Missio Alliance recently hosted two Facebook Live discussions with leading pastors and thinkers as they reflected on and reacted to the recent national election and shared responses for moving forward. Click here for the Part One excerpt, or visit Facebook for a replay of the first of these discussions with Justin Fung, Stephanie O’Brien, and David Swanson. Today we’ll share an excerpt from part two of this conversation featuring:
• David Fitch, B.R. Lindner Chair of Evangelical Theology at Northern Seminary in Lisle, IL
• Rich Villodas, lead pastor of New Life Fellowship in Queens, NY
• Leeann Younger, lead pastor of City View Church in Pittsburgh, PA
and Missio Alliance’s Krystal Speed who served as the facilitator.
Krystal Speed: Let’s talk specifically about what the ballot counts reveal about how deeply divided our country is. What might this mean for how we as kingdom people live faithfully in a divided world?
David Fitch: Speaking as a white male to a white majority group, I said this morning, “You don’t change a culture by voting in government, legislating laws, and forcing them on people who reject these morals in the first place.” I was talking to those who think voting for Donald Trump will get us a pro-life world. And there’s a power question going on here. We all think that we can somehow change the culture for the better by who gets in government. And I want to just say, I think we can preserve a culture. We can preserve a society. We might be able to legislate laws and improve society. But this legislature, this election has proven to me that we haven’t solved any cultural sins, we haven’t overcome any of the real big issues in our culture by this vote. This election has proven to me that we haven't solved any cultural sins, we haven't overcome any of the real big issues in our culture by this vote. Click To Tweet
I do believe it was really important, and we had to get some things changed, so I’m breathing a sigh of relief. But the church has failed so badly, it’s all come out clearly in COVID-19 and in Chicago with the failure of large churches, and so on. But can we receive the church to do the work of God’s kingdom now? That’s what’s driving me. That’s what I feel we can learn from this election.
Leeann Younger: We haven’t solved it, you’re right. The government can’t solve it. But part of the reason we haven’t solved certain things is because we haven’t really named the context. We haven’t really named the sin. We name individual sins, but fundamentally I think part of what you’re saying is that the failure of the church is that the church is accomplishing the mission it was initiated to do in America. Don’t get me wrong, not the church when Jesus started it. But the church in America is, has been, and was initiated like all other institutions to perpetuate colonization, to perpetual white-bodied supremacy, racism, misogyny, and while we maybe have moved forward in some of those things, we’ve never named them significantly enough to make substantial changes.
You could think of any Christian ministry right now that has a dependence on generational wealth, which ultimately always goes back to folks who don’t want to hear about racism. They want to have things the way that they were. And so now if you’re a pastor or an organizational leader starting to truly do this reseeding, do this questioning, do this dismantling, you’re going to face significant trouble because as a people the American church has formed folks—and I include some folks of color—to accept the status quo that started centuries ago. The American church has formed folks—and I include some folks of color—to accept the status quo that started centuries ago. Click To Tweet
Rich Villodas: From where I sit—and this is me trying to respond to what I think are very real questions in my own local context—I think an ongoing, constant reframing of the gospel is required. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to reframe over and over again, what is the good news of this gospel? And so a clear, regularly-repeated articulation of the gospel in all of its cosmic implications is needed. Secondly, we need formational spaces with a long-term vision. There’s been a lot of talk about Stacey Abrams and the organizers down in Atlanta and Georgia, and the slow methodical work of getting people registered and trying to insert a different social imagination in that context; this is the slow mustard-seed work of the kingdom of God.
It’s like The Patient Ferment of the Early Church by Alan Kreider. It is the slow, the methodical, the creation of formational spaces. And I’ll give a quick example here. Three weeks ago, we had a forum for about 200 of our congregants, and on the forum, we had two of our elder board members talk about why one is voting for Trump and why one is voting for Biden. When I first heard about this from my assistant pastor, my first response was, “Are you crazy? We’re not going to do that.” That moment revealed in me was that I don’t really believe that the church can be a different space. They went ahead with it, I gave a little lecture, then the two men went back and forth, and I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t feel awkward, if I said that it was fantastic. There were times I thought, “Oh, I don’t know if I would say it that way.”
And then some of the comments on the Zoom chat started getting a little intense. I thought, “This is awful.” But at the end of the day, there were explanations: “Here’s why I’m doing it this way.” And though our problems were not resolved in that moment, there was the creation of formational spaces to listen, the chance to see people’s humanity instead of the distorted caricatures that are often depicted of people who vote either way. I can disagree with you deeply but not see you in a demonizing way. And if we can do that over the long haul—and that that’s going to take a lot of time, this is the mustard seed nature of the kingdom of God—we can bear witness to something different than the world. But it needs a framework of the gospel and formational spaces. I can disagree with you deeply but not see you in a demonizing way. And if we can do that over the long haul...we can bear witness to something different than the world. Click To Tweet
David: I can just add to the suggestion of The Patient Ferment of the Early Church; my friend, Donald Dayton, who’s now passed away, wrote Discovering an Evangelical Heritage, and then there’s Charles Marsh’s The Beloved Community. All of them talk about how in moments of crisis, the church was siding with the poor, the oppressed, the hurting, and major revivals and social renewals happened. Slavery was overthrown by the abolitionists of the various Holiness movement sitting in little groups with those enslaved, and a new movement happened very slowly, as the roots took place and revolutions happened. Tim Keller said two of the greatest Christian movements, the second-century early church, and the 20th-century Chinese church, were stimulated by a crisis of confidence in their societies. We are in a crisis of confidence in this society. The church must rise up. We are in a crisis of confidence in this society. The church must rise up. Click To Tweet
Leeann: How do we live in a divided society? The divisions are in our neighborhoods. They’re the people across the street, they’re the people we work with. And so I really have a draw towards a hyper-local mission. We need new projects, formational spaces like what Rich is suggesting; but I think some folks need to be given permission, as the formational space that they lead or create can have four people in it and still be about building the kingdom of God. We have a tendency to get starry-eyed about what we can do. And we need to get really stripped down to the people across the street from me. Who are they? What do they need? How do we connect?
Let me quote a verse that I read at the end of my sermon last week from Amos 5. It’s The Message version: “Hate evil and love good, then work it out in the public square.” We’ve got to do our internal work; then ultimately it overflows into the public square. I think that’s our mission.