Disciples News Service

Open letter to the church in North America

An Open Letter from the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Regional Leadership to the Church in the United States and Canada
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Dear Sisters and Brothers,

In this contentious campaign season, we write as leaders who have witnessed firsthand the prophecy of our Lord that “five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three;” (Luke 12:52 NRSV). In a week when we have gathered to confer about the spiritual health of our church, both sides of America’s divided family have called one another racist. As a body that has claimed a pro-reconciliation, anti-racist priority for two decades, we the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada write to offer a word of hope from our experience.

First we offer reflections on some of the more difficult learnings of these past two decades.

As faith leaders, we look back on the history of the United States and Canada, and we see that we have too often been on the wrong side of history with regard to public policy. Too many of us were wrong on slavery. Too many were wrong on Jim Crow. Too many were wrong on residential schools for indigenous children, and too often we have turned our backs on treaties with indigenous brothers and sisters.  When we said nothing about such policies, we supported the status quo by default. Then and now, however, the voice of God calls us to bring our faith to participate actively in shaping public policy, “Ah, you who make iniquitous decrees, who write oppressive statutes, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be your spoil, and that you may make the orphans your prey!” (Isaiah 10:1-2 NRSV) Our faith has political implications.

A serious reckoning with the ministry of Jesus compels us to embrace not a politics of left or right or Democratic or Republican parties, but to further God’s politics as best we can determine it. Jesus directed us to pray for God’s kingdom to come here on earth as it is in heaven. Jesus gave us our public policy directive in his first address, as told in Luke 4:18: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.” (NRSV)

Our experience has shown us that racism is embedded in public policies and systems, favoring some people and discriminating against others. This “institutional racism” creates inequities between the poor and rich, those with health care and those without, those who are welcome in our country and those who are not, those who face disparity in the criminal justice system and those who do not, those with access to good education and those who lack it. In health care, voting rights, education, criminal justice, immigration policy, and housing, we have a responsibility to name structural inequities, to join with others in the public square who are seeking the good of the whole, and to work for moral policy that roots out racism from our common life.

Jesus not only endorsed policies that would ensure liberty and justice for all. He also moved among the people who were made poor by systemic inequality, offering healing and value to all. Jesus broke bread with people from all walks of life and intentionally developed relationships across the dividing lines of race, gender and nationality. Jesus invited people into diverse, beloved community where they could learn to face their own implicit bias and heal from the hatred that had been sown in their own hearts.

To follow Jesus in North America today is to both advocate for anti-racist public policy and actively seek to build community across the dividing lines of race and class in our communities. Our call as people of faith is to pave the way for public justice by becoming the kind of community we pray and work for in society. The values that undergird this two-fold ministry of public witness and life together include love, justice, compassion, mercy, grace, hospitality to strangers and prophetic challenge in the face of injustice. Jesus called these things the “weightier matters of the law” (Matt.23:23 NRSV).

As Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said half a century ago, “we as a nation need to undergo a radical revolution of values.” Rev. King insisted then that it was time to break the silence about the injustices in society. The truth must be told, he said.

The truth must still be told. We challenge every sitting politician and candidate for public office, and we challenge ourselves: this is not about party politics. It is about redeeming the soul of our two nations.

Sisters and brothers, it matters how we talk about these things. Our words and tone will resonate beyond this particular political season. We choose today whether we will speak from a place of mutual respect and care for each other and value for the establishment of justice, the common good and equal protection under the law in our life together, or whether we will choose to side with likeminded friends and family, “three against two and two against three” in a fight to societal devastation.

Two ways are laid out before us: one that leads to destruction and another that leads to life. For two decades, our church has tried to walk the narrow way of anti-racist community building and public witness. It has not been easy, and we are still striving to go deeper and become more just in our own church life, but we write to testify from our experience that this way leads to life. We pray in these difficult days that we will continue to have the courage to walk together in the way toward liberty and justice for all.

In Christ,

Regional Ministers and Moderators of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada, meeting in Indianapolis, August 25-26, 2016.


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35 Responses to “Open letter to the church in North America”

  1. Michael Tefft:

    I grow weary of reading in Disciples news how racist our country and its people are, how racism is institutionalized in our country. This is a progressive ideology whose sole purpose is not to heal but rather divide. Racism has and always will be a part of not just this country, but any country. We are fallen creatures. But neither our country as a whole nor its people are racist nor is racism institutionalized. Please stop promoting untruths like this.

    • Matthew Roberts:

      I agree wholeheartedly with you Michael Tefft. I am growing weary of this obsession with guilt for things that either are minimal in number or overblown. This country is no longer inherently racist, sexist, or otherwise. I might have to reconsider my denomination.

