Not that Kind of Baptist

The Church’s Role in a Toxic Culture of Partisanship

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You are no longer my mother,” a son tells his mother before cutting her off from his life. The reason? She planned to vote for Trump. 

On the other side of the political spectrum, a supporter of the President disowns his sister for her political views, refusing to notify her that their mother had died of a stroke.

 On Facebook I have become accustomed to see posts from folk who are promising cutoffs from other friends because of their vote in the 2020 Presidential Election.

 A slow acting poison has been released into our water supply, and we are not building up any immunity. That poison is partisanship.

 We are familiar with the causes: some as old as humanity like anger, hatred, and myopia. Some are new: like social media, state sponsored disinformation through technology, and the proliferation of conspiracy theories.

 As a recent news article reveals, our divisions are based on powerful perceptions about the worst we imagine in the other. “Another recent poll by the Public Religion Research Institute shows that 8 in 10 Republicans believe the Democratic Party has been taken over by socialists, while 8 in 10 Democrats believe the Republican Party has been taken over by racists. The report is aptly named titled ‘Dueling Realities.’”

I want to recognize that many are hurting, many are anxious, many are fearful. Because each human is created in the image of God, it is important that we remove those idols in our lives which prevent us from being in proper relationship with others. Rather than erase the image, we might lovingly reveal it.  

How might the Church be faithful during these days of fractured politics?

I want to offer three ways forward:

  1. The church must reclaim reconciliation. As fractured relationships become the norm for American society, the church has a wonderful opportunity to proclaim the gospel that transcends political differences. The church is called to be a community of reconciliation that (when it is faithful) bears witness to the power and mercy and love of the risen Jesus. Reconciliation begins in the church. We must first learn how to love others within our own community across the political divide before we can hope to witness to a fractured world that has no model for reconciliation or repentance. 
  1. The church must name partisanship as an idol. Whatever else the Church post-Covid will look like, I believe faithfulness means that we must name our political partisanship as idolatry. “You shall have no other gods before me,” is the first of the Ten Commandments. We confess that we have worshipped political ideology to the exclusion of God’s claim on our lives. The political is an important dimension of our shared life together, but it is not the most important dimension. It cannot supplant our fidelity to the God who stands over all political systems. If we are partisans of any party, it must be of the Jesus movement.

    There are circumstances when the Church must speak out prophetically to be faithful. The Barmen Declaration, the witness of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King, Jr., and many other courageous Christians provide inspiration and models for what such prophetic witness looks like. Faithful prophetic witness arises when we seek to honor the claims of a fiercely loving God who is partial to the weak and oppressed and suffering. It ceases to be faithful when we wish to provide our political beliefs with theological cover. 
  1. The church should learn how to speak Christian again. We must recapture distinctively Christian language to describe our mission and our values, instead of being captive to political nomenclature. In America, it is common to view the church (wittingly or not) as the place where your political ideology acquires a light theological justification. That is why the dominant frame for talking about churches uses the political terms “conservative” or “liberal.”

    Marilyn McEntyre’s work emphasizes the importance of choosing grace-filled words that do not alienate, while at the same time remain truthful. Stanley Hauerwas urges us to “learn how to speak Christian.” The words we use reflect the reality we are inhabiting. Let us take care with words. Atonement, sin, redemption, reconciliation, love, justice, mercy, grace, and peace…rather than conservative, liberal, progressive, libertarian, socialist, Republican, Democrat.   

Cutoff is always an option for human relationships, and in rare cases it is required for the sake of our body and soul.  However,  cutoff as an instinctive response to political difference is not the Christian way.  I repent of it in my life, and seek a more grace-filled future.  

 We have a lot of work ahead of us to bear witness in times such as these, but I believe it is joyful and life-giving work.

In Christ,
Daniel

Posted by Rev. Daniel Headrick with

Trampling Pharaoh's Crown

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As I read over the story of the birth of Moses in the opening chapters of Exodus, it occurred to me that there is a gap--much like the life of Jesus--between Moses' infancy and adulthood.  We get this intensive look at the circumstances of his birth, and then the tape is fast forwarded to his adulthood.  

