Moving forward from here

September 23, 2020
By Kathy Goodwin
By John Hatton
The authors, Rev. Dr. John Hatton, superintendent of the Heartland District, which encompasses Louisville, KY, and Rev. Dr. Kathy Goodwin, pastor of two churches in Louisville, both share their thoughts on these historic and volatile times.
 
In Everything, Go About Doing Good

As the investigative findings about Breonna Taylor’s death are being released to the public, I wish to share with you not only as my colleagues in the ministry of the Church, but also as my sisters and brothers in Christ. While some may say that a formal statement from the Church is unnecessary for a police investigation, I nevertheless think that it is important for me as a pastor to speak into the larger concerns of race and racism within our country. I must confess that it would be easy to remain silent and keep my faith private, yet the words of James, Chapter 2, return often to my heart as a means of grace. When I see a brother or sister asking for food or clothing, a blessing is not enough. Faith isn’t enough if it doesn’t produce good deeds. I hope you will receive my letter as a deed of goodness.
 
I am reminded of the passage of Scripture from Luke, Chapter 4, when Jesus reads from the scroll of Isaiah in his hometown synagogue. Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has appointed me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to those who are captives, recovery of sight to those who are blind, and to set at liberty those who are oppressed.” Jesus went on to say that this Scripture had been fulfilled that very day. These words encapsulate the ministry of Jesus and the mission of the Church. As the people of God, we also know that such careful theological revelation in Scripture is not to be forgotten or ignored as an inconvenient truth. Instead, in our best moments, our lives should be a living witness to these profound truths we find in Scripture. As Christians we are in ministry to share good news of resurrection and everlasting life to those who are poor in spirit and good news of care and aid to those experiencing poverty. We are called to help in the recovery of sight to those who are physically or spiritually blind. We are sent to proclaim Jesus’ release of those who are captive to sin and work for liberty for those who are experiencing oppression. These core beliefs are so central to our faith that we remember these words of Jesus every time we receive Holy Communion. These values might be summed up in a very Wesleyan way with the statement, “The World is Our Parish.”
 
As Methodists, we know those are the words of John Wesley from a journal entry where he understood that wherever he went, he felt it was his duty to declare the “glad tidings of salvation.” He ended that journal entry with the ideal that in everything, he would “go about doing good.” In recent weeks, I have revisited Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” As I’ve read this historic letter, I’ve thought about the difficulty of those times when Dr. King was speaking to (in his words) moderate white clergy about the difficulties their sisters and brothers in Christ were facing in Birmingham. 
 
In the letter, Dr. King addresses his fellow moderate clergy who were complaining that King and the marchers were outsiders coming into Birmingham creating tensions in the community. Dr. King responded that all of our communities and states within our Union are interrelated and because of this, his nonviolent marchers were not outsiders. The marchers were part of the community of Americans. King went on to note that he felt like he stood between the extremes of responses to racism and segregation. On the one hand were those who, because of long-standing oppression, had lost self-respect and were complacent. On the other hand were those who were responding with bitterness and hatred, fleeing to black nationalist groups because they had lost faith in America and in Christianity for failing to address racism. 
 
Dr. King goes on to say, “But the judgment of God is upon the Church as never before. If today's Church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.”
 
Dr. King’s words are just as relevant today as they were in 1963 when he penned that letter. The Church must speak.
  
As Christians, I believe that we all understand that racism is a sin. Yet it must be said again clearly today. Racism is a sin and is contrary to holy living and to the cause of Christ. Like other sins, its roots are deep within us and our society, even if we are not aware of it or do not want to struggle with it as a matter of the heart. As Wesleyans, we believe in the power of regeneration and sanctification. Persons who have experienced regeneration have a change of heart and are new persons, born from above. They are children of heaven and join the colony of heaven here on Earth that we know of as the Church.
 
We believe in sanctifying grace – the power of God working within us to eliminate all matter of evil and sin within us, forming within us holy behaviors, thoughts, and tempers. We believe in Christian Perfection – that God’s love indwells within us and changes us in ways that allows us to see and love other people in the same way that God loves. God’s love changes us so that we love God more perfectly and we love others more perfectly. That perfect love informs our behaviors and our thoughts. God’s love draws our hearts upward toward heaven and in our joy and devotion, we are empowered to live holy lives pleasing to God. As baptized Christians, we affirm that our baptism is the sign and seal of the work of God in our lives and that we are part of the Body of Christ. In my salutation of this letter, I took up the words of Dr. King as I addressed you as my fellow clergy and fellow Christians called by God to minister to the world as our parish. As Wesleyan clergy and United Methodists, I ask that we take John Wesley’s words to heart and “go about doing good.”
 
The weeks that are before us are opportunities to do good. They are opportunities for us to be filled with the Holy Spirit and recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early Church. These weeks are opportunities to witness to the power of God in our communities by living holy, upright lives so that others can see the values of the Kingdom of Heaven. In our doing good, we cannot be silent, lest the young people of today turn away from the Church in disgust. In our doing good, we cannot be silent lest we abandon the Christian value of holy living and holy witness. In our doing good, our faith will be made known. In our doing good, we no doubt will receive criticism from our own community, just as Jesus did, because we are espousing a Gospel that is offensive to some.
 
