The following was delivered as a "Solemn Charge and Exhortation" at the beginning of Epiphany Term 2022.
We at Theopolis aspire to form leaders who share and carry out a biblically-rooted vision for reformation in the city of God and renewal in the city of man. We hope to produce courageous men and women who teach, inspire, sing, pray, witness, and share bread as God’s companions.
Leading would be a breeze were it not for the skeptics and foot-draggers who sabotage our brilliant plans. Alas. As there is no Father without the Son, nor a master without slaves, so there’s no leader without followers. And with followers come complications.
In today’s US, the churches you lead or will lead are likely to be troubled. Not every church is as volatile as the Twitterverse, but many are seething. It’s past time, some think, to separate from the unvaxxed or vax-masked other. We must mobilize, some think, to fight for justice or to seize our country back from aWokened mobs. Peacekeeping pastors are shredded and exhausted.
External pressures are intensifying too. Soft totalitarianism is real, as an alliance of corporations, universities, media outlets, and government agencies conspire to police thought and speech. They have the technology to enforce what they regard as wisdom and to ostracize dissenters.
You must take a stand, and yet you must beware. Whether you leap into the fray or flee from it, you’re in danger of being seduced from the imperatives of the gospel: “the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20). And: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44).
To love, we need to re-learn the art of forgiveness, that “catalyst” of fresh starts and new beginnings (MLK). To love, we must discern the image of God “etched” even in our most ardent adversaries (MLK).
Love isn’t soft. It’s not easy. Love isn’t “feminine” in some pejorative sense. To love enemies requires resilience to absorb assaults, the self-disciplined strength to resist our instinct to retaliate, and the resolute hope that our capacity to suffer exceeds their desire to inflict suffering and that our endurance will finally win their freedom as well as our own (MLK).
You’ll hear love is too idealistic to work in the “real world.” The contrary is true. What we think of as realism – getting even, taking vengeance, hitting back, owning the libs – only breeds more violence, chaos, and hatred. Loving forgiveness alone has the Spiritual power to arrest the cycle.
Love is the very form of the church’s life and witness, the distinguishing mark of Christ’s body: “All men will know you are My disciples,” Jesus said, “if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Love is our politics.
These aren’t abstruse truths. Yet no one speaks of them. Which is why you must. Your leadership will be genuinely Christian only if, through you, the love that God is takes human form in a communion of saints who live the love of God for both the just and the unjust.
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