The Great In-Between

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BY RUTH COLE BURCAW |

The Great In-Between

“We are not who we were, and yet we are not who we will become.”
– Carrie Newcomer, singer/songwriter

Welcome to the great in-between. The recent national election reveals exactly how far we are from being the Church that truly represents the Kingdom of God here on earth.

We all survived past elections. Some of us grumbled and some of us celebrated, but we fairly quickly got on with our lives. This feels very different. The gaping divide among Americans shows no signs of ending. We are further apart than ever before, gathering and commiserating mostly with those who agree with us, getting our news from sources that agree with us, and doubling down on our convictions that we are right. Which means others must be wrong. And where are the Moravians in all of this? We’ve been pretty quiet, haven’t we?

Bishop Wayne Burkette recently expressed his view that many Moravian Churches are ‘purple’ – i.e. filled with a mix of political points of view. Unlike churches where all views are identical, he said, we are challenged by the real stories and real faith of people who view the world very differently from ourselves. Proverbs 27:17 says ‘As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.’ (Thanks to Brother John Jackman for using this in a post-election sermon.)

While this could be a positive for Moravians, it is a very fine line to walk. On the one hand, being purple might make our churches safe spaces, free of the turmoil and high emotion that often comes along with political discussion. On the other hand, it leaves many of us feeling empty and paralyzed, unsure how we engage in real community with those who love Christ with us. In our efforts to keep peace and maintain relationships, we avoid discussing difficult issues with one another.

What IS the Moravian way forward here?

Let’s face it, we modern Moravians are not those early, radical members of the ancient Unity who defied the state church of its day to form the first voluntary, peace church. We were early to embrace the idea of spiritual equality, where women, children, and people of color were considered equal in the eyes of God. We were early to head to the furthest ends of the earth, reaching out to the marginalized and those no one else wanted to even recognize as human.

We are not who we were.

hardthingsarehard

We are not who we will become either. We like the idea of returning to our roots, or at least letting those roots inform our faith today, but we struggle to live into that reality. The world can be a frightening place these days and we are uncertain how to proceed. It is easier to sit in our beautiful, not-quite-full sanctuaries and sing our familiar hymns, raising money to pay off the new organ or redecorate the parlor. We talk about our desire to grow and yet when those different from us appear in our sanctuaries, we shift uncomfortably in our pews. We talk about being missional, and then hold another chicken pie dinner and call it a day.

What is next for the church? How will God call us to a new thing, one that will challenge and maybe even frighten us, but also lead us to a new, Spirit-filled reality of faith, love, and hope?

This election, while divisive and unprecedented, actually provides us with an opportunity to come together in our “purple-ness,” move out of the great in-between and toward a future filled with grace and hope.

There are no easy answers. A newly-installed sign in my office reads: Hard things are hard. Ain’t that the truth!

Bishop Sam Gray provided us with some guidance in a recent post: “No matter what happens … in this election, Jesus Christ is still our Chief Elder. We must never allow partisan politics or personal preferences to get in the way of the mission that Jesus has entrusted… to us!”

To continue this mission entrusted to us, we must love each other. Only we can love each other. Only we can figure out new and different ways of being the church together. We won’t be able to do it if we can’t even talk to each other. We must listen in a way so as to recognize one another, and we must recognize everyone. We need each other now more than ever. (Here’s an example of how one church is doing this.)

And then, “We must be brave enough to speak and to listen, to share our hopes and our fears, and to remember that when we care for the least, whoever we consider to be least, we do it for Christ. The church has work to do, for ourselves, for those on whatever margins, and for the world around us.” (Brother Riddick Weber at Moravian Theological Seminary during a recent chapel service.)

And we do have all that we need to carry on Christ’s work in the world today. Ephesians 3: 20-21 (from The Message) lays it out for us. “God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.

Glory to God in the church!
Glory to God in the Messiah, in Jesus!
Glory down all the generations!
Glory through all millennia! Oh, yes!”

Oh yes.

It is easy to complain about what leaders and governments are doing or not doing. But just like it was for our Moravian ancestors, our work as Christians is clear: Love our neighbors as ourselves. Love our enemies. Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with our God.

Let’s get to work as the church Jesus loves, moving closer to the people Jesus loves.


rcb at fourRuth Cole Burcaw is Executive Director of the Board of Cooperative Ministries. She and her family are members of Unity Moravian Church in Lewisville, NC. Here she is when her daddy was the preacher at Grace Moravian Church in Mount Airy, NC. 

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Feelings Versus Facts

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BY ANDREW DAVID COX | 

The views of the author do not necessarily reflect those of the Moravian Board of Cooperative Ministries (BCM) and/or the Moravian Church Southern Province. 

The 2016 election will go down in history as one of the most volatile, perplexing, and unique of American history. There has been a rift in our politics, one that has built over some time. It is a crevasse so wide, that it seems we can no longer merely “reach across the aisle.” Bipartisanship is treachery and party loyalty is everything. Whatever it takes is within reason as long as it means preventing the “other side” from occupying the White House or Congress. Our politics are occupied by an all or nothing mindset with little to no room for compromise, something which should be at politics’ core, as David Brooks writes for The New York Times. We see this in the non-establishment candidacy of Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders supporters who refuse to support Hillary Clinton, and those who reluctantly back Clinton to defeat Trump (and vice versa). Unfortunately, sometimes these attitudes seep into our churches too.

