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Sunday School: Power, Authority, and Freedom in Christ

What does it mean to be members of God’s household, whose freedom is in Christ, and also citizens of the United States of America where Christian nationalism has justified the enslavement of black and brown bodies, by also citing the Bible?

First, some helpful ideas from modern biblical scholarship

Every act of reading the Bible is an act of interpretation.

Critical Theory – Understands social history in terms of oppression and power; privileges the experience of oppressed people to understand the suffering nature of Christ.

Hegemonic Power- Institutions perpetuate their own power by making their priorities and privileges normative.

What does it mean to have freedom in Christ?

Galatians 5:1-6, 13-15 (NRSV)

1 For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

2 Listen! I, Paul, am telling you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you. 3 Once again I testify to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obliged to obey the entire law. 4 You who want to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.

13 For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters;[c] only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence,[d] but through love become slaves to one another. 14 For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

Romans 6:20-23 (NRSV)

20 When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Power and Authority

  • Authority of scripture, tradition, and reason – We read the Bible as a source of authority alongside other sources of authority
  • Power – We all have some power. How should Christians use their power? Do we divest ourselves of some of that power in order to liberate others, or do we try to gain power so that we can liberate ourselves?

What does it mean to be members of God’s household, whose freedom is in Christ, and also citizens of the United States of America where Christian nationalism has justified the enslavement of black and brown bodies, by also citing the Bible?

 

 

Sunday School: Faith and Politics

Sunday School for Sunday, June 28, 2020

America’s Original Sin, by Jim Wallis comes with a very challenging 6-week study guide to help congregations educate themselves so they can pursue effective change.

The Renewal of Baptismal Vows

The following is found on p. 292 of the Book of Common Prayer

Celebrant        Do you reaffirm your renunciation of evil and renew your commitment to Jesus Christ?
People             I do.

Celebrant        Do you believe in God the Father?
People             I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

Celebrant        Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?
People             I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Celebrant        Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?
People            I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.

Q.        Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
A.         I will, with God’s help.

Q.        Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
A.         I will, with God’s help.

Q.        Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
A.         I will, with God’s help.

Q.        Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
A.         I will, with God’s help.

Q.        Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
A.         I will, with God’s help.

The Celebrant concludes the Renewal of Vows as follows
May Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has given us a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, and
bestowed upon us the forgiveness of sins, keep us in eternal life by his grace, in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

What are the rules about churches and politics?

Churches, as nonprofit organizations, must follow certain guidelines when participating in elections. Churches may not campaign, openly or otherwise, for or against candidates for public office. IRS guidelines permit houses of worship to involve their members in the political process through education, voter registration, and candidate participation in town halls. Here are more resources on what your church can and cannot do during election season.

The IRS also has a publication that can be used as a guide for election engagement activities titled  “Tax Guide for Churches and Religious Organizations.”

How is the Episcopal Church involved in Politics?

The Office of Government Relations (OGR) represents the policy priorities of The Episcopal Church to the U.S. government in Washington, D.C. and helps to shape the discussion of political issues throughout the Church.

The policy priorities are decided by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church when they meet every three years.

 

The current priorities of the General Convention are:

  • Creation Care
  • Racial Reconciliation
  • Ending Poverty
  • Migration, Refugees & Immigration
  • Human Rights & Peacebuilding

How can Christians be involved in politics?

“Getting souls to the polls isn’t just about casting our own vote, but about working together so we all can vote and vote faithfully. We can empower every voice in our congregations in this work.”

The Office of Government Relations recently put out this helpful guide, Vote Faithfully: An Election Engagement Toolkit. It includes action steps as well as some scriptural and liturgical resources to help churches as well as individual Christians get involved. This year’s focus is on “getting souls to the polls”!

  • Become a poll worker
  • Register voters
  • Help people get to the polls, or at least know where they are
  • Encourage voter participation by talking to friends, family, colleagues, and neighbors
  • Advocate for voter rights, oppose voter suppression
  • Educate yourself on the issues that matter in your community, including ballot measures and local elections

How else? What does it mean to you to be a Christian voter?

Check out our new resource page for Faith and Public Life

Register for our book study on “America’s Original Sin,” by Jim Wallis

Event: America’s Original Sin Book Study

Following the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and, most recently, Rayshard Brooks, Church of the Incarnation has committed to doing the work of becoming antiracist and learning how to pursue racial justice. Click here to listen to the Rev. Brin Bon’s statement on racism and the church that began this work. 

We hope you will join us for this important conversation, Sundays, 11:30am-12:30pm (CDT), beginning on July 12, 2020. 

Register here for a six-week study using the book, “America’s Original Sin,” by the Rev. Jim Wallis. The study guide will be sent to you once you register. You can buy the book and read along, or you can simply show up for the discussion, using the resources of the study guide. 

We will explore the topics of individual racism, systemic racism, whiteness, and white privilege as we strive to become God’s Beloved Community together. 

REGISTER NOW

Pursuing the work of antiracism

How do we become an antiracist church?

For the past month, Church of the Incarnation has been talking about racism and what a faithful Christian response is to the systemic racism in our country. This past Sunday, we talked about our Rule of Life and how the work of becoming antiracist is a spiritual practice that fits well within the faithful practice of our Rule. Here are the notes from our conversation, along with some resources that we talked out.

Starting on July 12, 2020, we will host a 6-week study on the book, “America’s Original Sin,” by the Rev. Jim Wallis. To allow for as many people as possible to join us, we will start at 11:30am (CDT) and will plan to be finished by 12:45pm. You can purchase the book now from your favorite book seller. The free study guide is included at the bottom of this page, along with a short video about the content of the book. Stay tuned for more info on how to sign up.

The Incarnation Rule of Life includes the spiritual practices of:

  • Daily prayer
  • Daily confession of sin
  • Daily scripture reading
  • Regular study that brings you closer to God
  • Weekly participation in worship
  • Weekly observance of the sabbath
  • Service to the Church
  • Service to the world

Together, this Rule is the backbone of a faith that is not just professed but also practiced.

What does it mean to be antiracist? 

According to Ibram X. Kendi, in “How to be Antiracist,”

  • The word ‘racist’ isn’t a slur, it’s a descriptive term used to describe actions and policies that favor one race over another
  • The opposite of racist isn’t “not racist,” but antiracist
  • Because of the deeply embedded history of racism in America, there is no such thing as being “not racist”–you either practice racism or you practice antiracism. “One either endorses the idea of a racial hierarchy as a racist or racial equality as an antiracist” (Kendi).

In order to be an antiracist church, we must practice antiracism, not just say we “aren’t racist.”

Being antiracist is a spiritual practice and our Rule of Life can help. We can:

  • Pray that the Holy Spirit will change our hearts, change our unjust systems, and guide all our efforts
  • Repent of our own racism and renounce the unjust systems that many of us disproportionately benefit from
  • Read scripture that reveals God’s continual solidarity with the poor and the marginalized, from the prophets to the gospel
  • Study black theology, the theology of oppression, the Church’s role in working for antiracist policies, and learn how to be part of real change
  • Worship with people who affirm God’s presence with those who suffer and hold your own religious communities accountable for their ministries to the poor and the oppressed
  • Observe a day of rest where your principle identity is as a member of the household of God rather than in an economy that depends on the exploitation of others
  • Push, pull, and lead the Church into a new way of being the Church–one that rejects religious nationalism and seeks to serve Jesus Christ in all persons as a moral conviction and a call from God
  • Serve those who are suffering and advocate for real change using the gifts and resources God has given you

Ibram X. Kendi says this about being antiracist: “like fighting an addiction, being an antiracist requires persistent self-awareness, constant self-criticism, and regular self-examination.”

What is your dream for Church of the Incarnation as we pursue this work together? How is God calling you, personally, to be involved in building an antiracist church and an antiracist society?

Here are some resources that I am using to continue make the work of antiracism part of my spiritual practice.

How to be Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi

America’s Original Sin, by Jim Wallis comes with a very challenging 6-week study guide to help congregations educate themselves so they can pursue effective change.

The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival is uniting people across the country to challenge the evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and the nation’s distorted moral narrative of religious nationalism. You can take action, here.

 

 

A Statement on Racism and the Church

 

The full text of the video is included below.

June 5, 2020

In the last week we have seen our nation and our own community being rocked by the outrage that has come to the surface over the most recent racially-influenced police brutality with the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, by a white police officer on May 25. All this following the recent killings of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, which together add to the many black bodies that have been killed for no explicable reason than being black in the United States.

I feel heartbroken for the victims and their families, and also for the millions of black men and women in our country who see themselves and their children in the faces of those who have been killed. While we praise the gains of the Civil Rights Movement and the progress our country has made toward equal rights, events like the many killings of unarmed black people–most significantly and tragically by officers whose job it is to keep the peace–reveals how very far we still need to go.

I know I cannot say everything that needs to be said. Moreover, I’m aware that as a white person I can only speak with a limited understanding of the real plight of our black sisters, brothers, and siblings in Christ, and I know that I am speaking to a primarily white group of people. But it is my sincere prayer that God will give us not only words but also actions to match what we might aspire to in speech. I pray for justice and fairness for our black communities, for humility and repentance for white people who have unduly benefited from racial injustice, and for God’s mercy on us all, including those who took the lives of Breonna, Ahmaud, George, and so many others before them.

While I do not yet know what to do I know that something must be done and I believe, as a Christian, that the Church must be involved and must stand on the side of the poor, the prisoner, and the oppressed. In the gospel of Luke, when Jesus makes his first appearance in the synagogue he reads this from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)

There is a longstanding debate that is very much alive today about politics and the church. While I am unequivocal in wanting to create a church whose love and commitment to each other transcends political ideology, I firmly believe the gospel calls us to repent of all sin as a principally Christian act. True repentance necessarily involves naming and working to repair the ways that we fall short of the glory of God. The systemic racism in our country is not the byproduct of a culture war or about political division. Racism is a sin and it separates us from the love of God and each other in Christ Jesus. Right now our black community is especially suffering from the white privilege that allows benefits to so easily travel to white people while being denied to people of color. The disproportionate number of COVID-19 deaths by black and latinx people is a case in point and a tragedy with many layers.

It is important for us to name the sin of racism and white privilege that has seized us in this moment. It is important to say the names of the black women and men who have been unjustly killed–George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Philando Castile, Botham Jean, and so many others. Most importantly, it is important for all of us to be in relationship with each other as we lament these deaths, as we lament our own sins, and as we look, together, for actions that match our desire for change. We are, after all, people of Word and Sacrament, of prayer and work, of contemplation and action.

It is also important to acknowledge the context in which we find ourselves. We are nearly three months in to a global pandemic that we are by no means recovered from. We live with fear and anxiety for our health and well-being. Our economic futures are uncertain. We are exhausted. Perhaps our exhaustion is an opportunity to empathize with our black neighbors who have been suffering from the plague of racism, not for a few months, but since before this nation’s beginning.

I do not know how to solve the sin of a country’s racism, but I do know how to repent of my own sin, and I invite you to join with me–in repenting of the ways in which we have benefitted from unjust power systems, and of our implicit and explicit racism. I invite you to join me in prayer–for peace and for guidance. And I invite you to connect the goodness and wellbeing of the marginalized and oppressed in our society with our own commitment to follow Christ. Weary as we are, this work cannot wait. And we will need each other to grow and learn and change together. There is much to do and much to learn. I am confident that God is ready to guide us into this way of love if we are ready to follow. God loves you, I love you, let us pray and work together to discern how Incarnation will answer this call now and in the future.

Let us pray

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us
through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole
human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which
infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us;
unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and
confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in
your good time, all nations and races may serve you in
harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ
our Lord. Amen.