When considering the role of the clergy as pastor, priest and prophet, I have usually gravitated to the pastor role. I have felt most comfortable ministering to people’s needs, listening to their problems, encouraging their hopes and dreams, and empowering them to respond to God’s call in their life. About 10 years into ministry, I began to appreciate my priestly role in a more profound way. The sacraments of baptism and holy communion as a means of grace became so real to me that I came to view them as sacred highpoints of my ministry.
Defining my role as prophet has been more challenging. How is God calling me to lead the way in reaching out to the very least of God’s children? How am I charged to speak out against evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves? How can I challenge and prod my congregations to enlarge their borders without alienating those who don’t agree with me? How do I distinguish between my issues and God’s issues?
I confess that too often I have chosen to be silent rather than speak out. I confess that I have been apathetic rather than diligent in proclaiming the gospel of peace. Unlike our friend and colleague, Tim Boal, whose life we celebrated just a few days ago, I have been a reluctant prophet. I am very sensitive to the “bully pulpit” and know that I cannot use my privilege as a preacher to push my own agenda without offering an opportunity for those who believe differently to have a voice as well. At the same time, I am called to witness to the radical love of Jesus Christ, who commanded us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.
Over the past few years, I struggled with how to talk to my congregation about the war in Iraq. I am well aware that this is a political issue. At the same time, it is a religious and a moral issue. What is my responsibility, then, as a pastor?
I grew up in a “peace church” and have always been a pacifist. I believe that most wars can be avoided by diplomacy, negotiation, and a deep desire to seek peaceful solutions. I grieved when our country went to war with Iraq. I grieved when it came to light that one of our primary reasons for declaring war, weapons of mass destruction, was proven to be false. I grieve for every family in the United States and Iraq who has suffered the loss of a loved one. I grieve that the United States, which was once the most trusted and respected country in the world, is now perceived by many as pursuing its own agenda and disregarding the counsel of the international community. I grieve that national self-interest may be playing a role in our involvement in Iraq. I grieve that after several years, we do not seem to be any closer to completing the “reconstruction” of Iraq and bringing peace to this war-torn country. I grieve that every day soldiers and civilians are still killed.
One way to talk with your congregations about the war is through study groups and classes. A useful resource is our Social Principles. A great study guide to the Social Principles has been published this quadrennium, and I’ve used it with new member classes. According to the Social Principles, “We believe war is incompatible with Christian teaching… We insist that the first moral duty of all nations is to resolve by peaceful means every dispute that arises between or among them…”
Did you know our United Methodist bishops issued a statement on November 8, 2005, “A call to Repentance and Peace with Justice,” along with a “Resolution on the War in Iraq?” You can find it at : http://www.umc-gbcs.org/nowar. There is also a study called, “Can We Talk? Seeking God’s Heart in a Time of War.” One additional resource related to peace issues comes from Phil Beal, retired United Methodist missionary and a ember of Holland First UMC. His web site is: http://web.mac.com/pemerson1/iWeb/Site/HOME%20PAGE.html
Each of you has to decide for yourself how to preach about and help your congregations talk about the war in Iraq. At the very least, I encourage you to regularly pray in worship for both our soldiers and the people of Iraq. Please know that I support your efforts to be faithful to the gospel and also sensitive to the needs of your congregations.
Several weeks ago, I received an email which I feel led to share with you. It is a statement from our United Methodist missionaries around the world. I ask that you read it prayerfully.
We, members of the United Methodist Missionary Association and missionaries sent by the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries to serve in many lands, meeting in Stamford, CT, in October 2006, wish to share our concern for the state of our world today.
As disciples of Christ sent to show God’s love to all peoples in the example of Christ, our hearts are troubled by the arrogance we see manifested in our U.S. government’s policies and use of power, including:
• the war against and occupation of Iraq, the killing of tens of thousands of civilians, the self-deception used to gain support to go to war in 2003, and the current lack of a plan to get us out of Iraq;
• the allocation of many times more money for war than for addressing the suffering, hunger, and lack of health care and education of more than four billion of our brothers and sisters in the world;
• failure to take strong leadership in the world to address global climate destabilization – a crisis that is affecting all life on earth;
• laws that legalize torture and strip detainees of the fundamental right to go before a judge and hear both why they are being detained and real evidence for their detention. (Historically, those societies without the right to a writ of habeas corpus can be expected to become police states.)
These policies do not show reverence and support for God’s children which the gospel expects of us; they inhibit God’s will for abundant life for all from coming to pass, especially for people of the global south and people of color. Such policies treat these people as sub-human.
May God forgive our perceived silence as members of the church in allowing injustice, and our inaction in not relentlessly pursuing peace with justice.
We commit ourselves to speak out, to become active and to urge our church to lead in acting and advocating for change.
We urgently call the body of Christ and its leadership to speak prophetically to power and to make clear the cost of discipleship and the consequences of following the Christ who was crucified for his opposition to violence, oppression and injustice.
I challenge myself and you: Who will stand up with our missionaries? How can we recover our voice? How is God calling us to preach the gospel of peace? How is God leading us to witness for Jesus Christ?
P.S. December 1 is World Aids Day. Cities in our area will likely be observing this special occasion. The Council of Bishops is hopeful that United Methodist congregations will engage in the activities. It is also a good time to receive an offering for The United Methodist Global AIDS Fund. You will remember that the General Conference set a goal of $8 million to be received by 2008. One dollar per member would help us reach that goal.