Forest Lake Talks

A Message from Ellen

July 3, 2019

Dear Friends,

As we approach the celebration of our national holiday, I have been thinking of the role and the responsibility of the Christian Church in our nation.  As you know, Americans cherish and protect a tradition of separation of Church and State.  And there are many important reasons to keep a distance between these two.  The need for that distance was seared into the collective memory of Protestants who lived with the deadly and evil consequences of having the medieval Roman Catholic Church collect to itself every form of power:  civil, religious, political and wealth/resources.  Our Book of Order (the PC(USA) constitution – part 2) says it this way: “Therefore we consider the rights of private judgment, in all matters that respect religion, as universal and unalienable: We do not even wish to see any religious constitution aided by the civil power, further than may be necessary for protection and security, and at the same time, be equal and common to all others. (BOO F-3.0101b)

But that does not prevent Christians from serving in our political processes in ways that are consistent with their own faith.  And that separation of powers allows the Church to function as the conscience of and prophetic witness to the State.  Unfortunately, many Christians have gotten the order of their allegiances backwards, and they feel more fully defined and motivated to act by their political alliances than by their faith in Christ.

I am interested in what might happen if the Christian Church in America began to forge a third way.  What would happen if we gave up blind loyalty to a political agenda and began to engage in discussion and dealing with the issues with all of the nuance, difficulty and pain that is normally a part of the tough issues that are dividing our country?  What if we defined ourselves first as followers of Jesus and lovers of God, and all that God has made, and tried to define our response by looking to Jesus’ example?  What if we stopped trying to preserve the power and authority that we still have to protect our own rights and started paying attention to those who have no rights and who need a voice?  What if we were willing actually to listen to those in our own Christian family who disagree with us and try to model respect and kindness towards Christians who see things very differently than we do?

This third path would require us to make commitments to some particular practices or a “Rule of Life.”  A Rule of Life would list things that we collectively agree not to do or to say.  For example, accusing someone of “not being a real Christian” because they disagree with us would be off the table, as would overstating the “enemy’s position” to make it look ridiculous to discredit that positon.  Instead, we would begin to listen to what they are saying – especially when we disagree.

This idea is a dangerous one.  It places us outside of the safety of the partisan camps that seem to be the norm in our country.  But this idea is one that could allow us to keep families together, and to keep our Christian family together.  How many of us have topics that are “not allowed to be discussed” at family gatherings because those we love really disagree?  But, I am increasingly coming to believe that this idea is a Gospel Idea (shorthand for it may require suffering!).

Forest Lake has some experience in trying to discuss hard topics and in practicing listening to those with whom we disagree.  Do you think we should do more of that?  Let me know your thoughts?  God has brought us to this time and to this place for a purpose.  What do you think the purpose of the Christian Church is, and what specifically is the purpose of FLPC?!

See you in worship!

Ellen Fowler Skidmore

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