A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery
January 18, 2018
Dreamers have been in the news a lot lately. We call young people brought to America by undocumented immigrant parents “dreamers,” in part because they yearn for the same access to the “American dream” as their friends. They have been protected for years from deportation and granted access to work visas through a program called DACA – Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. After benefiting more than 800,000 young people, DACA is in danger of being shut down due to a political standoff in Washington. Many who had nurtured dreams of a better life for themselves and their families are now living the nightmare of facing forced deportation to homelands where opportunities are scant and their lives may be in danger. Many churches, including our own, are calling for Washington to set aside its political tug-of-war and continue protecting these dreamers.
Dreams are one of the primary means in the Bible by which prophets hear a word from God. Dreams play pivotal roles in the Christmas story: A dream persuades Joseph to stay with Mary after she became pregnant. A dream cautions the Magi not to return to Jerusalem. A dream warns Mary and Joseph to flee to Egypt to escape Herod’s murderous intent.
We usually associate dreaming with youth, but on Pentecost, Peter recounts the startling words of the prophet Joel, that when God’s Spirit is poured out, “old men shall dream dreams.” (Acts 2:17) When elders nurture and follow dreams, a new world is ready to be born.
Older folk often write off the dreams of the young as mere idle fantasy. “Realists” scoff at the folly of wishful dreamers. Dreaming threatens the rich and powerful whose chief motivation is to maintain the status quo.
Consider one “old man” who openly confessed to having a dream for a new world order: Martin Luther King Jr., the namesake of the holiday we observed this week. By going public with his dream he changed the national conversation about the place of African-Americans in our larger society.
The most effective dreams are far removed from current reality. They see a world very different from the present state of things. That’s certainly how it was for Dr. King’s dream. He imagined a world of equal opportunity and mutual respect that was a far cry from the current state of affairs.
The hard work of racial reconciliation is nearly as daunting and counter-cultural today as it was at the height of Dr. King’s crusade. Fifty years later, despite all our anti-racism talk, little has tangibly changed; most of his dream remains unfulfilled.
Dr. King famously observed that the most segregated hour of the week is 11:00 AM on Sunday. In church, where no external authority can tell us what to do, our truest colors show. This is the church we have, because it is the church we want. According to a LifeWay Research poll, only 37% of white Christians think their church should be more diverse. Dr. King considered racial separation a shameful affront to the Gospel, something underscored also in the Belhar Confession, a church declaration from South Africa in the 1980s that we adopted into our Book of Confessions two years ago. The church of Jesus Christ ought to be at the forefront of embodying racial reconciliation because it is inherent to the Gospel; yet it comes up at the rear, behind schools, workplaces, legislatures, marketplaces, chambers of commerce, and public service agencies.
We need to do more than simply hear again about Dr. King’s dream. We need to become dreamers ourselves, ready to imagine being unshackled from our current bondage, ready to step into the new world that God’s work in Jesus creates, a world where, truly, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
The world around us may try to squelch the hopes of dreamers. Let the church of Jesus Christ be no longer conformed to that world, but transformed by a renewing mind. (Romans 12:2) Are we ready to shine Jesus’ reconciling light amid the racially and politically polarized world around us?
Yours in kingdom hope,
The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, General Minister
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