By Dan R. Dick
United Methodeviations – Rethinking church in the 21st century
April 13, 2015
My heart breaks as I see more and more statements about who “matters.” Oh, I understand the intention to stand in solidarity with brothers and sisters who find themselves on an unpublished endangered species list because of the hidden -isms of our US culture (racism, classism, fascism, etc.). My concern is deeper. What does it say about a society that finds itself needing to make statements about who matters — and by implication, who does not. It opens us to some very unpleasant and indefensible questions-by-extension: who deserves to be met with violence? whom should we fear? when is it okay to kill? what qualities or characteristics do we use to determine who to hurt and who to help? who deserves grace? who deserves forgiveness? who deserves patience and compassion? who is responsible for whom? and who is our neighbor?
I served very briefly as a chaplain to a police force years and years ago. I know the pressure, the anxiety, the snap-decision making demanded of law enforcement. I understand the very high standards self-imposed by those who take seriously the commitment to “preserve and protect.” I also understand how such relentless stress can push law enforcement to think of themselves as above or outside the rules that govern everyone else. I lament the response of our culture, fueled by our media, to point fingers, assign blame, ascribe intention and universalize individual and specific instances of violence and tragedy.
This is a systemic issue. It is a symptom of a fear-based, defensive, non-inclusive, tribal-centered, “us/them” worldview that defines an individualistic and acquisitive society. We glamorize competition, adversarial engagement, and a “trust no one” approach to anyone we don’t know or consider “one of us.” How can we expect any different outcome to perceived threat in such a context. If we viewed all people as our family, strangers as opportunities for learning and growth, and diversity as “value-added,” we would see very different outcomes.
Unfortunately, this would require us to be a nation grounded in such nonsense as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” It would demand that people adopt a fundamental commitment to “act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly…” It would imply a desire to “do unto others as we would have them do unto us.” But who wants that? How ridiculous to think this would be better than what we have? And who would lead in such a direction. How sad that we don’t have a world-wide network of institutions committed to such values and practices…
What is the matter with us? How can our Christian witness be so pathetically weak that the execution of young, black males becomes “normal” in our news reports? And, if you pay attention, look deeper, and watch globally, you will note that it extends beyond young to old, beyond male to female, and beyond black to the whole human rainbow spectrum. Anyone who still holds to the concept of the U.S. of A. as a “Christian nation,” is out of touch with reality.
It is time to challenge the power and principalities and defend the whole human community. Who matters? Who has been created in the image of God? Who is a potential member of the body of Christ? Who does God love? Folks, these questions shouldn’t cause us to discuss and debate. The time is long past for the resurrection people of the Lord Jesus Christ to erase the artificial and arbitrary lines separating “us” from “them” and draw a line so large that it contains “all of us together.” Who matters? We matter — all of us.
There is no “them” who are “the problem.” We are all broken and incomplete and the solution is the love of God. Until we commit to displace judgment, condemnation, disdain, disgust, hostility, fear, distrust, and contempt with love, kindness, mercy, justice, compassion, affection, respect, trust, hope, forgiveness and humility, our witness is weak to the point of worthlessness.
I commend everyone who states that “people matter,” but I regret that we even need to make this affirmation. The words are just outward and visible signs that the inward and spiritual is broken. We are not the people we need to be, and sadly we are not being the church that will make such affirmations unnecessary in the future. May God guide us, may the Spirit empower us, that every person may know their worth, and all may celebrate together.
About the author – Dan Dick is an ordained minister of The United Methodist Church serving in Extension Ministry as the Director of Connectional Ministries for the Wisconsin Annual Conference. A nationally known speaker, -teacher, and author of thirteen books on spirituality, stewardship, congregational development, research, and spiritual gifts discovery, and an advocate for a more loving, inclusive church for the 21st century and beyond, Dan worked for the General Board of Discipleship in Nashville, Tennessee for fourteen years in stewardship, congregational and conference planning, leadership development, and research.
Photo from patch.com