Saturday, January 28, 2017

Reaching out and crying out for Justice

As an Evangelical Pastor, (please check any pre-conceived ideas and baggage at the door before reading any further) I want to reach out to Ogden, with a message of hope and support.
These are trying times, and while so many are doing so much, there is so much more that we can do in the area of justice for every member of our community. Recent events in Utah and throughout the country have resulted in so many people feeling belittled and demeaned, marginalized, and even threatened. Other initiatives provide hope for some, but again leave others feeling that their voice may be being taken away.
After a particularly bitter presidential campaign season, many Muslims and Hispanics have expressed concerns which need to be addressed. And POTUS’ recent executive orders haven’t help those fears and concerns. The African-American community has expressed concerns. And yes, sometimes Evangelicals have concerns, especially when it comes to religious freedom and liberty, terms which we use frequently, and not always correctly.
 In many cities it seems that Law Enforcement officials are targets of violence, and so they have safety concerns. As do other first responders, and sometimes even cab drivers.  And let’s not forget the homeless and others who are often marginalized because of their circumstances.
Tolerance is a word which is thrown about, demanded by everyone, but not always offered in return. You’ve seen it often, an individual or group does or says something which may seem a little out of line, and claims that it’s their constitutional right, that’s it’s their religious freedom, that it’s freedom of speech, and everyone else is supposed to accept it as is. “It’s my right!”  But all too often these same individuals or groups, demanding that others tolerate them, see any pushback as something that can’t be tolerated, often trying to push it to the level of a hate crime.
This is a call for us all to work together, to push for justice, to celebrate diversity in our increasingly diverse community. It has to start somewhere, and so I encourage you to join me in expressing concern and solidarity with every member of our community. Speak up when you notice injustice—yes there are ways to do so that don’t call for violence. Be a voice for the voiceless
Some of you are brothers and sisters in Christ, some follow other teachings, or adhere to different religious practices. If you live in my community, you are my neighbor and, I hope, my friend.  You are valued and appreciated, for who you are, but also for the richness of culture that you bring to Ogden. As we celebrate the diversity of our neighborhood, we have to also give thanks for how each of you, each of us, contributes to the well-being of our neighborhood.
            My faith, as perhaps yours does, goes beyond a political affiliation, it goes beyond stereotypes, and it goes beyond the evil of the world that conspires to divide us.  Obviously, as a Christian pastor, I don’t agree with the various theologies that can be found in my neighborhood, but that doesn’t mean I hate you. It means we disagree over some fundamental issues. But disagreement never needs to mean lack of respect. In fact, it is often our differences that lead to even greater respect. Please don’t let your politics overrule your faith walk.
            In a recent letter signed by several Memphis area Evangelical Pastors, and published in the Commercial Appeal we find this sentiment which I hope is soon the norm throughout the land. If it can happen in Memphis, it can happen in Ogden.
         “"We desire and hope that we will demonstrate in more visible ways, to all in our city and particularly to those from diverse cultures and countries, our commitment to love our neighbors," the pastors wrote.
"Further, we reaffirm our commitment, as the Bible directs, to promote peace and to support policies that allow equal opportunities for all to flourish and fulfill their God-given potential."

            Christian Scripture, (and probably other Holy Books) is full of references to how to treat strangers, foreigners, and aliens in the land. (You can go to this page and download the free 40 day “I Was a Stranger” reading plan.) And then we have the Parable of the Good Samaritan which is a good reminder of who our neighbor really is. Jesus did not suggest love your neighbor, as long as he looks, dresses, talks, thinks and worships like you do. He said “Love your neighbor.” As a Christian, I am compelled to be reminded of the essence of Imago Dei—every human being is created in the image of God, and as such is precious in His sight, and deserving of dignity and respect.

            “Justice for all” is such an important part of who we are as Americans: citizens, immigrants, refugees, resident aliens and any other titles conferred by virtue of visa status, but until we treat each other as valued members of our society, treat each other with dignity and respect, celebrate our diversity, and work together for the good of all, that justice will never happen. We have the chance to make it happen, and it can start now- with you and with me. Please join me in in celebrating all that our community has to offer. 

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