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In too many ways, we Christians ‘look more like the world today than the world looks like us’

Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner speaks an unvarnished word to those working to advocate ecumenically

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Ecumenical Advocacy Days began Monday and runs online through Wednesday. The theme this year is “Fierce Urgency: Advancing Civil & Human Rights.”

LOUISVILLE — Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner regularly prays for and with congressional leaders from both political parties and sends daily Scripture passages to many lawmakers. The co-founder and CEO of the Skinner Leadership Institute delivered the first plenary talk Monday during Ecumenical Advocacy Days, an online event that concludes Wednesday and includes attendees and leaders from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

Williams-Skinner is coordinating a 10-state nonpartisan, multi-racial, interfaith, and multi-generation effort called Faiths United To Save Democracy voter justice campaign.

Jesus makes it “very clear” that “our neighbor is everyone, especially those who are left beaten and battered by the sides of life’s Jericho road, and those who are different from us,” Williams-Skinner said during her plenary address. “In fact, we get no brownie points at all from God by identifying ourselves as Christian, engaging in religious activities or undertaking any amount of what we call Christian service.”

Not only does God call us to be unified, “we have the numerical power to advance God’s agenda in the world,” she said. According to the Pew Research Center, at least 100 million U.S. residents identify themselves as Christians, as do about 2 billion of the world’s 7.9 billion inhabitants. “We have both the calling and the numerical power to impact God’s world and God’s agenda for justice and equality.”

“It we’re not operating in that power,” Williams-Skinner said, “we are operating in our human strength that can’t even compete with the systems we’re trying to address.”

In the Great Commission, Jesus “makes it clear we have the same power that got Jesus out of the grave,” Williams-Skinner said. We are to go “in that same power” to “share the gospel and be that good news as advocates of God’s redeeming love in an unloving world.”

“In other words,” Williams-Skinner said, “you can’t advocate as an activity. You advocate out of who you are.”

It’s that same advocacy power used this spring “by a super-qualified African American judge, Ketanji Brown Jackson, who stared down with divinely inspired patience the insults, taunts and disrespect of lesser-qualified white Senate interrogators,” Williams-Skinner said.

Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner (Contributed photo)

Building on EAD’s “fierce urgency” theme, Williams-Skinner said the fierce urgency to advance civil and human rights “will not happen until we face the truth that will set us all free — that white Christians, whether advancing, supporting or simply tolerating systems upholding white supremacy and sustaining white minority rulership in an increasingly multicultural America is a form of idolatry, and idolatry is anything that is advanced above God. This form of idolatry is not only offensive to God but a total rejection of the teaching of Jesus and over 2,000 verses of Scripture of God’s concern for the poor and for those treated unjustly.”

Beyond the numerous commands of God advancing unity are “the many other sacred texts” calling us to repentance, restitution and reconciliation, Williams-Skinner said.

“It is America’s struggle and unaddressed civil and human rights history that has so distorted our Christian identity [and] makes us look more like the world today than the world looks like us,” Williams-Skinner said.

We must face up “by putting God back on the throne of our lives and by asking God to help us make our revolutionary risen Savior our primary focus,” Williams-Skinner said. Next, we must repent for “the ways in which we have betrayed Jesus and his teaching and failed to embrace Christian unity as a radical agenda” in order to “defeat every barrier in our nation and world.”

Third, we must make use of “this post-pandemic reality we are now in … What will be normal again if we don’t envision what civil and human rights might be — God’s way?” How, for example, do we “make our repentance and our focus on racial equity and restitution for past harms part of that new reality? Because that’s what Jesus would be doing.”

“But none of this will happen until we who have so much — and I count myself in that, because this is not a message for white people, it’s a message for people who have so much — because to whom much is given, much more is required,” Williams-Skinner said before invoking the prophet Micah.

The current crisis will be met with “a restored radical faith and by walking in courage to do what God has called us to do with people who look like the kingdom,” Williams-Skinner said. “That is my prayer for the body of Christ today.”

“Make prayer the center of your life,” Williams-Skinner urged listeners. “I promise you can’t do this in your own strength. I pray that we would as a body make prayer the center of all we do for the strength we need to advance civil and human rights in America and across the world. Thank you so much and God bless you.”

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