Andrea Ayvazian: From one Christian leader to another
I am an old-fashioned letter writer. I regularly take a sheet of paper, pick up a pen and write a real letter. I write to family, friends, parishioners — and I write to the president of the United States. I have for years. I know he never sees my letters; I know they get read (if at all) by an underling and are notated on some computer and then ignored. But I write to the president, often.
I remember that during the Vietnam War, when legendary peace activist A. J. Muste was by himself in front of the White House keeping vigil with a candle that would not stay lit, he said to a reporter who asked why he was there, “I don’t do this to change the world. I do this so the world won’t change me.” I pour out my thoughts and feelings to the president in handwritten letters so the world won’t change me.
Now that Mr. Obama has been re-elected to a second term, I am going to modify the tone of my letters. Until now, I have been writing to him as an ordinary citizen. Now, I am going to write to him as a Christian pastor to a Christian leader. I think I am going to get tougher. I hope he is ready.
President Obama is not just a Christian, he is a member of the United Church of Christ (UCC) — the denomination in which I am an ordained minister. He and I share that fellowship. And I think he needs to be reminded of what the UCC stands for and believes in.
The United Church of Christ is a justice-seeking, peace-promoting, inclusive, diverse, progressive Christian denomination. To be true to his convictions and religious affiliation, President Obama needs to remember he is part of a long tradition of movers and shakers who were not afraid to challenge the status quo, to embrace radical social change and to be loving, but firm about what they believe in.
President Obama’s religious foremothers and forefathers believed in forgiveness and reconciliation — good, solid Christian values — but they also stood by their convictions and fought hard for what was right: fighting poverty, confronting oppression, ordaining people of color, ordaining gay people, supporting women, creating a powerful anti-racism agenda and empowering those on the margins of power and wealth. The president needs to remember his radical religious roots and be brave and strong in enacting the agenda for the future he articulated during the campaigns of both 2008 and 2012.
When I write to President Obama, I will remind him that our denomination believes that “God is still speaking.” We believe that God is still moving through history, still speaking to and through us in powerful ways. And we believe that God’s message to us is to create the kingdom of God on Earth — a place of radical welcome and hospitality, a place where the first are last and the last are first, a place where those who are poor are especially blessed and those who mourn are comforted, a place of inclusion, fairness, equality and a love of justice, a place where war is absent and God’s promised shalom prevails.
President Obama needs to reconnect with his religious roots and stand strong against all the forces who will push back with relentless vigor. There is a time to compromise and reconcile, but now is the time to stand for what is right. Mr. Obama’s faith can strengthen him and inspire him to fight for progressive causes and be a faithful steward of this fragile planet without growing weary or capitulating.
During Mr. Obama’s second term in office, I am going to change the tone of my letters to him. I am going to encourage him to embrace the long, proud and progressive traditions of his Christian faith. Jesus was not a mild centrist, and Mr. Obama need not be either. And although Jesus talked about forgiveness, he was undeterred in showing that his loyalties lay with the powerless, those who stood up to empire, his ragtag group of followers, the sick, the poor and the forgotten.
It’s a new day. I want Mr. Obama to remember what his faith has taught him … God is still speaking. Through him.
The Rev. Andrea Ayvazian, pastor of the Haydenville Congregational Church, writes a monthly column on faith, culture and politics. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.