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Today in the Mission Yearbook

God’s church: A liberated and diverse community of faith

 

How can we preach a faith embedded in liberation without practicing it in our own community?

October 1, 2022

At first the Rev. Shawna Bowman, at right, pastor of Friendship Presbyterian Church in Chicago, wasn’t sure what the relationship would be like with the members and friends of Friendship Presbyterian Church. Now Bowman can’t imagine serving anywhere else. (Photo by Jennifer Martin)

Many people understand the church from the concept of community: a group of believers with a heart composed of faith that embraces liberation; welcomes diversity; preaches God’s good news; and has love, compassion and care for people in need. However, the church’s history shows us that there has been a continual struggle to be that community that practices God’s good news.

Indeed, it is not easy being an open, ecumenical and diverse church of God in the United States. The ethnic diversity, languages, background and understanding of God continually challenge us in finding ways to be an inclusive community. How are we living God’s callings to serve the poor, migrant and refugee and welcome “the other” to our community? How can we preach a faith embedded in liberation without practicing it in our own community?

In the predominant European descendant church, the center of diversity was exclusion, and ethnicity was understood as a social construction of race, where supremacies were created and promoted. For the past decade, our churches have been struggling to become a multiethnic community, and until today, we are in the process of becoming a more collectively inclusive place.

Our denomination, like many others, is struggling with the long history of exclusionary practices or simply neglect of societal problems as we seek greater diversity within our community. In Paul’s letters to the Galatians 3:26–28, we are reminded that despite our differences, we are all one in Christ. We are all children of God through faith. God’s Creation comes in different expressions, languages, rhythms, skin color and ethnicity, but if we fail to understand this message, how we can be the church of God? Are we jeopardizing the integral nature of our community of faith?

When a community is reduced to only one ethnic minority/majority, everything of God’s understanding is at risk. Our theological knowledge struggles to maintain an honest reflection: God can be manipulated, the life of our active community is reduced, our thoughts become limited and our actions are chosen. Even so, in this struggle, the church often finds comfort in its traditions and isolation from a more diverse society.

Here is our call today. The church is in the process of trying to understand what it means to be a real community in this day and time. To transition to a better place, we must recognize our failures. Lament and sorrow help us express sorrow for the past and allow us to see the future with hope.

Yenny Delgado

The church in the United States has so much to offer. Our theological experience and reflections can help us to open the door to move to a better place as a community — a place of healing, acceptance, growth and liberation. In a diverse church, a rich understanding of God helps us to shape faith in a broad way where God can intervene. If we read carefully, we can find this message of God’s liberation in the text that Jesus read at the beginning of his ministry in Luke 4:18–21.

Reading these words in a new light, we can receive the good news today. Rather than envision ourselves as the proclaimers, we must see that we are the ones who need sight and freedom. God’s inclusive message can break the chains of our past actions. Still, old practices prevent us from receiving the good news of being liberated and free of a history of division and supremacy that underestimates God’s Creation and separates the rest as the privileged ones.

As a community of faith, the Scripture provides the news of God to us; God’s church must hear and receive this message. Today our church received these words and believed them. Today we embrace the Spirit who is on us and guiding us to leave behind the discriminatory practices of the past as we recognize our struggle to welcome the other.

As God’s church, we can be set free to evolve into an inclusive community of faith that welcomes the Spirit. Let’s bring to the table a multiethnic, diverse congregation hand in hand. Let us be a church that is a genuine community of faith.

Yenny Delgado is a psychologist, public theologian, ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), director of Publica Theology and convener of Mujeres Doing Theology International. She writes about the intersections between ancestral memory, diversity and faith in the public square.

Today’s Focus: A liberated and diverse community of faith

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Magdy Girgis, Middle Eastern Intercultural Ministries (field staff), Presbyterian Mission Agency
Tammy Gish, Treasurer, Controllers, Presbyterian Foundation

Let us pray

Precious Creator, we thank you for faithful witness. Bless us and guide us by your Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ name. Amen.