Dear Grace Community Family,
Forgive this “letter” being posted publicly on my blog. I figured it would get shared publicly anyway. Moreover, I thought the letter might serve well the readers and future readers of my blog to see a christian, and pastor, wrestling through the issues and struggling how to best love and lead his church through them.
Likewise, please forgive any redundancy in my remarks. I’m doing all I can to be as clear as possible.
As your senior pastor, I’ve been in deep turmoil over the events we’ve been witnessing in our country for months. I’ve been anxious and conflicted about what to do—personally and as a pastor.
I’ve prayed, pleading with God about what He’d have me say and do, and even what Grace Community Church (GCC) should say and do in light of what we’re witnessing.
I’ve been pressured to speak out on events that have unfolded—from racism and the #MeToo movement to gun control and immigration, to name a few.
Pressure aside, as your pastor I’ve struggled profoundly regarding my obligation before God and to you/GCC. I’ve wrestled chiefly with these two questions: Is it my duty and responsibility to offer direction and leadership to GCC regarding the current political climate and any injustices? Or, is it my duty and responsibility to remain silent, focus solely on preaching the gospel, and let our/GCC’s generosity and charity do the talking?
Many a sleepless night over those questions. Much counsel around these questions with our elder team, other pastors, and friends. In the end, it comes down to what I believe God would have me do.
My terror has been that I would distract from the gospel and cause division in the church by “speaking up.” Yet the same fear remains if I don’t speak up.
It’s a brutal conundrum. So allow me to do a bit of groveling.
No matter what I say and how careful I say it, people will only hear what they want to hear. Or, they don’t want to hear it because it doesn’t fit their opinion, or they deem it personally offensive, even hateful. As a wise man once shared with me, there will always be people who merely want their opinion in my mouth. As well as the church’s.
On the other hand, I’m convinced many genuinely long to know how to respond rightly and biblically to injustices and the political climate. Others have asked if I/GCC even care about the injustices that have unfolded since I/we have been seemingly silent.
Initially, I concluded that anything I said would be interpreted politically by whatever narratives people believe—conservative or liberal or otherwise.
To some what I’d say wouldn’t be enough, to others it would be too much; for many, if it didn’t fit a particular narrative one passionately holds, it would be dismissed altogether while I (the pastor) and “the Church” continue to get lambasted for it.
It has seemed to me an impossible situation.
So over the last few months I’ve taken the measure of, “If I/GCC don’t say anything, then I/we can’t be misunderstood or misinterpreted.” And thereby let GCC’s actions do the talking.
It has always been my personal conviction that GCC would shy away from all things that smelled political in order to keep the main thing the main thing—the gospel.
Yet, here we are. After much prayer, I’m convinced the Lord would have me feebly and imperfectly speak on a few matters. I’m not one to give in to being pressured or baited. And I’m not. I’m just trusting and hoping this is what the Lord would have me do for his glory, our good, and other’s joy—and will commit the responses to Him.
As national events have unfolded in the last few months, I continue to believe that what our church does is just as important as what our church says.
Our (GCC’s) actions speak louder than words. GCC has provided hundreds of volunteers, and hundreds of thousands of dollars for the vulnerable, victimized and marginalized in our county and beyond.
For example—a few years ago GCC gave away every dollar of weekend giving (over $100,000) to provide urgent relief for Syrian refugees.
We’ve given extravagantly—resources to help build a home for at-risk women, providing mentoring and living necessities to migrant families, placing orphans in homes through our GFFF (Grace Foster and Forever Families) ministry, ministry to at-risk kids in the inner city.
More recently, we commissioned two pastors to research how we could send volunteers and resources to serve and love the immigrant families who were separated from their children.
These are only a handful of examples. I’ve been convinced that if critics observed what we do in the 167 hours outside the 1-hour worship service, there would be no need for us to “speak up,” make statements or declare stances. Our actions would speak a thousand words.
But, as I said before, for some it’s not enough.
Regarding the issues of our day, I’ll mention a few below for clarity’s sake. This won’t be exhaustive, but at least representative.