      • Judy Fullmer:

        Sexism is alive and well in Wichita, KS ~ when a woman tries to access her funds in a joint account and is denied access because they can’t speak to her husband who has been left speechless from a stroke.

      • James A. Ellis:

        Matthew – If you are denying the reality of institutionalized racism, perhaps you should undertake thought-filled reconsideration of your denomination and find another which tolerates your narrow and unrealistic views.

    • Rev Andrew Cross:

      Even if you’re not convinced institutionalized racism exists, you’d be blind not to see racism in our country. So long as it exists – institutionalized or individualized – our mission remains the same; eliminate it where it exists in order to reveal the kingdom. We may differ with the wording of the letter, but we must remain committed to the spirit of the letter. As I read it, that means we stand against everything that is in opposition to God’s justice, God’s peace, forgiveness, grace, and God’s will for us. Racism, inequality, injustice, and all forms of man’s inhumanity to man are the targets of our mission no matter where we find them.

    • James A. Ellis:

      Michael Tefft – I’m not sure of your information sources, but based upon your denial of institutionalized racism, you are in need of further inquiry. It has NOT ONE THING to do with “progressive ideology”, but instead undeniable reality, statistics and basic truisms. Your chosen words sound like a gratuitous “backdoor politicalization” during this election season. This very real problem in need of a solution is much bigger than Democrats versus Republicans and shame on you for playing political games with it. I defer to the wisdom of this letter’s august and thought-filled signatories and I suspect that politically-driven deniers of reality will be soundly rebuked by He, whose Authority exceeds yours.

    • John Fisher:

      I agree with Michael. Our “leaders” continue to take positions without considering how many Disciples actually feel. Their positions don’t represent all Disciples. Alexander Campbell was adamant about keeping politics out of the pulpit.

  2. Cindy Crain-Barr:

    Ignoring/denying the truth is your “progressive ideology”. Being afraid of the truth is keeping your head in the sand and refusing to hear the truth.

  3. Winston B. Sitton:

    You find that de facto racism persists and call this phenomenon “institutional racism” – an ill defined tern evocative of the Black Lives Matter movement without entangling yourselves in the hatred and racist ideology of that group.

    My question is what, other than a finding of racism in our culture, do you propse we do. Both political parties have called the other bigots and decried the destructive attitudes of the other.

    We as a church are enjoined from political activism as a condition of our tax free status.

    So again I ask, what is your call to action?


    • Rev Andrew Cross:

      I’m pretty certain the tax exempt status of churches has nothing to do with a quid pro quo of staying out of politics. In fact, I believe it has something to do with churches being charitable institutions in the eyes of the law. Churches have been politically active since before the abolitionist movement. Churches were political hotbeds in Europe since Martin Luther posted his theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle church. Jesus himself was a political revolutionary – just not in the way most people think. If our mission is to help bring the kingdom here, then our success means most of the political systems of this world cannot endure.

  4. While my personal feelings go way beyond the starting point here in this letter, I am grateful for this starting point. I am proud to be a member of a movement that names sin and encourages and supports it’s prophets who speak out against it in the cause of God’s perfect love. #DoCAlways #RideAndDieDoC

  5. Timothy Murphy:

    We have been explicitly committed since 2000 as part of the four-pronged plan to be a pro-reconciling/anti-racist institution. It takes decades of conscientious work to dismantle systems that have lasted from the beginning of the Cane Ridge revival among settlers. This is hard work, and belittling the reality of racism in the United States speaks more to the influence of the demonic within us than to the Spirit of Life that seeks our collective liberation and healing.

    • Timothy Murphy you tell the truth, I applaud you, I think you speak as Jesus did. We only tire when we are no longer interested in finding a solution!!! I am very proud of you, so many of us would never be that brave!!!

  6. Matthew Capestro:

    On the heels of ending my summer as a Disciples Peace Intern and as a previous XPLOR resident, I have had the honor to be directly involved in part of the work being done by the denomination to be a voice of justice. I am so thankful for that opportunity and the brief platform it afforded me. I also am so thankful for this call within our denomination to be cognicent of how we talk through these difficult issues in the presence of differing views. May it be so.

  7. John Brock:

    The comments here, though few, are a reflection on the extreme hazards in taking a stand on almost anything important in today’s culture. Any stand will draw attacks and counter attacks on the legitimacy of the stand and the legitimacy of questions about that stand.

    It therefore takes courage to take a stand. I am pleased with the courage displayed by our regional ministers and moderators in this letter which addresses the very real distrust, fear, and oppression that exists because of historic and continuing divisions based on race.

    Their stand contains language that for some represent a code that seems false and contrived. A response to that language can be to seek other language that addresses these concerns. However, a response that denies the existence of the distrust, fear, and oppression also seems false and contrived.

    Can we seek a language that reflects the concerns and which allows for communication?

