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Is This My Church?

Jun 4, 2019

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

The past month for me has been one of considerable variety and contrasts. As a member of the Licensed Professional Counselor Association of Georgia, I attended their annual conference in Savannah recently. This was an exhilarating experience in which, for four days, I was around fellow professionals who were not talking about the church from within. What a refreshing change!

One of the courses was entitled ‘Is going to church damaging to your mental health?’ This was presented by a Baptist Pastor who was brutally honest about the destructiveness of his and other denominations’ negative teaching about sin and salvation. He was quite clear that he regards a great deal of the churches’ teaching about these issues as a distortion of the scriptural messages of both Old and New Testaments. Most impressively, he talked about church exclusiveness as a denial of personhood and what we call ‘the dignity of every human being.’

The reason for including a presentation like this in the conference was that mental health workers have large numbers of clients who suffer from what a colleague of mine once called ‘the baneful effects of bad religion.’ I was glad to be a part of this discussion with fellow counselors – and without a need to be in any way defensive about the church.

I also attended a Clergy Study day with Dr. Robert Franklin, which addressed social and racial issues from the point of view of clergy in the public forum – engaging in discourse as ‘public theologians.’ Significantly, Dr Franklin used a classical quotation – ‘Democracy depends on a virtuous people – a vicious society seeks a master’ – as the basis for much of the discussion about the Clergy’s role, and how we represent and can proclaim the virtues society needs to be truly democratic.

This was followed a day later by a symposium sponsored by the Church of the Common Ground on ‘Poverty, Racism and Homelessness.’ There were representatives of Ecclesia and the Cathedral of the Common Ground, along with a large number of local participants. The symposium was called ‘Beyond Sandwiches’ – which I think speaks for itself.

Within days of all this, I was involved in the Province IV Clergy Pilgrimage out of Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing. This was perhaps the most challenging experience of all. During three days (not including journeys to Charleston and Savannah undertaking by the pilgrims), I found myself forced to reflect more deeply than ever on the fundamental and systemic problems of race in our society and in the church.

My friends, this is not something we should be concerned about alongside other issues facing the people of God – this is THE issue affecting the whole character of what we are daring to call the Beloved Community. When I read Bryan Stevenson’s book ‘Just Mercy’ a year ago I was enraged – this pilgrimage with its deep interpersonal work leaves me grieving and praying for wisdom and guidance.

Pray with me as we again celebrate the birthday of the Church and seek the presence and infusion of Holy Spirit.

From The Rev. Canon John Bolton

Canon Chaplain for Clergy
(404) 402-7599