To My Church, On The Eve Of a Decision
During the summer of 1957, a mixed race family immigrated from Holland into the small town of Terra Ceia, North Carolina. The father was Dutch, the mother Indonesian. As they attempted to send their two children to the local Reformed Church school, they were met at the door by local segregationist leaders who considered the children to be colored and therefore unable to attend the all white school. This incident brought the small Reformed Church of Terra Ceia to a type of crossroads in regards to the issue of racial segregation.
It seems to me, that our church, has found itself in a similar place; at our particular intersection, in my opinion, lies not so much the two choices we would seem to have on the surface; namely one arrow pointing towards the traditional view on this issue, the other away from it. Rather, the choice I see before us, is much deeper, much more complex then one single issue, even if this issue is one that hits as close to home as it does. The crossroad we find ourselves at, rather, is one in which we have to now decide how we are going to be as a community, before we even decide what we are going to be. We are in a place in which the way in which we come to a decision, seems to me to be just as important as the decision we decide to come to as a community.
On both sides of this debate lay excellent articulations of said positions; on both sides lay convincing interpretations of scripture. Because of this complexity, it seems as though we as a church body would be remiss to think that a decision could be made if, as a body, we are minimally informed, at best. For those who need a decision sooner, rather than later, I would ask you to consider the source of that anxiety. Your desire for a quick resolution may be a subjective feeling in you that prevents others from going through the process of discerning where they stand on this issue, a process that one would assume you have already taken the time to do.
We are not the first community of faith to be divided over an issue of great weight, and we will not be the last; whether it was circumcision, slavery, miscegenation or women’s rights, the church has had to navigate its stance on these issues through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, it seems to me that the good of the body would be best served if the decision on where we stand as a community, is made after copious amounts of time has been spent in conversation (say six months to a year for example) so that those who would choose to search the scriptures and their hearts on this issue can adequately do so. The leadership, I’m sure, could point people towards resources on both sides of this conversation. Having done our homework, so to say, we as a body would then be able to make a more informed decision on this issue.
In the meantime, I would ask that we agree live in the tension of disagreement for a time, as opposed to packing up our toys and going home. In truth, this is something we do every Sunday; surely we are not naive enough to think that the person to our right and to our left believes exactly the same thing as we do. Therefore, extend the grace and space you maintain for others on issues of baptism, predestination and end times theology to this issue. In having space, we can continue to commune with one another in the midst of ideological discord and perhaps come to some kind of consensus on what we should do.
In the end, the situation in Terra Ceia led to the passing of what come to be known as the “Hackensack Race Resolution”. The conclusion of this document reads as follows:
“We are called as a Church to transcend the prejudices of individuals and the traditions of sections of the people. We are called to seek the unity of believers which was created in Jesus Christ. We are called to seek this unity first of all in our own household.”
It is my fervent hope that ultimately, the goal of these discussions and subsequent decision will be to seek the unity spoken of here. To not attempt to seek this first, above all, would seem to me, to be the greatest kind of tragedy.