Monday, May 5, 2014
I was privileged to attend the recent assembly of the Western Iowa Synod, ELCA. The last time I attended an assembly in this part of the country, it was still the old Iowa District, TALC. I found my first WIS assembly to be a great experience. I am grateful to Bishop Prois and his Mission Team, to the WIS synod council, and to all the churchwide and institutional staff and the volunteers who made it such a great assembly.
The one resolution that produced real debate concerned our support for Palestinian Christians in the Holy Land. You can find the proposed resolution in the assembly reports:
The resolution that was actually adopted was quite different from the proposed resolution. That adopted resolution will be published in the minutes of the assembly and in follow-up reports of the assembly.
I appreciated the passion of the discussion and debate. Regardless of the outcome, voting members left the assembly with much more information about Palestinian/Israeli political realities and perceptions than they had when they came. Voting members left the assembly knowing that they had reflected on and discussed issues of pressing real-world significance. There was much in the experience to applaud and for which I am grateful.
I was also struck by how "secular" the debate was. Our conversation could easily have taken place at a public political assembly of some kind, and the content of the conversation would have been altered very little. The exception to that observation was the presentation by the Rev. Dr. Robert Smith on Christian Zionism, but that was in a workshop attended by about three dozen voting members. I was surprised by the lack of actual prayer during the plenary conversation. I understand that there was the press of time and emotions were running high. But there seemed to be little effort to discern what might seem good to the Holy Spirit and to us.
More than that, it seems that the decision was made on the basis of existing political options and preferences--roughly pro-Israeli, pro-Palestinian, for example. I longed for someone to ask just how this issue looks to those of us who follow the crucified and risen Messiah. There seemed to be a lack of theological thinking applied to the issue and discussion. There seemed to be a lack of longing to discern and to have the mind of Christ on this issue.
As I read N. T. Wright's Paul and the Faithfulness of God, I am reminded of how important this is for Christian living in the real world. Paul urges us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12). Every issue looks different in a world where Christ is risen. I longed for some sense of our vocation as ambassadors of reconciliation rather than advocates for one side. It seems that the assembly shared that longing, based on how the resolution was eventually adopted.
I have been preparing to teach once again a Bible study on Paul's letter to Philemon. I love that little letter for precisely this reason. When we face the tough issues of real life, how does Jesus change everything? Philemon and Onesimus faced this life and death question and open the door to our ongoing conversation in this regard. I long for a church that expends every effort to have the mind of Christ--as well as the heart and the hands of the Messiah.