Monday, July 7, 2014

"Storms and Dawns"

One of the most uplifting pastoral letters that I read last week was "Storms and Dawns." It is a letter written by 92 Latinos/Hispanic leaders of the PCUSA to their communities and sister churches in the US and Latin America. The letter reflects on the controversial decisions taken at GA 221 and recalls the joy of other GA decisions and activities which are often overlooked. The letter comforted me. It reminded me of Romans 8: 37-38 - nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ our Lord. Romans is Paul's best exposition on the nature and righteousness of God. Paul's conception of God and God's purpose has been radically altered but not his understanding of God as one and finally sovereign. Jesus shares in God's sovereignty and Paul's resurrection Christology includes the life-giving Spirit. Most importantly, through Christ God has also shown us that he is everlasting love.   

To our brothers and sisters of the Hispanic Latin community in the United States and our partners in Latin America:

Grace and peace from our Lord Jesus Christ for each one of you!

The 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, which met in Detroit from June 14 to 21, has just finished its business and, as is often the case with all meetings of our faith communities, there were moments of agreement and disagreement, sadness and happiness, uncertainty and certainty. Just as our newly elected moderator, Dr. Heath K. Rada, said in reference to the changing climate we experienced in Detroit, “... just so it is with the General Assembly, we have fog, rain, storms and dawns... but we trust that, in the midst of it all, God will show us the way.” 

“Storms and dawns” also defines the context and the work of the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Church lives between the uncertainty of the unknown and the certainty of the unseen. We know that we walk in darkness yet illumined by the presence of the Spirit of Life, who leads us to “still waters” and “green pastures”, but who also accompanies us through “the valley of the shadow of death.”

As all of us have heard multiple times, and the mass and social communication media have widely publicized, the General Assembly of the church approved an Authoritative Interpretation to its constitution, which leaves up to teaching elders (that is, the clergy) the decision to celebrate marriages between same-gender persons in US states where such a practice is legal; and leaves up to sessions whether church grounds can be used for these ceremonies. We have also heard that over the next year our presbyteries will approve or reject an amendment to the constitution, which redefines the concept of marriage as “a unique commitment between two persons, traditionally a man and a woman.” In the same manner we’ve heard about the Assembly’s decision to divest denominational funds from Caterpillar, Motorola and Hewlett-Packard due to their ties with policies of the state of Israel that threaten Palestinian communities. The emphasis placed on these three points is so great that at times it seems like the Assembly met only for this purpose. 

And yet, we accomplished many other things together in Detroit. Worship services were fabulous, inspiring, and uplifting; preachers challenged us to live with the conviction that God never abandons us, that the blood of Jesus was not shed in vain, and that He calls us to cross the desert of trials because on the other side is the land of promise. In Detroit we also celebrated the 248 new worshipping communities that are already functioning within the Presbyterian Church as part of the “1001 Worshipping Communities” plan. The Assembly rejoiced over the progress of missions we carry out in dozens of countries where we maintain partnerships, many of them in Latin America, investing human and financial resources for the benefit of those sister churches without asking for anything in return. We approved the creation of community response groups to address the needs of immigrant brothers and sisters who are undocumented and need our help.

We rejoiced with the good work done by our seminaries and approved recommendations to make ordination exams more just and culturally-sensitive for Spanish-speaking candidates. We approved sending to the presbyteries for ratification the Confession of Belhar; if approved, it would become the first creed in our Book of Confessions which comes from the Global South, to defy institutional racism and challenge us to watch for the demographical and cultural signs of our times. We honored brothers and sisters, as well as churches and organizations, for their dedicated work on behalf of communities and for the environment, their ecumenical and inter-religious commitment, their journalistic work, their trajectory as writers, as well as women of faith recognized for their service to the church. We had the most wonderful and dynamic group of young adult advisory delegates that we have seen in years; they injected life and energy into the Assembly, making us dance and move with their famous “energizers”, thus offering us joy and movement to awaken us after long working sessions. Unfortunately, all these Assembly actions and activities will not be aired by television stations or seen on newspaper headlines, and many people will ignore them, but not us, not those of us who have seen the storms and dawns of the 221st General Assembly in Detroit. 

The question that remains following this reflection has to do with the future of the church and our role in it: what is the balance of Detroit? The theme that gathered us in Detroit was, “Abound in Hope.” The hope is Jesus, which is why hope casts out fear. Hope makes us more human, more sensitive and more respectful of one another. Because of hope, before criticizing, hurting or insulting anyone, we have to look into their eyes, discover there the presence of Jesus, and recognize that we would be hurting him or her with our words, actions and attitudes.

Who is right and who has the accurate answer to the difficult topics we addressed in Detroit? We can spend hours, days and years discussing them, and this is in fact what has happened with many of these issues, but we prefer to bet on the love of Jesus. Thus it is better to answer the Biblical question: who can separate us from the love of Christ? And if nothing can truly “separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”, then let us do the same with our brothers and sisters, even if they think differently from us. Let us side with God’s love, which goes beyond being united or respectful. As one of our praise songs says: “Let love be from the heart, and not just lip service...”

As a closing reflection we offer you a stanza and the refrain from “We Have Hope”, a famous song that is part of the Latin American Hymnology, written by Methodist Bishop Federico Pagura from Argentina.

“Because He came into the world and into history, because He broke the silence and the agony, because He filled the earth with His glory, because He was light in our cold night. Because He was born in a dark manger, because He lived sowing love and life, because He opened up the hard of heart, and lifted up downtrodden souls. Therefore we have hope today, therefore we fight on tenaciously today, therefore today we look confidently on the future of this land of mine.

In the love of Jesus,

Among the signatories are General Assembly and mid councils, seminary professors and staff, pastors, ruling elders and national leaders of Hispano Latino organizations.

The Rev. Jose Luis Casal is general missioner of Tres Rios Presbytery. Read the complete letter from here:

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