I believe that God will call you and your church to ways of doing good in the weeks ahead. The holy work of Methodists will be means of grace for our community that will demonstrate the values of the Church, this colony of heaven here on Earth. I call you to be a people of prayer. I also call you to be a Good Samaritan that will minister to and bind the wounds of those who are hurt by racism and oppression. Step into their shoes and see them clearly as your sister or your brother in Christ. Listen to their story and seek to understand. Take up the covenant of your baptism, our confession and call in Holy Communion, and your vow as clergy and baptized Christians. Go everywhere and share the glad tidings of salvation. The world is your parish. Serve sacrificially for the glory of God knowing that Christ’s Spirit goes with you as you do good. Be conduits of grace through your words and actions, blessing those that curse you and loving your enemies. Remember that as children of God, you are peacemakers. May your love and ministry bring true and blessed peace to everyone in this, our parish. 
 
Yours for the cause of peace, 
 
Rev. Dr. John Wesley Hatton
Heartland District Superintendent
Kentucky Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church
Louisville, Kentucky

 
"Where Do We Go From Here?”
 
“Justice delayed is justice denied.” For more than 100 days the wait on a ruling from Attorney General Daniel Cameron has denied justice for both sides in the death of Breonna Taylor at the hands of Louisville police. However, today the wait is over.

As I sit here anticipating the outcome of a decision that has been over 100 days coming, I am thinking about the what ifs. What if the decision appeals to one side and not the other? And of course, it cannot be otherwise. Consequently, the title to Dr. Martin Luther Kings’ book, ”Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?” comes to mind.

It does not matter the direction of the decision. The greater energy should be exerted toward a greater hope. The arrest or exoneration of the perpetrators will not end all the evils of our society. The entire world is watching Louisville, and how we respond in this critical community-changing moment is paramount to where we go from here. Chaos or Community? What is the greater concern? City officials are preparing for a certain reaction from a people who feel that justice has not rolled down like a mighty stream but has trickled like a dried-up faucet. Wonder why? These people have an expectation. Can the peace that surpassed all understanding show up amid confusion? Can we cry out to a God who promised “never to leave us nor forsake us” (1 Chronicles 28:20).
Does He have our undivided attention? The promise of God to David was His presence with David until all the work in the temple is finished. The work of racism is not finished, but what we know about God will provide us with the calm assurance that God will be with us until the end.

Let us now begin to look forward and be the change our community needs. This does not mean succumbing to the sin of racism that has steered us to this point. It means believing the Bible where it states, “The Holy One will take all that is meant for evil and use it for our good” (Genesis 50:20). Whatever happens, let it be for the good of the whole. The HOPE that we invite and reflect amid this decision should show everyone that the community is enraged because we Have Only Positive Expectations. In other words, the citizens of Louisville and specifically citizens of the Kingdom will now redirect our attention toward a message that continues to resonate hope with a resolute spirit.

The challenges of Economic HOPE, Health Care HOPE, Better Job HOPE, Decent Housing HOPE, and Quality Education HOPE, to name a few, are hopeful themes to refocus our attention. We really do have more in common than we do differences.  When we focus on the needs and desires of those who have no voice, we are more like Christ. Christ was often found standing in the gap for those in trouble. The church must learn how to stand for the voiceless, the homeless, the disenfranchised, and the unjust. The United Methodist Church has guidelines, doctrines and polity that clearly explain our response to others who are unjustly treated. These are tools toward a more peaceable society, a society guided by principles leading toward a more God-like community.

How we respond to this decision will shape the history of Louisville forever. When we consider our personal wins and losses and the highs and the lows in our own personal lives, let us be reminded that this too shall pass. In this most pressing case let us not reward evil with evil or rejoice in someone else’s pain. In times like these we can be immensely powerful in our silence. Silence is not a weakness; it expresses our disappointment in a more solemn way and activates the vengeance of God.

Benjamin Franklin said, “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” This is not to advocate sameness; we will never be the same as God has made us all in God’s image, but different. Not sameness but unity … a coming together for a common good, the good of humankind. Allowing what is happening in heaven to show up on Earth. Because ”injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” (MLK).

Mahatma Gandhi reminds us, “There is a higher court than courts of justice, and that is the court of conscience. It supersedes all other courts.”  I concur: The court of conscience will continue to challenge and judge long after this history has been recorded, especially when justice has raised the blindfold and peeked from beneath.

“Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced” (James A. Baldwin).

“Justice consists not in being neutral between right and wrong, but finding out the right and upholding it, wherever found, against the wrong” (Theodore Roosevelt).

“Law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and when they fail in this purpose, they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress” (MLK).  

Remember, you are blessed to be a blessing.
 
Rev. Dr. Kathy Ogletree Goodwin, Pastor
Fourth Avenue and Crescent Hill UMCs