Let me say, by way of disclaimer, that what I’m about to share has nothing to do with politics. Neither I, nor GCC, propagate any agenda or narrative politically. We’ve never mentioned or claimed to be “evangelical.” It’s a word and stereotype (with all its baggage) unfortunately applied to us.
We claim only the gospel, the great commission, love for each other, and love for our neighbor—the least, last, lost, and lonely. We avoid anything political, and any terms politically charged, like the plague. So, what I share is bigger than politics.
What I share is all about human rights and dignity, undergirded by God’s words on these topics in Scripture.
Racism. First off, we (GCC) are a diverse church of different ethnicities—African-American, Hispanic, Asian, and many others. And we are a family. Racism is anathema to my soul and to GCC.
I know of African-American families at GCC who have felt alone, afraid, and marginalized namely due to what some post on social media, and even what has been spoken to them in person. This breaks all of my heart.
I just want to say, you are heard. And we care for you deeply. Your life and peace matter! So, let me say it loud and clear: We categorically reject racism as an evil from the pit of hell. And to our brothers and sisters from all nationalities and backgrounds, you are loved, you are family, and you are safe here at GCC. We are one.
Allow me to add, we never know what our brothers and sisters of different races may be experiencing, so we should never pretend that we do. Still, from our hearts we can and must have compassion—and understand that they are in pain and may need our help, our assistance, our presence, our comfort, our support, our tears. Let us have compassion for one another that it may be received as true love for each other. As it says in Galatians 6:2: “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
Law Enforcement. There are police officers in our midst who are stereotyped with the evil actions of others with a badge who have harmed or taken the lives of African-Americans. I know many police officers here at GCC—officers of many different ethnicities. They are wonderful men and women who deeply love Jesus, love the church, and love people no matter the color of their skin. In fact, many of them serve voluntarily as security on the weekends here at GCC after grueling weeks to protect us all—whatever our skin color. I want to say to you too, you are loved, supported, and we are grateful for your service.
#MeToo. I have been very vocal to say: Any woman who is assaulted or abused in any way should run for their lives from the relationship, marriage, or circumstance. We have offered our services as a church to love, support, and provide resources to help them escape and find their footing. As I mentioned before, we just recently gave thousands of dollars to aid in the building of a home for women at risk. Additionally, every month for over 10 years, our church has supported biblically-based women’s healthcare both locally and overseas. The #MeToo movement strikes close to home for me because I have a sister who was abused and assaulted by a “boyfriend” decades ago. To our ladies—this pastor and GCC loves you, we’re here for you, we are speaking up for you.
Abortion. The unborn are without voice also. I mention this with heart-breaking compassion for those who have had abortions. I have a close family member who had two abortions. I have walked with some in our congregation who have made that choice too. I agree that a woman should have rights over her own body. At the same time, I, we/GCC hold, that according to God and His Word, life begins at conception (Psalm 139:13-16).
As a church we provide financial support and resources to gospel-centered pregnancy centers that counsel women with the hope of Jesus, with ultra-sounds and medical help, and with alternatives other than terminating pregnancy—coupled with the opportunity to help with the birth of the child, and helping the mother and child get on their feet as they move forward in their lives.
If you’re reading this letter and have had an abortion, know that you are loved. Loved by God, this pastor, and GCC. God’s forgiveness is lavish and healing. We long to be his love and care for you.
If you’re reading this and considering abortion, I can’t imagine what you must be going through. I just pray and plead that you’ll choose life. God is for you! He will provide for you and sustain you. Let us, GCC, be “Jesus” to you. Let us love you and serve you and your child as you move forward in life.
The separation of children from immigrant families. This is a heartbreaking issue. And complex. It is understandable that any government needs to have reasonable laws to steward national borders for the protection of its citizens. Illegal immigration is a real issue that must be prevented to, 1) honor immigrants who follow the legal process, and 2) for the protection and flourishing of a country. There are those who seek to cross national borders with evil intentions, even using children as pawns to do so. The officials tasked by the government to do the daily job of protecting the borders and discerning the reasons and intentions of those trying to cross, face an impossible and unmanageable task. My heart goes out to them. Let us pray for God’s wisdom, compassion, and mercy upon them and through them.
