Pastor Rick: The Debate Continues

by Pastor Rick Henderson

Last week I published a statement in response to the first Presidential debate, in which I said President Trump was wrong for not condemning white supremacy.  That touched off a controversy that included more than a debate about that particular moment.  For some it raised significant questions. 

  • After spending three weeks urging us to put our faith filter ahead of our political filter, was I violating that directive?
  • Was this an attempt to put my finger on the scale, elevating one party/candidate over the other?
  • Is it my intent to be a political pastor and turn us into a political church?

COVID has highjacked many of the opportunities that would allow you to truly know me.  Though personal interactions are increasing, most of you still relate to me through a screen.  My intent is that what you read next will not be a defense as much as an explanation and a glimpse into my heart. 

I have been preaching for 27 years.  In that time, I have publicly referenced something specifically political just three times.  First was when I was a youth pastor in California.  People protested our church over Proposition 8 (a bill that made same sex marriage illegal).  My students wanted to know why folks were picketing outside—so I answered.  The second time was in response to the Supreme Court decision that legalized same sex marriage.  People wanted to know what the implications might be for our church—so I answered.  The third time was last week.  If this pace keeps up, we’ll have to have this conversation again in another decade.

Understandably, some have pointed to the larger context in defense of the President.  Their reasoning is that my statement was out of bounds because President Trump has repeatedly denounced, disavowed or rejected white supremacy.  I can’t argue with that.  The facts are on their side.

Understandably, others have pointed to the larger context in suspicion of the President.  Their reasoning is that though the President has repeatedly denounced, disavowed and rejected white supremacy, other statements and actions call that into question.  I can’t argue with that.  The facts are on their side. 

I don’t know what was in the President’s heart or on his mind.  If I attempted to explain that moment by pretending to know his motives I would be guilty of the Fundamental Attribution Error.  You might remember that term from the third week of or message series, Talking Points I’m not accusing him of being a racist or a white supremacist.  I’m not urging anyone to vote for or against any candidate.  Rather, I simply wanted to affirm that it was wrong not to condemn white supremacy.  In the days since, our president has explicitly denounced white supremacy and the Proud Boys.  That is to his credit and I’m grateful.

As I contemplated that moment a week ago, there was a constant question pulsing through my mind.  What does love require?  What is this moment’s real impact on real people who are part of our church body?  What does it look like to respond with the Gospel?  That choice came down to two options:  say nothing or say something. 

For those who suggest that we say nothing, I hear you.  Saying something is costly.  Would it be OK if we acknowledge that both options come at a cost?  There are people in our church who wonder if they are seen as second-class citizens.  Some have experienced inequitable treatment.  Some know what it is to be regarded as less than.  What is the cost for them when their church is silent?

Two weeks before the debate we rallied our focus around the Law of Christ.  You might recall that I said this.

“The Law of Christ should shape and form us over time.  The Law of Christ is our marching orders.  Our consciences should be hard wired into it.  Whenever we experience a clash with the Law of Christ, we should be: Disturbed, Irritated, Convicted…We should be collectively disturbed, irritated or convicted by the same things:

  • Injustice
  • People being disrespected and dignity disregarded
  • Undermining of individuals, groups or families
  • Anything that harms the good of our communities or communities around the globe
  • Anything that harms, exploits or takes advantage of the vulnerable

It should bother us when we see it inside the body of Christ.  It should bother us when we see it outside of the body of Christ.

The Gospel carries significant and cherished implications for us. 

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.  (Romans 8:16)

That term, ‘testify,’ is a legal term, the kind of term used in court.  It comes in the context of the Apostle Paul affirming, ‘there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  In short, the Spirit of God is continually affirming that we are fully accepted, fully loved, fully forgiven and fully delighted in.  Said another way, the Spirit of God never stops affirming our worth. It’s an amazing thing to be loved and cherished that way.  It is the Law of Christ to love others that way.  We can never tire of affirming the worth of all people.

Hopefully that explanation is helpful and elucidates my heart in this matter.  If it is, I’m grateful.  Feel free to stop reading here.  If satisfaction remains elusive, however, I’m happy to share further. 

It occurred to me the other day that when I talk about abortion as contradicting the Law of Christ, that I’m pro-life and that I want it to end—that’s not labelled a political statement.  It involves politics, but it’s not political.  If my statement about abortion, which was given in the same week, wasn’t viewed as political, what makes this one different?  I’m still working on that.

Some have asked, why only respond to President Trump’s reticence to speak to white supremacy?  Why not also respond to Vice President Biden’s failure to adequately speak to Antifa, Black Lives Matter (BLM) or violent protests?  You may find my answer ironic.  In all sincerity, it’s because I have no desire to comment on politics. 

Rochester is in the shadow of Minneapolis, yet it’s just over an hour away.  Violent protests, Antifa and BLM haven’t made the kind of presence in our own community as they have in others.  If Autumn Ridge was located in Minneapolis, Portland or Seattle, we would speak to those matters.  It would be weird, in such cases, not to offer a Gospel response. 

Some might be wondering if my post is an expression of sympathy for BLM or Critical Race Theory (CRT).  Those are good questions.  First, I’m happy to say, “black lives matter.”  That phrase is rather small.  People of color are possessors of the imago dei.  Their lives don’t just matter; they have incalculable worth.  BLM as an organization is another matter. 

I have read every word on their website.  They are attempting to respond to the very real malady of racism with solutions that I can’t endorse.  The political ideology and worldview that support their approach is ultimately rooted in atheism.  As a follower of Jesus, I can’t affirm that.  The same is true for CRT.  If you would like to investigate this further, might I suggest a recent series of scholarly articles by Tim Keller. 

If you’re still reading, allow me to address one more item.  I am aware that some folks are severely disappointed in Autumn Ridge’s response to COVID and government-mandated guidelines.  Some understand this to be primarily a political issue that is being exacerbated and exploited for political reasons.  Some see our willful compliance with COVID protocols as acquiescing to a restrictive, political agenda.  When that is combined with my recent post, it may feel like we’ve pledged allegiance to the Democratic Party instead of the Kingdom of Christ. 

I don’t know what we’ll know a few years from now.  We may look back on this moment and conclude that we overreacted.  Yet, should we discover that our response was wrong, we’ll be comforted that we did so for the right reasons.  From the start our intent has been to respond with love and prudence.  To that end, we have been guided by three values:

  • Honor our elected leaders.
  • Honor the best medical data we have.
  • Honor what’s best for each other.

It’s those values and those values alone that guide our decisions.  If we had to choose between honoring our elected leaders vs. honoring Christ—we choose Christ.  Fortunately, we haven’t been faced with that decision.  We continue to honor the best medical data available.  Unfortunately, we don’t have data that supports singing, even while masked.  I’m eager for that day.  Admittedly, it’s confusing and frustrating to hold to the restrictions as we watch other churches sing joyfully. 

I hate masks.  I hate muffling my off key, yet joyful noise.  I hate restricting the number of people in our building.  But I love you.  It’s not about politics, platforms or legislation—it’s about the Law of Christ.

Worship with with us this weekend

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Sundays, 8:30am – traditional, streaming only | Sundays, 10:00am & 11:30am – contemporary, streaming & in-person