Fortunately, our God expands well beyond the confines of politics and government (Mark 12:13-17).  Ours is a God that does not ask for the Democrat or Republican ballot… nor does he fly any particular nation’s flag. God’s attitude that we ought to evoke in our politics and opinions is straightforward: love and grace. That is the flag God flies. This love and grace, seen in the gift of Christ, allows us to bridge the crevasse of our imperfections, bitterness, brokenness, anger, disagreements, and more. This allows for more refined views that don’t get mired in an ideology. John Hus knew this. Count Zinzendorf knew this. The Moravians at Herrnhut discovered it in 1727 with the help and touch of the Holy Spirt. And I’ve discovered this over the development and evolution of my own personal politics.

It was 2004. We held a mock presidential election at Thomas Jefferson Middle School. John Kerry was running against the incumbent George W. Bush. Thinking I was a good ‘ole Republican like my dad was at the time, I loyally “voted” for the reelection of the forty-third president. Just as in the real-life contest, Bush won the election that day at Thomas Jefferson Middle School.

Fast forward to civics and economics class in high school. We took a political questionnaire that gauged your political leanings. I don’t exactly recall how the questionnaire scored me. I asked my dad what he thought my political leanings were. He thought I was probably conservative or Republican.

In high school, I participated in a pro-life day of solidarity. The one where you go to school with “Life” written in sharpie on red duct tape. As a high school student, did I really understand the complexities of reproductive healthcare and rights? It was more likely that I was following the group I found myself in at the time. Was it simply that it is comfortable to swallow familiar rhetoric, be it conservative or liberal, and fit in with a community?

Editorial Cartoon by Andrew David Cox

“All have fallen short.” April 3rd, 2015. Andrew David Cox.

Not long after, the topic of abortion rights came up with my sister while riding in the car with her. She challenged what I thought were my views, and to this day I have a nuanced perspective on reproductive health. I don’t fit neatly in pro-life or pro-choice camps. At the same time, I would openly refer to myself as feminist, progressive, Christian, and an LGBTQ ally. I find myself in this decisive and extremely polarized election season to be even more reluctant to don such a large label as “liberal.” For a long time, I’ve avoided saying “I am a liberal” and instead say I “lean liberal.” “Progressive” seems to carry less political weight. Is that all labels are though? Just about perception without any objective strength? Sometimes yes, but this is not always the case.

Early in my college career I found myself developing my views on the issue of homosexuality and gay marriage. Like I wrote, I count myself an LGTBQ ally. Well, what does that mean? At the beginning, it just meant that there’s no reason gays should be prevented from being married. Why? In particular how this view fit into my Christian faith was important, as it was already a prominent wedge issue dividing the church. So for my collegiate senior seminar course I wrote my research paper on objectively arguing why homosexuality is not a sin or morally wrong. I wrote about not only my feelings on it, but the facts about it that could back up my feelings. I found several sources that backed up my argument, but I also highlighted the opposing view. In my paper I recognized the potential holes in my view. There was something freeing about considering the possibility of being wrong. Perhaps our pride as imperfect beings prevents us from doing this more often.

Orlando. A troubled man shoots up a gay nightclub, killing scores of innocent people. Young people who had their whole lives ahead of them. In a group text message with a couple close friends the event comes up in conversation. Like many, I jump to gun control. One of my friends, frustrated, says it’s not about gun control. I’m blindsided by false consensus-bias, a phenomenon Sean Blanda artfully explores for Medium. I try to argue my viewpoint, but those persistent facts kept creeping in. And they’re not on my side. They cut through my reactionary partisan feelings on the issue and I find myself having to admit I’m wrong. Once I was able to lay down the pride, it was an incredibly freeing feeling to accept a new perspective. Much like my views on abortion, my views on guns have become more nuanced. They don’t fit neatly in a liberal or conservative box.

Absolutism is a dangerous thing. Our desire to fit into a community, to be on a team, produces these echo chambers. We find ourselves very infrequently exploring the possibility of our team being wrong. We become entrenched. Even if certain views are unjustifiable, do we even look beyond the surface and to the root cause of those views? Would that not be more constructive than mocking someone? Political discourse should be more like love and done more out of respect and civility.

Ultimately, as Christians, this is what we are called to if we are to help bridge this crevasse. We Moravians have been in this ugly climate of disagreement before (see Ginny Tobiassen’s meditation) and the navigation of turmoil, divisiveness to a place of collaborative and radical community is in our DNA.  In his lecture as a part of BCM’s Comenius Learning Series, Dr. Thomas Fudge talked about John Hus’ perspective on forming opinions. If Hus was confronted with an argument with more sound reasoning, logic, and evidence, he adopted that new view. Fudge said, “[Hus] would warn us of exclusive and non-negotiable truth claims.” In this increasingly ugly political climate, the only non-negotiable truth I can get behind is everything I do should be done out of love and grace.

For non-partisan resources to help inform you, check out Ruth Cole Burcaw’s post on Moravians and the Responsibility of Citizenship.

Questions? Comments? Or need assistance with your church’s
communications and social media efforts? Contact Andrew David Cox at acox(AT)mcsp.org or call (336) 722-8126 Ext. 404

Andrew portrait

Andrew David Cox is the Communications Project Manager for the Moravian Board of Cooperative Ministries (BCM). Andrew drew editorial cartoons for The Appalachian, the student newspaper of Appalachian State from the fall of 2012 to the spring of 2014 and for a year and a half after graduating. His cartoons earned the 2014 Association of American Editorial Cartoonists John Locher Memorial Award for student cartooning.