Ebenezer UMC meets the Institute of Relgion and Democracy, kind of, sort of, not really though…

My Dear Ebenezer,

I write you after reading a blog that has been circulating around the internet, primarily JuicyEcumenism and MinistryMatters about a visit that Mr. Mark Tooley, president of institute of religion and democracy (IRD), apparently had while walking through the neighborhood, at which time he hears “uncharacteristic” music emanating from the windows.  I wonder, “uncharacteristic of what?”  This, interestingly enough, peaks his curiosity and he actually goes in, and finds a seat in the balcony due to the lack of available seats on the main floor.  In his blog, he refers to you, to us, without calling our names as “virtually died off.”

“The congregation, of course, was not United Methodist but an evangelical

congregation tied to a Calvinist network and founded just a few years ago

by a young pastor from out of town. Meanwhile, the home United Methodist

congregation has virtually died off. I was glad to see the stately old sanctuary

put to good use for vital worship and ministry reaching millennials.”

You, Ebenezer, are not “virtually died off.”  Mr. Tooley perhaps is not aware of your rich history.  He is not aware that you provided the first Negro school in the same nation’s capital in which he suggests we have no witness.  He is not aware that we’ve been on this corner for 179 years.  He is not aware that declination is not always equivalent to death.  In fact, for us, it is equivalent to a new beginning.  God specializes in new beginnings.  He gave Abraham and Sarah one at age 90.  He gave Elizabeth and Zechariah one in old age.  God’s best work is often done with folks who are up in age.  Also, God promises to make all things new in the concluding document of the Holy Bible.

However, the truth is, Mr. Tooley may not really care about your story or have much use for it in this instance.  He used his experience of worship with whom he calls “Calvinists” to throw a theological dart at our Connectional partner on this block, Capitol Hill United Methodist Church.  It is typical of the work of IRD and many conservative branches of Christianity to overlook the African American witness as non essential and irrelevant to the conversation on the theological tables.  These type thinkers are often in a quest to highlight the sinful nature of humanity and make sure it is aware of how all who are trapped in human conditions, like homosexuality, are surely headed down the eternal drain to hell.  I certainly agree, that we all are wrestling with our human location on the soteriological scale but I also feel that we are covered in grace which makes us eligible to be the children of God.  Without question, we are a sinful people, flawed in many ways.  No question that the call to eternal life is a call to repentance, justification by faith, and regeneration as well.  But, we should be careful to not harp on one or two sins that particularly offends us that we escape the overwhelming call of Jesus, to “come, you who labor and are heavy laiden…I will give you rest.”

While this arm of faith is busy pointing out liberal flaws, converting homosexuals to heterosexuals and ultimately making them eligible for ordination and whatever ecclesiastical perks the church can hand out, not to mention access to heaven, there is silence.  I would love for the IRD and her conservative sister organizations to stand up and speak against the horrible crimes and imbalance of justice in the nation, like that in Ferguson, Brooklyn and cities in Florida.  I would love for the IRD to say something about the unfortunate act of gentrification which drives the poor out of their homes and cities with a check in their hands to pay them off to leave the cities they love and end up elsewhere.  I would love for the IRD to spend time, like you do Ebenezer, in some of our most challenging schools mentoring children that in many cases won’t survive beyond the age of 24, falling to a travelling bullet or a sentence not on paper, but read sitting in a box called jail.  I would also sign up with them but they forget, that they too have many gay people sitting in their pews and preaching from their pulpits some of whom are hushed, ashamed and trapped in hiding out of fear of banishment from their sinful counterparts. Religion and faith, from the Christian perspective must be about those on the margins.  I wonder if Mr. Tooley has stopped by the church around the corner, (that he attempted to embarrass) to have lunch with the unhoused community there they feed every single day.

I suggest that Mr. Tooley revisits his definition of vitality.  He, the IRD and many other evangelical movements such as the confessing movement should be aware that at least from this African American male’s perspective, the day they are calling us to, in many ways resembles an America of 1950 where churches were often “vital” with every pew filled, but with racist hearts and practices ultimately diminishing their vitality in Kingdom standards.  For obvious reasons, I’m not inclined to return to any such day.

In the meantime, should any of you run into Mr. Tooley strolling through the neighborhood again, please invite him to take his stroll a little earlier in the day next time, on any Sunday and he too will find music blasting from the windows of the real Ebenezer, still vital and still moving.  While there will be plenty of room on the main floor for his worship engagement, more importantly, there will be plenty of room for him, individually, regardless of his theological, biological, ethnic, anthropological make up.

He and all are welcome to join the rest of us sinners, trying to make heaven our home.

Come now, let us be on our way!

The Rev. Dr. B. Kevin Smalls, Lead Pastor

Ebenezer United Methodist Church


~ by bkevinsmalls on February 11, 2015.

One Response to “Ebenezer UMC meets the Institute of Relgion and Democracy, kind of, sort of, not really though…”

  1. Just the kind of response needed to those who place a flag over the cross, their “piety” over grace and their cultural inclinations over the all encompassing love of God in Jesus.

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