The Wideness of God’s Kingdom: Justice Conversations in 2016
This article is written by Rev. Aaron Fuller, who serves as Pastor at St. Andrew Lutheran and Holy Communion Lutheran Churches, both in Portsmouth, VA. In addition he serves bi-vocationally as a chaplain in the U.S. Navy Reserve, and is a member of the All-Inclusive Outreach Team, the VA Synod’s steering team on diversity and inclusion.
While my wife Kelly and I were in Minnesota visiting family and friends over Christmas vacation, we visited a congregation both of us attended during my time in seminary. The pastor there is a dear friend and mentor for both of us, and we went out to grab coffee.
He asked us, “So let me get your read on this: How’s Jack and Jane
Our friend’s congregation is located in North Minneapolis, which has been the center of attention lately because the #Blacklivesmatter group has been organizing protests over the death of a young African-American person by the gun of a police officer. The congregation’s younger, more liberal, and white membership has participated in the protests and sit-ins and has been vocal about the issue of racial justice. However, that has been difficult for members like Jack and Jane, Jack being a law enforcement officer; for a young man in the congregation, who is African-American and wants to be a law enforcement officer; for older African-American members who hold more conservative views on the matter.
This scenario is likely representative of the culture of all our churches: a wide range of perspectives, assumptions, and beliefs all in tension with each other. I think in 2015 conversations around issues of diversity were such that the range of conversations that were acceptable was too narrow. Lines were drawn, people lumped into categories, and initiatives were hastily pushed and all the while the body count of people being pushed to the margins kept climbing, voices were silenced, and people both new and familiar quietly exited out the back door of our communities. In light of such things we ask, “How do we hold it all together?”
“There’s a wideness to God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea; there’s a kindness in God’s justice which is more than liberty.”
The conversation of justice is necessary and crucial for congregations today. Yet, the conversation is about God’s justice, which contains two aspects working simultaneously: accountability and grace. As individual Christians and as collectively as the church we are held accountable, and hold each other accountable for what we say and do, and for existing attitudes that run contrary for God’s desire for people to live freely as children of God. However, this accountability must be accompanied by God’s inclusive grace; it must leave space for the other in Christian community, even those who it is hard for us to love. Grace demands we not just demand justice, but also listen to how people are experiencing God’s ongoing process of restoring justice in the world and allow them to voice that experience. Yet grace is not saying whatever you want, nor is it avoiding or shutting the conversation down altogether. Grace and accountability leads the community of faith in discerning, living, and growing into God’s dream of justice together.
In 2016, let us make room for conversations concerning diversity and racial, social, and religious justice in our congregations. As it was done in the South Carolina Synod, maybe that means watching the movie “Selma” together and reflect on that historical experience. Maybe that means beginning conversations with an African-American congregation or Muslim community, as some of our congregations across the Synod are currently doing. Perhaps that means having internal conversations in our congregations about our own attitudes and perspectives. God’s Kingdom is certainly wide enough to draw all people together in grace and mercy, and it is also large enough to hold our conversations as we struggle to live into God’s dream of justice.
1 Names changed to protect privacy.
2 Faber, Frederick W., “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy,” (2007: Evangelical Lutheran Worship, Augsburg Fortress), #588.