A Civil Rights Sermon, 1963

From Douglas Cedarleaf’s June 16, 1963, sermon, “Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be Done”:

 

cedarleaf 2 From the good news according to St. Matthew, chapter 6 verse 10, we read, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” It would be interesting to know how many voices have been raised all over the world in this particular prayer and in this petition this morning. Across all the barriers of race and class and denomination. Across the seas. Across misunderstandings….

It circles the globe, this heart cry of the human race. What will it be like when God’s kingdom comes? Do you hunger and thirst after it? Do you seek after it? Is your blood stirred by it like it’s stirred by a new home or a new car or a new washing machine?

***

If Jesus Christ came in and said, “You really want my kingdom to come? Is this what you’re after? You really want my will to be done in the whole world? In your life? In your job? In your home? Is this what you’re really after?” We would cringe and say, “God, go away! This isn’t what we want. Leave us alone. Leave us alone. We’re comfortable the way we are. We’ve got everything we need. We live in the greatest nation in all the world. The kingdom of America is good enough for us!”

***

Let me ask you where God is in this whole business where one tenth of the population of America is crying for justice. Is God hearing this cry? Will God answer this cry? When they cry, “Thy kingdom come, and thy will be done,” will God hear what they have to say? And if he hears it, what will happen to the nine-tenths of us who feel either, on the one hand, that these folks should be restrained, or else…we just let it go. We are just indifferent. We hope this big, bad ogre will go away. And it sounds to me as though the voice of God himself is thundering through the pain of these people, “You had best wake up, wake up, lest at last you shall be submerged in the wrath of the heavenly Father who will not allow one-tenth of the human beings in this nation to be denied their basic rights!”

***

I am asking at this moment for you to decide in your own soul whether or not you can mix up God’s will with our keeping a tenth of our population submerged. Do you want to pray with me that God will sharpen the teeth of Bull Connor’s dogs? Do you want to pray with me that more black men will be shot in the back? Do you want to join me in prayer that the fire hoses be made ever greater in their pressure so we can mow down these people and put them back in their place where they belong?

Now if you choose this road, you have a right to do this and defy the law of America. You have a right to do this and defy the law of God, if this is your wish. But no one has ever defied the law of God and found peace.

Read the full sermon here, then come back and discuss.

 


 

For discussion:

  • Cedarleaf challenged his congregation to consider whether they really wanted God’s kingdom to come, given the way it would shake up the status quo. His question remains relevant. What would it look like for the Kingdom of God to be actualized in your job, your home, your community, and your life? What part might you be called to play in that?
  • In what ways do Christians and churches still promote the idea that “The kingdom of America (or the nation of choice) is good enough for us?”

The Covenant’s Response to the Civil Rights Movement, 1963–1968

From Ramelia Williams, “The Evangelical Covenant Church’s Response to the Civil Rights Movement, 1963–1968”:

 

RameliaIn the shadow of World War II, the Covenant Church took an official stance against racial discrimination. The Annual Meeting of 1944 adopted a resolution that reads in part: “We believe that all men are of one blood, and that all discrimination, based upon race, creed or nationality, is not in keeping with the Christian profession and life, and further, that it fosters conflict and war” (YB 1944, p. 133)….Between 1946 and 1968, nearly every Annual Meeting issued a resolution affirming the equal dignity of all people and rejecting racial discrimination, with only six exceptions.

***

Annual Meeting resolutions did not emerge ex nihilo, but were brought by a commission that sought to resource local congregations and guide them in action. In 1944 the Covenant Church established the Committee on Civic Relations to mold a Christian mindset toward various matters of civility. The name was changed in 1948 to Christian Citizenship Commission (and in 1968 to the Commission on Christian Action). The Christian Citizenship Commission would study and offer its opinion on suffrage, civil rights, international wars, political affairs, social ethics, and other important civic issues.

