Dear CME Family:
(This is longer than usual. I hope you read it when you can read it all.)
As it was with many of you, my spirit was rejoicing on Inauguration Day 2021.
The first awareness of rejoicing caught me by surprise. I had arisen, had started to the closet to pull out what I would wear that day. (Not very hard to do when you’re basically still sheltering in, when going out is not always necessary.) But as I got to the closet, I noticed my spirit was quietly but surely singing a not-so quiet song:
“Tell me how did you feel when you –
Come out the wilderness,
Come out the wilderness,
Come out the wilderness;
Tell me how did you feel when you,
Come out the wilderness,
Leanin’ on the Lord?!”
I realized that my body was ahead of my morning consciousness, rejoicing at the new Administration! And over the next two or three days, I realized I was not alone as I listened to people in prayer who kept telling God, “Thank You!”
I was grateful to watch the Inauguration, particularly happy to hear the strength in the voice of President Biden, and grateful to see Senator Kamala Harris take the oath of office as the first female, African American and Asian American Vice President.
Over the next few days, I was thankful to see the pointed rendering of Executive Orders that showed me that the Biden Administration had been carefully charting the course he was setting out on. You may not have agreed upon every Executive Order, and I may find myself disagreeing with some of the policies – but moreso, I was glad to be back to what seemed like level-headed leadership. (I respect your right to disagree with my sentiments.)
At some point during these 10 days, I heard the President’s words more than once, as he said that we are “in a battle for the soul of this nation.” I know many of us speak the language that says we are engaged in spiritual warfare, but I suggest that this warfare is more nuanced that what many of us identify as spiritual warfare between the forces of good and evil or between stark cases of right or wrong. We are also engaged in battles of political warfare that have forces on opposing sides fortifying their battle lines and praying in the name of the Lord – and not all Christians are on the same side.
I wanted to write here and say that the new President needs us as citizens to listen to his voice and follow his leadership, and that he needs us to keep him lifted in prayer. But even as I write, I know there are people who, in the name of God (they may say), will oppose vehemently his policies over these next few years. I suppose that some who read this will be in the number of those opposing. But the task of leadership in any organization – and particularly the leadership of a nation – requires the cooperation of a plurality of persons who realize that the issues which prevail powerfully in our individual communities or in our parochial political corners may not be the same issues that our leader espouses to the whole body; but he is, nonetheless, our leader. He must make decisions and give leadership, and the nation must forge ahead.
Already I am reading of pastors who, in the name of God, have mounted pulpits and – in their sermons – degraded the name of the vice president, likening her to Jezebel. So, you see, my friends, it is not only the secular part of these United States which is divided, but we who call ourselves the Church are also sharply conflicting with one another, and often in hostile ways. The Southern Baptist Church, for example, is experiencing losses among Black congregations because, in the name of opposing what their seminary leaders have identified as “critical race theory,” they have rejected the idea of systemic racism in the nation and say it is in opposition to their biblical stance. The same dominant issue which divided the American Church in the 1800s – call it slavery, enslavement, or just plain racism – is dividing the church today.
So: aside from watching a Presidential leader, observing our Presidential leader, wondering where we are headed as a nation – ask yourself if you are ready, alert, informed, and fit for the battle.
If you wish to be ready, alert, informed, and fit, consider:
Now is the time to “try the spirits, to see whether they are from God” (1 John 4:1). Everyone who cries out “Lord, Lord,” is not on God’s side. Everyone who quotes Scriptures does not understand nuances of Scriptures or the contexts of Scriptures. If you read the Scriptures with an awareness of God’s deliverance promised to Moses and the Israelites and hear that reading in light of God’s deliverance of the amalgamated African American spirit in America, you cannot help but come down on different political sides when one “spiritualizes” or makes a “typology” of the events of God’s deliverance. If you read the Scriptures as a person whose sexuality is questioned and ostracized, and you see in the Scriptures a Jesus who receives all people, embraces all people, and welcomes the ostracized and unclean, you have to wonder what Jesus would proclaim today (or, better yet, you have to wonder if some who have “quoted” Jesus and “taught” Jesus did not “obscure” or “conceal” some qualities of the real Jesus from us to make Him what they want Him to be!). These times will try our souls … and also our minds, and our sincerity, and our scholarship.
Now is the time to get even more involved in the decisions and the elections that affect us – yes, involved in even the local elections, the school board elections, the county and city commissioner and council elections. Why? Because these affect the minds of our citizenry (children’s as well as adults’) and they affect not only minds, but they affect the life giving issues of our congregations and our communities – such as whether the vaccines will be given equitably in communities of black and brown people or in the not-so-rich nations of the world.
Unfortunately, too many people who rejoiced on inauguration day will not vote again until the next Presidential election. That, Brothers and Sisters, makes mockery of the hard work the President, the Congress, and those of us who work in the political arena do to help move the agenda forward. It also causes us to be “counted out” because our voting is erratic. It makes it easier for the voter suppressors to try to eliminate your voter registration. Vote! You may vote left, you may vote right; you may vote up, you may vote down; but in every election, you should vote! This decade is not the time to shrink back in apathy or fall into complacency. You community, your family, your church and nation – all need your voice.
And, yes, we are in a battle to claim the legitimacy of our God-anointed leadership roles. I was new to the appointment as bishop of the Tenth Episcopal District when I went one night to Ekpeyu Street in Eket, Nigeria, for revival. I heard the preacher’s words – which fit my customary understanding. I listened to the singing of the well trained choir (which always sang sharp, not flat). I observed the call to discipleship, which was inspiring. But then, I saw something new to me for a “CME church,” and I learned that what I was seeing was commonplace in the CME churches of Nigeria – a prophet came forward in leadership, about to prophesy in that service. This prophet was female, and she moved about the congregation unevenly and jerkingly, as if searching through the congregation. Here and there, she pointed out this person and that person and sent them forward to wait for her. Then, after about 6 or 8 were gathered, she began to prophesy aloud concerning each one of them. (And, yes, she came and prophesied over me.) The Mission Supervisor, sitting beside me that night, pointed me to a man sitting at a table and writing in a large book. The Supervisor said something like this, “He is writing down everything the prophet says. If what she says does not come true, she cannot prophesy in this church anymore.”
That, my friends, was a part of the battle for the soul of the church in Nigeria; a test of whether the prophets’ words in the congregations could be trusted.
This is crucial to the point I am making: one of the reasons there are Christians who cannot and will not accept that Joseph Biden is the President is because so-called “prophets” in many American congregations (primarily Caucasian) “prophesied” that President Trump was to have another four years as President; they “prophesied” that Trump would win the election … and while a few have apologized and said they misread what God was saying, many of these prophets, rather than saying I misheard God, are sticking to their words and the churches are in dilemmas about whether to believe them! So, my Sisters and Brothers, we are – whether we know it or not – surrounded by spiritual battles in high places, and we need to be spiritually alert, spiritually discerning, and dependent upon a deeping spiritual relationship with God. This is not just a battle of political sides.
It is battle time. We are, says the President, in a battle for the soul of this nation. In Proverbs 21, the wise writer says, “The horse is made ready for the day of battle; but victory rests with the Lord” (verse 31). I hope we will be alert, discerning, and aligned with God.
Senior Bishop Lawrence Reddick