That being said, let me be clear that the separation of children from their families is unfathomable. Atrocious. And devastating. I, we, are categorically against such measures. We/GCC continue to do what we can to identify fitting partnerships to send volunteers and resources to support those families. We especially pray for God’s mercy and provision on those families’ behalf.
I will stop there. Of course, there are other issues I could identify, but time and energy fail me.
I know some are probably disappointed that I didn’t speak toward other issues facing us in our society. Either way, I hope what has been shared above has cast light on where we stand on the other issues as well. We are for human rights, dignity, freedom, support, and love to our neighbors abroad. We are for the heart and mission of Jesus: “to preach the Gospel to the poor . . . to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18).
Regarding social media, it’s a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because it creates awareness and discourse. It’s a curse because it can be venomous and hateful.
I pray that when you speak or post, you will do so with a view toward the diverse body who hears and reads what you say: Is it divisive or uniting? Does it echo the spirit of Jesus’ prayer, or is it contrary to His heart’s cry? Let us take care of each other, and be careful with one another, in these walls, outside these walls, social media, and the like. We are family. We are FAMILY.
On another note, I would respectfully ask you—what are you personally doing beyond words to act, support, and give resources toward injustices I’ve mentioned?
Let’s take our eyes off what the church is or is not doing and look at ourselves.
Perhaps consider foster care or adoption, a mission trip, or joining your GCC campus outreach to the marginalized.
You could tithe to GCC so we can further advance efforts to serve the vulnerable in need. You might not be able to go across the country to put words into action, but you can do so here.
Perhaps you might call, send emails, mail letters to your congressman or senator.
Again, consider what you might personally do and give?
Unfortunately, as I said before, what I’ve shared will be too much for some, and won’t be enough for others. To some it will be too political, to others it won’t be political enough—feeling that I should have spoken out about the current presidential administration, for example.
But that I won’t do. It’s not my place or GCC’s.
Scripture’s mandate is to pray for the administration and that’s just what I’ll do, and I hope you’ll join me in doing, because “this pleases God our savior” (1 Tim 2:1-3):
“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:1-3).
We, GCC, are a part of something bigger than politics and administrations. We are ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20), we are exiles in this world (1 Peter 2:11), we are citizens of another world, another kingdom—the kingdom of God. His kingdom is filled with every tongue, tribe, nation, color (Revelation 7:9)—in Christ Jesus, and at GCC.
The gospel through the local church is where all differences are laid aside—whether conservative, liberal, independent, pro-whatever. We are family!
We/GCC are a place, a family, where it’s okay not to be okay. At GCC, there will be conservatives, liberals, independents, anti-president, pro-president, anti-gun, and pro-gun, and so forth and so on till kingdom come. We are a church that welcomes all with Truth… in Love. At GCC, take heart and know the gospel will be preached—and it is the gospel that saves souls, changes hearts, lives, and future generations.
When all else fails (and make no mistake, all else has and will fail), it is the gospel that unites us. The gospel is what can give us unshakable love, care, compassion, and commitment to each other regardless of our differences. In fact, Jesus’ final words before he went to the cross, which was actually a prayer for us (!), was, “By this the world will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).
Jesus also prayed (twice!), “I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me” (John 17:20-23).
The world will know that God sent Jesus not by our songs, stances, or statements, but by our being one in Christ and the gospel—no matter the politics.
We need each other in this troubled world to give us a sense of centering, stability, safety. Let’s hold hands or link arms, weep together, laugh together, stand together, be on mission together, and look out for each other. Not because we all agree, but because we all love Jesus and His gospel that captured our hearts, saved our souls, and changed our lives.
Let’s respectfully and personally do what we can to speak up for the oppressed. At the same time, let’s not just take stances, or make statements as a church, but BE the church—family—red, yellow, black, and white—who are for the gospel and for each other, whatever the political climate.
GCC, we belong to the King and His kingdom. We belong to each other. We belong to Christ. We are all family. And by this pastor, you are all loved… to. the. bone.