also add to some of the other issues, the challenges that are facing the Native American population in the US – issues around water rights and land rights. This group of people has been rendered invisible not just by our government but also somehow within our discourse around human rights.
MB: The challenge is the opportunity. This time is an incredible opportunity for us to figure out: ‘What does it mean to be followers of Jesus? Where is Jesus calling us to be?’ That requires us to think beyond our limited lines and to re-explore what we’re called to be as the people of God. In Canada, the Black Lives Matter movement is struggling because the folks who were given leadership are young, black, queer women. Because of their queer identity, the Church doesn’t know what to do, so it’s absolutely silent. We can’t allow the stuff that we’ve always made divide us, to divide us in a time when we’re called to be followers of Jesus.
TB: Where did the Church go wrong? We’re all claiming the same book, we’re all claiming the same Jesus. And yet, somehow, we’re seeing these things in totally different ways. Something has gone awry in theological training. When are we going to deal with that? We need a deconstruction of a theology of chosenness, and the structuring of a theology of sufficiency versus all of this excess and greed. What’s going to turn this country is not a political revolution, it’s not a social revolution, it’s a theological revolution. We have created space in the Gospel for things that are antithetical to the Gospel. We have to deal with that.
JM: In the United Church of Christ we haven’t dealt with that adequately. We like to hold up our leadership in the abolition of slavery, which is true. But at the same time, we celebrate our pilgrim roots, which came as a chosen people, a city upon a hill, and was born in racism.
MJ: Your question, ‘Who is America?’ is one we can apply here and ask: ‘Who is the UK?’ and ‘What is British?’ especially in light of Brexit, isolationist tendencies and the narrative that feeds it. But deeper than that, for us as a Church, I think there’s a lot in our inherited theology that we have to start to deconstruct and throw away. …
This is an extract from an article that was published in the December 2017 / January 2018 edition of Reform