***

The practical action of the commission primarily took place through congregational commissions established at their request and under their direction. At its inception, the commission recommended the establishment of a “committee on civic relations” in every Covenant church, sending letters to each congregation with this request in November 1947. As the 1948 report stated, “Commission members quickly realized that no program of information or action could be implemented unless there were local committees” (YB 1948, p. 92), reporting that sixty churches had formed such a committee. The basic task of these local committees was twofold: (1) to educate their congregation about moral issues facing nation and community, and (2) to guide them in an appropriate response….The 1961 Annual Meeting approved the commission’s proposal that race be adopted as the “issue of the year,” launching a year of “denomination-wide study of Christianity and racial relations.” (YB 1962, p. 163)

***

As recognized by the Covenant Commission on Christian Citizenship, resolutions would be effective only as “interpreted and carried out by the local committees” (YB 1962, p. 163). For this reason I surveyed two congregations located in cities that, historically, have served a prominent role in the denomination: Community Covenant Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and North Park Covenant Church in Chicago, Illinois.

***

Read the full article here, including accounts of particular Covenant congregations and publications.


For consideration and discussion:

  • The author expresses that her initial discouragement at the minimal involvement of Covenant congregations in the civil rights movement gave way to greater appreciation through her research. Has Williams’s research impacted your own thoughts on this matter?
  • A running theme through this piece is the ECC’s expressed desire to “bring our practices into line with our beliefs” (Covenant Yearbook 1950, p. 202), and the denomination’s attempts to empower local congregations to that end. How might Covenant polity have impacted – and continue to impact – those attempts, for better or for worse?
  • How does Williams’s historical study relate to the nation, denomination, and local church today? What can it teach us?

Exile & Migration: Toward a Biblical Theology of Immigration and Displacement

From Bo H. Lim, “Exile and Migration: Toward a Biblical Theology of Immigration and Displacement”:

 

bo lim

The Evangelical Covenant Church is an immigrant church, founded by Swedish immigrants in 1885. At its centennial celebration in 1985, Krister Stendahl exhorted the denomination to maintain its immigrant identity as it moved into its second century. Twenty five years later, marking its 125th anniversary celebration, the denomination yet again affirmed its character as an immigration church as central to its identity. The Covenant’s 2014 resolution on immigration opens with a summary of this identity, providing the foundation for the ethical discussion/exhortation that follows. The aim of this paper is to provide a better understanding of the biblical phenomenon of exile as it relates to immigrant communities so that church leaders might better appropriate this biblical motif for ministry.

***

There was no singular exilic experience. To assume that all Israelites were weeping by the rivers of Babylon under duress from foreign captors is simply inaccurate. Neither should one assume that every Israelite was able to climb the Babylonian social ladder and influence the royal court in the manner of Daniel and his friends. What these approaches reveal is that migration, while impacting groups, affects people differently at an individual and family level. In addition, generations within families may have experienced the exile in markedly different ways. For the poor peasant, exile may have meant no geographical relocation but experiencing colonization by the Babylonian economic empire. For a Judean youth from a class of social elites, exile may have meant living in a Jewish enclave in Babylon and exercising a relatively free existence.

***

Just as reading prophetic literature requires attention to the exegetical nuances of myriad migratory experiences of ancient Israel, Christian ministry demands that the church address the diverse experience of migrants and minority populations. It is no less irresponsible for me to say that the experiences of all immigrants to the U.S. are the same – even those experiences within a single ethnic group – than to assume that the exilic experiences addressed in Jeremiah, Isaiah, Psalm 137, Daniel, and Esther are all the same….Faithfulness requires knowing the particularities of each biblical text as well as the particularities of each individual experiencing migration. To flatten the experiences and texts of migration into one uniform category is not merely an act of intellectual dishonesty; it is an unwillingness to listen to the distinct message of particular texts and a disregard for the unique ways people are impacted by migration.

***

Given that as of 2015, 244 million international migrants live abroad and these numbers continue to climb, the church must develop resources to minister to these populations.

 

Read the full article here.


For consideration and discussion:

  • What narratives inform your thoughts about exile and migration? Biblical? Political? Historical? Experiential?
  • What narratives do you believe inform the thoughts of the people in your circles?
  • How do those narratives impact attitudes and actions?
  • Lim mentioned several people who have spoken into issues surrounding exile and migration, including John Ahn, Steed Davidson, and Frank Ames. Who are some of your favorite writers, thinkers, practitioners and theologians who are speaking into this topic, and what do they have to say?