  8. Bob Teague:

    ” Give unto Ceasar what is Ceasar’s and unto God what is God’s.” “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. (Romans 13:1-4)
    We as a church enjoy a tax exempt status by staying out of politics. While this country still has many flaws, it is still the greatest nation conceived by man. Our church was founded on the idea that EVERYONE is welcome, but lately I sometimes wonder if that still includes those with a conservative viewpoint. I have heard the term “Black Lives Matter” during services at my church, the fact that humanity has to clarify that any lives matter should be a much greater concern to us as Christians in my opinion.

  9. Harry L Ebbeson Jr:

    I have spent my life trying to live a Christ like life. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes (most times) I do not succeed. However, I do not agree with the tone of this letter nor of its conclusions. If we live as we should and have been instructed we will by definition tear down any walls or move aside racism or its results. I was born a Caucasian and do not feel any guilt about that event. I did not have a choice, I was born so it has always been up to me to live my life in a certain way that celebrates my faith. I am tired of “leader” and “great thinkers” telling me what to think or do. Alexander Campbell expected us to think for ourselves. I do not feel that we are being so encouraged by our leadership-rather we are being bathed in some kind of self-guilt as though what we have done is not good enough or worthwhile. I believe our leadership is straying from our basic faith tenets and becoming overtly political. As always, this is my opinion not anyone else’s. God bless us in our frailty.

  10. Larry Veatch:

    There is an old saying that “If the shoe fits wear it.” Many years ago in a community group of concerned Christians I had the privilege of face-to-face conversations between black and white church people. As a white person I was astounded to learn how strong racism is in our land. I was shocked. The shoe pinched.
    Part of the answer is, I believe, to sit down with one another enduring the pain that comes when the truth is spoken and setting aside our anger and defensiveness, and come to know each other as human beings with dreams and aspirations, with foibles and sins, seeking to make our way in a fractured world. I am proud that the leaders of our church have chosen to risk rejection and defamation in order to speak the truth. It is not an easy task and it hurts but it is necessary if “We the people” are to be healed.

    • Shelly Macko:

      Larry Veach, I believe if the letter would have been written with the words and example you shared, all of the arguing and anger would not be displayed here. I have had multiple opportunities to experience situations similar to your example, it leaves no question in our heart what we need to do. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Karen Ray:

    This is a beautiful call to belief in action so thank you for the prayer and thought and conversation that went into it. I have not heard any word about our churches responding to the opportunity to speak for justice and begin correcting historical wrongs at Standing Rock. Why are we silent? Protecting water protects us as well as indigenous people.

  12. R. Conrad Douglas:

    I am not myself a member of CC(DOC), but I am the very proud father of a young Disciples pastor. I am also a lawyer. All of this matters. A couple of people show a serious misconception of what tax-exempt status is about. Churches at any level are not to endorse specific candidates or parties. But churches are not only permitted but expected to take strong positions on moral issues, including mistreatment (whether by police or anybody else) of people, especially for reasons of race, sex, gender identity, national origin, or language. I found the letter moving, almost to tears. The struggle to embody Gal 3:28 (“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”) continues, not just among Disciples but among communities of faith more generally. To say that “Black Lives Matter” has never meant only black lives matter, but that the African-American communities have repeatedly been the objects of both overt and institutionalized violence. To say that we all deserve good food and water is true enough, but meaningless if we do not recognize who is being denied what life requires. BLM requires that we recognize and move against that denial. The letter does not specifically mention BLM and clearly has a varieties of forms of denial in view. If anything, the letter could have been sharper. Still, the letter is a moving call to all Christians (in the ecumenical spirit of Disciples) to attend to the basics of our lives as Christians. This includes resistance to the way that institutions serve either to promote human life or to diminish it. To reject the concept of institutionalized oppression is to say, “Well, as individuals we sin, but when we form groups and institutions, we’re just fine.” Brothers (our sisters seem to have a better understanding), this is nonsense. As communities/institutions and as members of the communities, God through Jesus by this letter and other means calls us to repentant action.

  13. Abby Catoe:

    To deny that institutional racism exists is tantamount having ones head in the sand. I too am proud to be part of a denomination that takes a stand on the many injustices we see so prevalent in the country and the world. Jesus was very much a political activist and I speak out now and will continue to do so upon my ordination into the Christian Church. As Martin Luther King Jr. admonished if we remain silent we have participated in the injustice.