Where the biblical texts give us gaps in biography, extra-canonical sources rush in with imaginative fervor.  The Jewish historian Josephus, writing of the life of Moses in his Antiquities, passes on a rabbinic legend that Pharaoh's daughter Thermuthis, brought the baby Moses to Pharaoh.  Here is Josephus' account:

(232) Thermuthis, therefore, perceiving him to be so remarkable a child, adopted him
for her son, having no child of her own. And when one time she had carried Moses to
her father, she showed him to him, and said she thought to make him her father’s
successor, if it should please God she should have no legitimate child of her own; and
said to him, “I have brought up a child who is of a divine form, and of a generous
mind; and as I have received him from the bounty of the river, in a wonderful
manner, I thought proper to adopt him for my son and the heir of thy kingdom.”
(233) And when she had said this, she put the infant into her father’s hands; so he
took him, and hugged him close to his breast; and on his daughter’s account, in a
pleasant way, put his diadem upon his head; but Moses threw it down to the ground,
and, in a puerile mood he wreathed it round, and trod upon it with his feet; (234)
which seemed to bring along with it an evil presage concerning the kingdom of Egypt.
But when the sacred scribe saw this (he was the same person who foretold that his
nativity would bring the dominion of that kingdom low), he made a violent attempt to
kill him; and crying out in a frightful manner, he said, (235) “This, O king! this child is
he of whom God foretold, that if we kill him we shall be in no danger; he himself
affords an attestation to the prediction of the same thing, by his trampling upon thy
government, and treading upon thy diadem. Take him, therefore, out of the way, and
deliver the Egyptians from the fear they are in about him; and deprive the Hebrews of
the hope they have of being encouraged by him.” (236) But Thermuthis prevented
him, and snatched the child away. And the king was not hasty to slay him, God
himself, whose providence protected Moses, inclining the king to spare him. He was,
therefore, educated with great care.

Flavius Josephus and William Whiston, The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged
(Peabody: Hendrickson, 1987), 68.

A handful of European artists in the 17th century treat this theme of Moses trampling Pharaoh's crown, including the ones depicted above by French painter Nicolas Poussin and Dutch painter Jan Lievens.  

As an image of speaking truth to power, it is enduring.  Why are tyrants so afraid of babies in the Bible?  From Pharaoh to Herod, a thread of genocidal wrath connects the stories of overbearing tyrannical leaders to opposing God's people.  The people of God must decide, in turn, whether to trample Pharaoh's crown, or try to put it on their own heads.  The temptation of politics is that we might become more like Pharaoh than servants of the living God.  

 

Citations for art:

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mo%C3%AFse_enfant_foulant_aux_pieds_la_couronne_de_Pharaon_-_Nicolas_Poussin_-_Louvre.jpg#/media/File:Moïse_enfant_foulant_aux_pieds_la_couronne_de_Pharaon_-_Nicolas_Poussin_-_Louvre.jpg

By Jan Lievens, The Infant Moses Tramples Pharaoh’s Crown
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18922542
Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille

Posted by Rev. Daniel Headrick with

A Pastoral Statement on Violence and Racism

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Rev. James Lamkin and Rev. Daniel Headrick
Northside Drive Baptist Church
Atlanta, GA
June 1, 2020 

As clergy of Northside Drive Baptist Church (NDBC), we believe that every person is made in the image of God and worthy of fundamental dignity. Because of this, we take a clear stand against violence, and against the violence of racism. 

 As was said by several NDBC members in Sunday School this week, “White silence is a form of racism.”   We agree.  We confess.  We repent.  As one friend puts it, “Racism is not Covid-19.  It is Covid-1619.  This was the year that a slave ship carrying 30 African slaves slipped into a harbor of the Virginia Colony.”  If racism is like a pandemic, it is as ancient as humankind; and, certainly as old as the founding of America. Because it is frequently disguised, often times overt, but sometimes unintentional—continuing education about this insidious sin warrants life-long learning. 

 Some call it systemic racism.  Many impersonal forces compose this very personal wrong: cultural, relational, educational, judicial, political, religious, economic, and more.  So many, in fact, that privilege can blind us with layers of blinders; and spiritual blindness leads to idolatry. 

 We believe it is important to name names, such as, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd.  By doing so we do not perpetuate the appearance of silence; rather, we take daily steps on the long journey toward justice.  Their tragic deaths are symptoms of on-going, bigger stories.   

 Sunday’s Pentecost text heralded God’s diverse hope.  The Holy Spirit’s fiery presence embraced and empowered all: women and men, slaves and free, young and old, daughters and sons.  Everybody. 

 As congregational clergy, we will pursue God’s wide hope for our world and faith community.  We will study and learn and seek conversation with partners of color; and will acknowledge our sense of privilege. 

 These are anxious days due to disease.  These are painful days as we see the violence racism does to the human race. These are holy days as we yearn to speak the truth in the presence of God. 

Posted by Rev. James Lamkin with

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