Two decades ago there were a number of extremist groups in small pockets in Montana and Wyoming, who justified their hate speech with claims that they were representing a biblical point of view. The Montana Association of Churches challenged that claim, producing a ground-breaking statement: “Declaration on Distortions of the Gospel.” All the MAC denominations signed on to it: Lutherans, Catholics, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Methodists, Disciples, American Baptists, United Church of Christ. A number of independent evangelical groups also expressed their solidarity with the sentiments expressed in the Declaration. Everything in the gospels points to love and not hatred.
Twenty years later the problem has not gone away. Instead, Montana now ranks number 1 in the nation for the number of hate groups who call this place home. Our churches have spoken out against acts of hatred—swastikas on churches, trolling Jewish residents in a small community, spreading false rumors about Native Americans. On this week honoring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and beginning the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, it is filling to recommit ourselves to the MAC Declaration on the Distortions of the Gospel. Please read below:
MONTANA ASSOCIATION OF CHURCHES DECLARATION ON
DISTORTIONS OF THE CHRISTIAN GOSPEL
A subculture expressing race hatred and virulent anti-institutionalism has grown increasingly vocal and visible in the last quarter century in the United States. With roots in nativism,
anti-Semitism and Christian apocalypticism, this subculture believes American is moving
from its golden age in the U.S. Constitution and the Bible to a cataclysmic confrontation
with satanic forces. They believe ultimate victory is assured for a righteous remnant who
have not conspired with the forces of evil through such arenas as the U.S. government, the United Nations, the World Bank, etc. Most of these groups share belief in a golden age, a white supremacist interpretation of the Bible, an assumption of white mailer earthly rule, a world pitched in battle between cosmic forces of good and evil, a conspiratorial view of history leading to apocalyptic catastrophe, and the survival of the chosen.
For many people-Christian and non-Christian-this culture of hate and suspicion is alarming because of the challenge to faithful Christian teaching, civil trust and racial justice. At
other critical moments in history Christian churches have taken a clear stand by professing allegiance to Jesus Christ and denouncing those whose use of the Bible sows error,
suspicion and injustice. We believe this to be such a critical moment.
The Montana Association of Churches repudiates teachings that distort the Christian
Gospel. We repudiate the teachings of those who use the Bible and the historic name of “Christian” to justify teachings of supremacy based on race. These teachings are a
challenge to Christian truth and practice which cannot be compromised. Believing,
therefore, that these groups falsify God’s just will and the “faith which was once and for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3), we look to the scriptures to discern the faith we affirm.
1) “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in
him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into
the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be save through him”
(John 3:16-17, NRSV)
WE AFFIRM THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD’S JUST AND LOVING PURPOSE IN JESUS
CHRIST FOR ALL GOD’S WORLD.
We repudiate as false the teaching God’s will in Christ is not sovereign in all the world or
inclusive over all human life.
2) “But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head,
into Christ from whom the whole body [is] joined together” (Ephesians 4:15, 16a). As
many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is
no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free; there is no longer male and
female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:27-28).
WE AFFIRM THAT THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH, THOUGH DIVERSE, IS ONE IN CHRIST JESUS AND THAT RACIAL DIVERSITY IS A GIFT OF GOD.
We repudiate as false the teaching that one race is superior to other races.
3) “Whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worth of me” (Matthew 10:38)
WE AFFIRM THAT JESUS’ POWER IS OPPOSED TO THE GLORIFICATION OF HUMAN POWER AND THAT TO BEAR ONE ANOTHER’S BRDENS IS TO CONTINUE IN FELLOWSHIP WITH CHRIST.
We repudiate as false all dehumanizing teachings of hatred and dominion that pit one sector of humanity against another.
4) “Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24).
WE AFFIRM THAT SALVATION FROM SIN, EVIL AND DEATH COMES ULTIMATELY THROUGH BIBLICAL REVELATION OF GOD’S FREE GIFT OF GRACE IN JESUS CHRIST AND OUR RESPONSE TO HIM.
We repudiate as false that teaching that any new revelations or powers that distort the Gospel as necessary to deliver on from sin, evil or death.
5) “But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are
the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21).
WE AFFIRM THAT CHURCH AND STATE ARE SEPARATE INSTITUTIONS AND THAT GOD HAS AUTHORITY OVER BOTH. CHRISTIANS ARE “IN” BUT NOT “OF” THE
WORLD; GOD IS “IN” BUT ALSO “BEYOND” THE WORLD.
We repudiate as false the theocratic teaching that joins church and state in an unholy alliance which distorts the Gospel and tyrannizes the freedom of people of diverse races and religion.
We recognize that citizens have a responsibility to participate in the political process and government has a responsibility to govern justly. Although some groups may have legitimate concerns about unjust laws and policies, we repudiate as false any teaching that suggests that the Gospel of Jesus Christ proclaims racial or ethnic superiority or advocates violence toward rather than love of neighbor. Saying “yes” to the Christian Gospel inevitably means saying “no” to its distortion. The Montana Association of Churches
subscribes to this Declaration our of fidelity to the Gospel and to God’s will for the justice
and freedom of all people.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA