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
Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist faith leaders in South Dakota will gather at the capital to pray and present the governor and legislators with a statement advocating safety and respect for all faith communities. They ask for our prayers for this Interfaith Day, as they stand together against prejudice and hate. Bishop Dave Zeller of the South Dakota Synod is a leader in this movement, and has asked other ELCA synods to join them in prayer.
The timing is appropriate, as next Monday is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and Thursday the 18th is the start of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The Interfaith Day combines the best of both celebrations, and asks all people of good will to join in.
In Wyoming, the Wyoming Association of Churches has transitioned into the Wyoming Interfaith Network, with focus on justice, civil discourse and understanding, as well as advocacy in the Legislature. In Montana, the Montana Association of Christians (MAC, formerly the Montana Association of Churches) does similar work.
Below please find the statement from our neighbors in South Dakota, and pray for peace and harmony:
We as leaders in the faith community stand together with our neighbors of all faiths and ethnic backgrounds in South Dakota.
Each of our religious traditions teaches that human beings have the opportunity and the obligation to build communities in which peace and mutual respect are core expressions of an ethical life. Our religions teach us that we must stand up for the rights and freedoms of all members of the communities in which we live, including people of faith backgrounds different from our own. This vision of just treatment for all human beings is born of our religious faith. We believe that this is entirely consistent with our shared American value that religious freedom is guaranteed to people of all faiths and of no faith.
In sharp contrast to this vision, we have recently witnessed a rise in hateful activity that degrades other religions and denies the religious freedom of many, especially Muslims and Jews. There has been an increase in hate speech, crimes and bullying directed against Muslims and Jews; growing opposition to the building or expansion of mosques; and a troubling wave of state legislative initiatives across America and in South Dakota aimed at discriminating against Muslims and others. We are people of different faiths across South Dakota who, in keeping with this state’s traditions and values, are committed to ending anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic sentiment in our state and our country. Together we stand shoulder to shoulder with our brothers and sisters of all faiths and ethnic backgrounds in South Dakota and across this great nation. We invite all people of conscience to join us in these actions:
· REFLECT on what will heal divisions in our communities;
· PARTNER across faith lines to know one another better and address issues of common concern, such as affirming and promoting religious freedom.
· TELL the positive stories of these multi-faith partnerships publicly in order to report this reality to the media and shape public dialogue; and,
· DENOUNCE hatred, bigotry, violence and the use of misinformation against all people wherever we see it in word or in action.
Only by taking a stand together can we fulfill the highest callings of our respective faiths and help build a South Dakota and an America that is safer and stronger because of our religious and ethnic diversity.
May it be so!
Jessica Crist, Bishop
“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” (Isaiah 60:1)
Saturday is Epiphany, the day when the church recognizes the visit of the magi to the infant Jesus. In our house we set up the nativity scene in Advent, with Mary and Joseph and the animals at the manger, but with Jesus hidden, and the 3 kings far across the room. Each day the kings move a little closer. Baby Jesus arrives on Christmas day, of course, and the kings with their camels and gifts show up on January 6. In some cultures, January 6 is the day of pageants and gift-giving. Puerto Rico, which is part of the United States, celebrates “Three Kings Day,” and the three kings are featured in much of the holiday decorations and pageantry.
Although there are plenty of legends about the Wise Men, (including names, national origin, occupation and other back stories), we know very little about them. Some speculate that they were astrologers, some that they were scholars, some that they were royal advisers. All we know of them is found in Matthew 2: 1-12. Interestingly, in the passage in Matthew they are not called kings. Just “wise men from the east.” Nor is their number established as three. Eugene Peterson, in The Message, calls them a “band of scholars.” The only kings in this passage in Matthew are King Herod, the villain, and “king of the Jews,” the moniker that the baby Jesus would grow into, in contrast to Herod, Caesar and all the other earthly monarchs.
The story of the wise men visiting Jesus is satisfying. They learn what they need to from Herod, they find and honor the baby Jesus and his family, and then they outfox Herod by not returning to reveal to him the baby’s location. And if that were all that it were, we could smile and say, “Whew! That was a close one.” But it doesn’t stop with the wise guys getting away undetected and Jesus safe and sound. King Herod goes on the rampage, ordering the death not just of one, but of all the babies in greater Bethlehem, not unlike the Pharaoh, who so many centuries earlier, ordered the death of all the male Hebrew babies.
Although Jesus and his family escaped the death sentence, unlike so many others, they did so by being refugees in a foreign country until the death of Herod. Thus in Matthew’s version of the story, Jesus began his life as a displaced person, a refugee, living off the kindness of strangers in a strange land—certainly a hint to modern Christians on how we might treat refugees.
Each of the Gospels tells the story a bit differently. We learn twists and emphases from what each tells us (including Mark, who starts right out with Jesus the adult, and John, who begins with the Logos.)
James C. Howell, in reflecting on the visit of the wise men, notes that the change of route that they took on the way back is what happens when we meet Christ—things change. He quotes T.S. Eliot’s poem,
‘The Journey of the Magi,’
“We returned to our places…
But no longer at ease here,
In the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.”
“A strange, unfamiliar road is now our path—but the road is going somewhere.”
Epiphany brings our marching orders on this new path. “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA