Beloved Church-in-the-Garden Family and Friends,
Permit me to write a longer than normal Garden Time this month. Like many of you, I witnessed the tragic events that took place in August: The domestic terrorist attack against demonstrators protesting a white supremacy rally, which resulted in the death of Heather Heyer and injured a host of others; and the loss of life and the awesome destruction of property left by Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey. These events have troubled me deeply and have left me working through various emotional stages.
I will confess my spirit is distressed. I am filled with righteous indignation at the tepid, sophomoric, wrong-sided, cowardly, flip-flopping, so-called denunciation of hate that the President of these United States fumbled his way through on multiple occasions. It is clear what we all witnessed in Charlottesville. The obvious refusal of the president to not explicitly denounce these groups has only emboldened them to continue their racist and bigoted actions. All while celebrating the fact that they have de facto approval from the highest office in the land. This is a sin and a shame! We, who call ourselves Christ followers, who try to live by the love example and teachings of Jesus Christ, and pray to almighty God, have to be diligent in opposing this hatred with proactive and sustained calls to action for justice and the collective good. People of good will and many faith-based, civic, and social organizations are doing just that. They are standing up and speaking out for what is right and decent. We must keep up the pressure. We must never forget the struggle of many of our kinfolk and social justice warriors who marched, picketed, fought, sacrificed, bled, and died, for our inalienable rights that were being denied and delayed then—by some of the same bigoted and evil-minded groups and their twisted beliefs—that still permeate our nation today. As pastor of our welcoming multicultural American Baptist church I have made it my duty to preach and teach the Gospel witness of Christ and how it is the foundation of our social justice initiatives and actions.
As we all know, Tropical Storm Harvey dropped unprecedented rainfall on the city of Houston and the surrounding areas. The pictures and stories of the people and the area are seemingly hard to believe. Amidst the loss of life and the incredible flooding, there were countless outpourings of human thoughtfulness, sacrifice, and kindness. What immediately became apparent to me was the reality that when life and survival are at stake, we drop our silly and petty labels, ideologies, and affiliations, and we come together as a human family and show our remarkable human spirit. By and large, this is what is happening in Houston. I humbly ask that you support those affected by Harvey by donating to groups that are directly supporting those efforts of recovery and relief.
Unfortunately, natural disasters, such as Harvey (and now Irma), always bring out ignorant and notorious attention seekers who foolishly assert stupid explanations as to why certain national disasters happen. The outright vacuous reasoning that some so-called religious leaders suggest when they claim God is punishing Houston for their perceived disobedience— according to their faulty and incomprehensible reading and interpretation of the Bible—is even more appalling than those pundits and commentators whom we all know have no real engagement with the Bible. It sickens the Body of Christ when those who are supposed to lead congregations usher them down a path of vapid rationalization and trite analysis. They ultimately use their own limited and idiosyncratic interpretations into and onto Biblical texts to justify their already theologically bankrupt assertions, which they so boldly advanced in the first place.
I say this with deep humility and respect for the many preachers, pastors, clergy, and devout laity that have come and gone before me, and to the ones that are laboring in the vineyard now and extend daily God’s love and liberating message: if you find yourself in a house of worship that somehow thinks that a natural disaster is God’s punishment on sinful people in a city due to the lives those people led or choose; please get as far away as possible from that so-called house of worship and find a place of worship that speaks of God’s mercy and grace, Christ’s love, and the comforting and convicting presence of the Holy Spirit! I know of many churches in every state, and one in particular in Garden City, NY that will help you work through the tough questions of this life and the unexpected situations that life may bring.
It is vitally important that we begin to see our faith as constructive to a better life not a mechanism to tear others down. We must not presume that we know the mind of God when we barely understand ourselves. The Word of God is powerful. But misused and abused it can be and has been the instrument of terror and death to humanity. I encourage all to examine their faith, and to seek answers to the many questions of faith and belief. Find places of worship where the congregation and clergy are not afraid to speak up for Christ. Yet, humble enough to say they do not have all the answers!
At the Church-in-the-Garden, we recognize ourselves as sinners saved by grace who strive daily to be that Christian community open to all to experience God’s Grace and to share God’s Love. We are a humble church. Neither I nor our congregation claim to know everything about the Bible or have all the answers. However, we do have a heartfelt desire to learn more about Jesus, grow in grace and the knowledge that is held within the sacred texts.
In August, we heard a wonderful message from the Reverend James E. Singletary (“Rev. J”) who preached from the Luke 15 text about love, perfectly dovetailing and bookending our Love Ethic Series from July. Rev. J is a powerful and thoughtful preacher who has a sincere love for the Lord and a ministry that touches the hearts and minds of the youth and young adults, while challenging the thoughts and actions of adults and elders. I thank him for his friendship over the years. Our church was honored and blessed to have him in worship.
Speaking of worship… As the school year begins and the autumn months descend upon us, I want to encourage our local and nearby community high schools, colleges, and universities to come and be part of our worship! We gladly welcome choirs, chorales, bands, musicians, singers, and groups to sing, dance, play, and celebrate your God given talents with us. Please contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Lastly, the recent news of the Trump administration’s decision to terminate the DACA “DREAMers” program is the latest attempt to undo programs implemented by the Obama administration. Masked in the guise of protecting American workers and jobs, this decision is another example of this administration’s unfounded unfettered fear of losing its once unfair privileged halcyon days. I stand with my colleagues in ministry, “DREAMers” in our country, institutes of higher learning, and the many concerned citizens and civic leaders that have condemned this egregious political act. There are many scriptural lessons and examples that we as Christians can study to discern valuable insight into the treatment of immigrants. There is no need for me to craft a theological argument for this particular issue here (Sunday’s sermon will do that!). A simple abductive inference will suffice: If the “DREAMers” act like Americans, serve like Americans, work like Americans, and pay taxes like American… Guess what? They are Americans! Let us makes sure that we do everything to ensure that these young Americans stay here and continue to thrive. Maybe then we will venture down the long road to making this nation great.
Rev. Earl Y. Thorpe Jr.