Over the past several weeks, several persons have spoken to me or emailed me with the same question, which has to do with how the church should respond to the policy changes we are seeing with the change of administrations in Washington. The question about how we care for refugees and immigrants touches some of our district churches particularly closely because members of their congregation, or people with whom their congregation is in ministry, are directly affected.
Some have marched; some have voiced opposition to marchers. Some have advocated for a letter campaign to representatives; others have expressed a desire to be supportive of a new administration seeking to keep its promises. Certainly there are plenty of options as to how individual United Methodists, or groups of United Methodists, may wish to express their convictions.
My question, in response, has to do with the nature and mission of the Church. What is the role of the Church in a time when the society in which we minister is becoming more and more fractured? Is it time for the church to reflect the fracturing we see in our society by dividing into competing camps among ourselves, as church people? Or is it time for us to witness to a different reality, namely the Kingdom of God, which Jesus teaches and embodies, as a way to offer grace and healing for a broken world?
I would like to encourage the Church to be the Church, and not to think that it is up to us to solve the political issues of our nation. We are here to participate in and bear witness to the Kingdom of God that includes all peoples and nations, and has seen us through many political upheavals through the centuries. Can we come together around the rich resources we have been given as the Church? Can we gather in our churches to listen to and learn from those with whom we may not agree, but for whom Jesus gave His life? Can we seek to grow in our love for one another, as Christ has loved us, even though we are on opposing sides of the political aisle? Can we agree to care for the most vulnerable among us, because Jesus teaches us to do so, regardless of political implications? Can we seek to practice a way of life where forgiveness, peacemaking, refusing to stand in judgment against one another, and reconciliation are valued at least as much as hungering and thirsting for righteousness and resisting evil and oppression in whatever form they present themselves? Jesus warns us how easy it is to see the gnat in our neighbor’s eye while ignoring the log in our own eye! Can the church be a place for us log-eyed people to find a community that seeks to overcome the obstacles that fracture us rather than exacerbate them?
May I invite all of the churches of the Alexandria District to find some way to study the resources that the Church has to offer (scripture, tradition, reason, experience) around the issues of refugees and immigrants? Let’s have good, constructive conversations and learn from one another.
May I invite us all to pray earnestly for God’s guidance, and to listen for God’s response? It is not for us simply to come up with our own ideas or plans about how to respond to troubles we experience. As the Church, we rely on the Holy Spirit to be our Counselor and Guide. Praying for our country or other countries, by name, praying for specific needs within these nations, and praying for the leaders of our nation and other nations, by name … this is a great resource we have that can bear great fruit.
May I invite us also to be prepared to take actions in response to the promptings we receive from God about the needs we see around us? Perhaps some churches will want to offer sanctuary to persons seeking a safe place. There are resources at the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society website for this calling. (See https://umc-gbcs.org/issues/immigration or https://umc-gbcs.org) Others may want to partner for advocacy or to create support structures. For example, some Northern Virginia United Methodists leaders have been instrumental in creating an ecumenical group called NOVA Friends of Refugees.
Perhaps some churches will want to work more intentionally to become congregations that reflect the diversity of God’s Kingdom, coming together across barriers that might otherwise divide us, because we know the strength of Christ’s love is able to hold us together. We could try to model among ourselves the kind of life together that we would hope for the society at large.
Perhaps we will find ways to build relationships with people from other religions, so that we can be in a good position to understand what gives purpose to their lives even as we share how the Christian faith animates ours.
Perhaps we will dream big dreams, inspired by God in prayer and in conversation and action with one another that will break through to new directions that we cannot yet see.
None of these possibilities will happen if we choose to opt out of involvement. If we seek to worship God in isolation from the world’s needs, we may wonder why our faith seems to be missing something. God does not confine God’s work to our worship life only. God uses our worship life to shape us for ministry in Jesus’ Name in a world that He deeply loves and dearly desires to heal. May we see our role in this Light, and let the rest fall into place. How did Jesus say it? “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33)
I welcome the opportunity to be in conversation around the Alexandria District where churches are wanting to respond in faithful ways to the opportunities that are before us. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Grace and Peace,