Dear Partners in Mission:
With Halloween behind us, we are barreling quickly towards Thanksgiving, Advent, and Christmas. In the Metroplex, at least one radio station has already converted to an all Christmas music format. The desire for something to look forward to, some sense of normalcy, is deeply palpable. This is true in our congregations, as well as I have heard it last week and this as I meet with our conference pastors and deans. Fully eight months into this pandemic, the magnitude of the change, loss, and grief that we as a nation and world have experienced, and will continue to experience, grows. Added to that collective grief, we then have experienced the most polarizing national election in memory. An election that, as I said to our leaders last week, we will not know the full ramifications or outcomes of for some time to come. But what we do know is that our nation and our communities are deeply polarized.
This polarization has often been defined by simple maps that color states red or blue based on the political party that won the popular vote. While this is interesting data, it increases polarization by identifying an entire state’s population as “red” or “blue.” However, as we know from our own lives and interactions, and our relationships within our congregations, that while the majority of a state may consistently or for a time vote for a particular party, that hardly represents the entire state’s population. As a result, “purple state” maps have been created by researchers to show more nuance and more accurately reflect the political will of the people in a state. A sample of these and some of the research behind them can be found here.
Why does this matter to us as church? And why would I, as bishop, spend time writing this and sharing this information with you today? Because the research showed that when maps like this, utilizing shades of purple rather than the red or blue, were shown to participants in studies, they tended to report that they perceived the country as less polarized. Less one sided, less antagonistic. When nuance was added to the map and stark differences disappeared, there was more room, space for the other. And we, as people of faith, are called to create space for the other. To recognize our neighbor and to listen deeply to their stories, to try to understand their perspective, rather than simply yelling ours all the louder.
This is a counter cultural move in a time of division, yet as people of faith, we see things differently. We are to look beyond partisan labels that would make that identity more important than our baptism. As Lutheran Christians, who proclaim Law and Gospel, we must recognize and repent of our own sin first, our own selfishness and inward focus. Then, trusting that only Christ can and has redeemed us, look to our neighbors needs and see them as God’s beloved creation to whom we have responsibility.
In this difficult time of division, I pray we can be people who see the world differently. With eyes of faith that trust that God is guiding us and that our security is found not in silver and gold but in the holy and precious blood of Christ. Christ who is our true identity, crucified and risen, and in whom we have faith by the power of the Holy Spirit. And having that faith, it is Christ who calls us to repentance where we have failed to treat our neighbors with justice and mercy. When we have been complicit in systems of oppression. Who challenges us to cross over borders and barriers for the sake of the gospel. To see our neighbor and ourselves, not in simple terms, but as God’s beloved nuanced, multi-shade, diverse, creation.