  14. James McGuffee:

    When I read the comments of my fellow Christians that are upset with this statement because they wish to assert that racism is no longer a problem, I am confused. I don’t even know how to begin to dialogue with folk that deny the existence of racism, today, in 2016. I think the letter makes it clear that there may well be a differing of opinions on best solutions to address the problem (i.e. free enterprise or a cooperative economic program) but to deny the existence of the problem is something I just can’t understand. I say this as a white male who has lived most of my 46 years in the south. As one example, I feel that I really can drive on any highway at any time and odds are, I will be fine. This is NOT the reality of all humans today. I don’t have any great solutions but I know I can begin by acknowledging reality.
    and, one more thing, I am keenly aware of the importance to be mindful of the sentiment expressed in the prayer that is commonly attributed to St. Francis of Assisi:

    “Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

    O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.”

  15. I am thankful for the leadership of my church that has issued this reminder to the wider church of our Christian responsibility to confront and name- the best that we can- the continuing stain of institutional racism. Some of my Christian brothers seem to take issue that this sin exists or that we should engage in such a “political” activity. Yet, loving our neighbor and our enemy, (and everyone in between) is always a political act. To live righteous lives is always to seek justice for & with those who are suffering. And, thankfully, video cameras and Black Lives Matter leadership – many of whom are deeply faithful Christians – have clearly demonstrated the heartbreaking reality of our cultural double standards based on skin color. Yet we also know oppressive injustice is encased in our cultural institutions around gender, class, orientation, differing abilities, and age. It is the way of the world. It’s wrong. And it’s a sin – for it violates Jesus’ teaching to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. If we don’t think institutional racism exists it is because we have not been listening to the stories of our neighbors or watching the videos or reading the statistics that reveal the continuing legacy of injustice at all levels. We should remember Jesus’ adminishment, “Let those with eyes, see and those with ears, hear.”

  16. John Brock:

    A few days ago I posted a comment that went into language, i.e. the ways that thoughts and concepts are presented to others. In that post, I urged an effort toward developing a common language concerning racism.

    I still believe that effort is needed. Yet here’s an article that suggests the starting point ilies in listening to each other as we present through our own words, accents, metaphors, and idioms. Our worthiness is not measured by the language we use. (And might I suggest to the writer and publisher that the title of the article presents a problem. “Hearing the Beauty in Broken English” detracts from the body of the article; not to mention the use of “idiot”.)


  17. David Wynn:

    How often as a pastor now for 30 years I have watched some of my fellow pastors be chastised for bringing politics into the pulpit.
    One such pastor told everyone in his congregation who to vote for on election day. He was soon transferred to another church, and now is no longer a pastor. I have been told by some members of my congregation that political viewpoints have no place in the pulpit. And I agree.
    Although I have been tempted, I will never bring my political viewpoints into church with me on Sunday. Ever.

  18. I have read the letter several times–where am I missing the call to “feel guilty for being white?” I see the word “we” throughout the letter, and among the signatures to the letter I see men and women– and knowing our ethos as Disciples I am certain that there is racial diversity in this “we” as well. This is a call to the whole church to be and become Blessed Peace-Makers, not a call to anyone to feel guilty simply for being who you are. I hear a call to all of us to live together in ways that will fulfill God’s desire expressed in Ephesians 2:13-22, which proclaims of Christ, “He is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.” Why then does the Wall of Hostility remain? This is our great challenge and calling, not only in America but also throughout the world that God so loves.

  19. Rob bostrom:

    The letter is a call for action when perhaps a call for prayer, fasting and deliberation is needed. Several things stand out:

    1. The letter was a thinly veiled BLM/pro democrat message, this is not going to unify anyone and really just surfs on the waves of political correctness
    2.My reading of the New Testament does not show Jesus as endorsing policy but rather calling for personal reform and accountability – new birth and following Him. Once that is achieved, the Holy Spirit is able to guide us. Let’s start at the beginning!
    3. Today is September 11th, our denomination has chosen to ignore the elephant in the room. We have been at war with Islam for 1400 years. It is time for Christians to show backbone and oppose the evil of mohammedism. Or do we think Jesus is ok with that oppressive cult?
    4.i think we need to go beyond politics and race and chose Christ! The church in North America is waning. Thie letters call for political action will not bring another Cane Ridge, only Jesus can do that.
    5. I believe that fasting, prayer and thoughtful consideration of the key issues would be a better start than jumping on a political bandwagon.

    As one of the respondents stated, following Jesus is difficult and I too fall short most of the time, so my comments are submitted with humility and hope.

  20. Dave Arthun:

    Initially I was not clear about the message in the last paragraph…”two paths are laid out before us: one to destruction and one to life” ;however, upon a subsequent reading I found solace that the signatories were indeed pro-life. The language was nuanced, but an advocacy for pro-life candidates. I applaud you for defending the “least among us.”
    Dave Arthun

  21. Joseph Bryant:

    As it has been said so many time over the last couple of centuries when it comes to the truth, “Silence is our largest enemy”. James, the half brother of Jesus said it like this, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:26)