A Time for Reconciliation: Tom De Vries responds to the U.S. election
Stepping off the plane from Latin America provided the reality of the tension and contention that were building prior to departing right before the election. My times in Brazil and Nicaragua were shining lights in the midst of darkness as our team was able to experience RCA Global Mission up close and personal through observing medical missions and church planting up and down the Amazon with the Presbyterian Church in Manaus, and community development and sustainable farming in remote, mountainous areas of Pantasma where many of the indigenous people live on less than two dollars a day, in partnership with the Council of Evangelical Churches in Nicaragua(CEPAD).
Insert myself back into an affluent and divided United States and the rhetoric of discord and disagreement, multiplied through social media and 24-hour news cycles, and the cacophony of disappointment, discouragement, pain, grief, and lament has grown greater.
We stand in the midst of a time where doubt, fear, hurt, anger, frustration, marginalization, and even hopelessness intersect with feelings of victory, affirmation, and hopefulness reflected from large, diverse contingents of our populace. The coming together of massive and multiple emotions, fueled by thoughtless and often painful rhetoric, causes me to pause and wonder where to find peace, hope, or love.
It is in these times of uncertainty and insecurity, of anxiety and ambiguity that I go to God and God’s Word for direction and affirmation. It is not to ponder my own thoughts or seek solace from my own wisdom, instead it is to discover the truth and grace that God so richly provides in the midst of the contentiousness we face.
The first step is to remind myself what we are not to do as brothers and sisters in Christ together, even when we may be on opposite sides of an issue. The apostle Paul talked about living with our freedom, and not using it for harm, but to help as we recognize that we are not part of divided political parties, we are part of one family – God’s family.
We read in Galatians 5:13-17 (EXB):
My brothers and sisters, God called you to be free, but do not use your freedom as an excuse to do what pleases your sinful self. Serve each other with love. The whole law is made complete in this one command: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” If you go on hurting each other and tearing each other apart, be careful, or you will completely destroy each other. So I tell you: Live by following the Spirit. Then you will not do what your sinful self wants. Our sinful self wants what is against the Spirit, and the Spirit wants what is against our sinful self. The two are against each other, so you cannot do just what you please.
The struggle for power, for position, for influence often reflect our most base desires, and go against the work of God in us. Our communication and interaction can be detrimental both inside and outside the household of faith and with those we connect with.
In the midst of a culture that is struggling to overcome racism, sexism, classism, marginalization, poverty, discrimination, and injustice I can go deeper with a faith that becomes the foundation for what I can do in times of confusion and crisis. The place I have been called to, the place I believe we all have been called to, in the midst of discord and division is one of reconciliation.
I read today in a fresh way the apostle Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 5:14-20 (MSG) that call us to this work of reconciliation:
Our firm decision is to work from this focused center: One man died for everyone. That puts everyone in the same boat. He included everyone in his death so that everyone could also be included in his life, a resurrection life, a far better life than people ever lived on their own.
Because of this decision we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don’t look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you.
Anything we do that is not helping to bring reconciliation is contrary to the work of God in us, and the work we have been given as followers of Jesus Christ. As we have been reconciled with God, we are to continue in reconciliation with one another, and in bringing that reconciliation into our world. Now is the time to value all people, to respect differences, and listen to each other’s experiences. Now is the time to offer hope and healing, not perpetuate divisiveness and hurt.
This is the exact place that our brothers and sisters in the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa found themselves decades ago. Under apartheid, URCSA – a church made up of people of color, people who suffered cruelly under apartheid – committed to bring help and healing through reconciliation, rather than hatred and disunity. Now is a time when we cannot only listen to our fellow Christians who walked through their own experience of the sinfulness of humanity to one another, we can learn from it and cling to their words that we have adopted as our own creedal standard through the Belhar Confession (https://www.rca.org/resources/confession-belhar). As I read through it again, I found it both enlightening and encouraging in the midst of our own contention, offering direction that is counter-cultural and biblical:
- God is sovereign, and he gathers, protects, and cares for us – he has from the beginning and will continue to do it now and into the future
- The church is called by God from among the human family
- The work of Christ brings us reconciliation
- The working of the Holy Spirit is a binding force for us
- Unity must become visible so that the world may believe that separation, enmity, and hatred between people and groups is sin
- We reject any doctrine that would separate any people or work to obstruct or weaken the ministry of reconciliation
Following the election there have been numerous reports of bullying and hate crimes against people of color and people of other faiths. Now is our time to step up and stand out, to not give in to the conversations that demean and destroy. We must actively engage in a work of reconciliation that redefines how we should act toward one another. There has never been a greater time for the people of the Reformed Church in America to actively live and love like Jesus. It means we can act differently as we share a message of hope in the midst of uncertainty and offer encouragement from our faith that is grounded in a loving and reconciling God who sent Christ to bring us into relationship with him and provides us the person and power of the Holy Spirit to draw us toward one another and toward God, rather than toward disagreement and disunity. For this we pray, and this we engage for God’s glory.
Together in reconciliation,