From the Executive Director's Pen ...
“The Subversive Power of Lent”
Texts: Isaiah 58. 6-9 and Romans 12.1-2
With the Lenten season now upon us, I speak to you as a fellow traveler on the road of faith, one who is both a beneficiary of many of the strong traditions that have sustained the church for generations and a servant leader who seeks to be open to the Holy Spirit’s constant urging for deeper relationships with God with broad and believable expressions of Christian love, mutuality, justice, and peace during these times.
By now we know there is something quite subversive about Lent. Just a few days ago on Ash Wednesday, we were reminded that no matter how educated, connected, or powerful we may be, all we are (courtesy of the rock group Kansas) is dust in the wind. Yet, we are dust that has been magnificently molded into clay jars by our creative God for God’s pleasure and glory and the fulfillment of God’s agenda on earth, as it is fulfilled in heaven.
There is more.
As Christians, Lent calls us to a clearer, consistent, and more credible connection with Christ Jesus – his very life – even as we contend with the hard-wired and often hardcore realities of our world and, admittedly, our ways of functioning within our world.
Lent calls us to acknowledge the uneasy peace accord we sign daily between our faith and our world. For ours is a faith that wants an all-access-pass to our very being. It is a faith with all-consuming expectations and non-negotiable core requirements of love, mutuality, justice and peace. Our world is one that hungers and thirsts for self-destructive, imposter realities of social schism and group supremacy, while accepting and promoting hysterical lies over historical truths.
It pushes us to live as amphibians, an idea advanced by the late Rev. Dr. Samuel DeWitt Proctor as he described the ways African Americans live and even thrive in two realms within society, one African American and one White.
Expanding on Rev. Dr. Proctor’s idea, a bit, when we Christians live amphibious lives, we acknowledge the fragmentation and violence of the world around us. Then, we must choose to work not as solo artists or operatives of scandalous autonomous free agency, but as people who seek to embody the scriptural directive as laid out by the Apostle or (dare I say) Pastor Paul:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2 NRSV)
In a world often accented by brokenness and punctuated by injustice, Lent calls us to live not as party delegates and surrogates for political leaders with two- or four-year aspirations, but to instead live as agents of the love, mutuality, justice, and peace of God as envisioned and embodied by our Savior Jesus Christ. For these Reign-of-God values transcend political parties and have the power to transform public policy. As I consider the Apostle Paul’s words about presenting our bodies as living sacrifices, at once I know that any Lenten fast through which I give up candy bars may help me to lose a few unwanted pounds, yet the real weight-reduction plan of Lent has to do with eliminating or sacrificing the heavy, comfort-driven alliances or agreements we have made with life the way it is.
This faith orientation places us in the transformation protocol, a spiritual realm through which God renews our minds, alters us, changes us, and rearranges us into the agents of life, love, and liberation we were designed to be. Once we enter the transformation protocol, we can instead deepen our commitment to living and spreading Kingdom or Reign-of-God values that inform us of the way life is supposed to be. After all, the work of the church is not simply to get people into heaven; it is also about getting heaven into people.
A couple weeks ago, strong winds knocked out the power in my community and thus my home. We were forced to contend with darkness. After a few hours of uncertainty that featured flashlights with no batteries and candles with no matches, light returned to my home, most certainly because teams of people wearing hard hats worked together. They engaged in the uncomfortable and inconvenient work of climbing poles and reattaching power lines, for that is what it took to restore light. Restoration of light requires some work.
In Isaiah 58, we have a prophet who understands the social, political, and religious darkness that has enveloped his people. He knows restoration of light requires some work. He therefore gives divine counsel about authentic worship and righteous living to Israel and therefore to us:
This is the kind of fast day I'm after: to break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in the workplace, free the oppressed, cancel debts. What I'm interested in seeing you do is: sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad, being available to your own families. Do this and the lights will turn on, and your lives will turn around at once. Your righteousness will pave your way. The God of glory will secure your passage. Then when you pray, God will answer. You'll call out for help and I'll say, “Here I am.” (Isaiah 58:6-7, The Message)
So as we pastors and lay leaders gather for worship, nurture, and fellowship in brick and mortar or electronic theaters, maybe we should ourselves be public utilities, even "Power and Light" organizations! For strong winds of manufactured anger and mass-marketed fear have formed a swirling vortex that seemingly has absorbed all hope and the power for creative change. It has so many walking and working in darkness, a realm where decision making based on justice and the common good takes a back seat to speaking only to one’s base while suppressing, silencing, and slandering those deemed as probable opponents.
As leaders who are in God’s transformation protocol, your mission, should you choose to accept it, and you already have, is to avoid the false promises of social comfort and theological and ecclesial convenience and isolation, and instead be bold enough to form teams with other Christians and people of goodwill, put on your hard hats, climb the poles, reconnect the power, and turn on the light! The light of love, mutuality, justice, and peace.
We who are in the transformation protocol will surrender our Miranda Rights! As long as there is hunger and hate, invasions and insurrections, fear and fragmentation, and suppression and supremacy, we will give up our right to remain silent! Any word of love, any expression of kindness, any ministry of hope can and will be used help somebody, restore anybody, care for everybody, and reject nobody!
Peace and love to you, I pray.
The Rev. Dr. Jack Sullivan, Jr.
Ohio Council of Churches
Leader Development and Prayer Zoom
On Monday, March 28, the Leader Development and Prayer Zoom of the Ohio Council of Churches will feature women clergy who give leadership to denominational bodies that affiliate with the Council. These bishops and executives will describe the roles they play in their judicatory settings while offering a rare glimpse of the successes and challenges they have experienced as women who lead denominational bodies.
Our presenters will be Bishop Laura Barbins, Northeastern Ohio Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and Rev. Alissia Thompson, Ohio Alliance of Baptists.
Join us for this Women’s History Month conversation at 3:30 p.m. (Eastern). Register in advance for this meeting here. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.
ECUMENICAL ADVOCACY DAYS
Fierce Urgency: Advancing Civil & Human Rights
VIRTUAL ECUMENICAL ADVOCACY DAYS • APRIL 25-27, 2022
Ecumenical Advocacy Days 2022 (EAD) calls us into solidarity to restore, protect, and expand voting rights in the United States and to realize human rights around the world. As people of faith, we know each person to be created in God’s image, imbued with dignity and having a voice that demands to be heard, heeded, and treated justly. We arise in unity, holding up a mirror to leaders of nations, putting injustice on display and tearing down the veil of oppression that obscures the beautiful, God-born light shining from within us all. We bear witness to a global increase in violent repression of journalists, activists, rights defenders, and social leaders.
Political leaders around the world are using the pandemic as cover to boldly steal power and silence opposition through intimidation, torture, and murder. Our government is comfortably complicit in such abuses for economic gain and in the name of “national security,” but true security demands human rights be protected everywhere. Those asserting the right to speak for their communities and shape policy should be free from fear for their lives. We are summoned by the Holy Spirit to act immediately in solidarity with the world, insisting on an end to repression and drawing attention to God’s image reflected in the rich diversity of humankind.
As we gather in 2022, we are called to reflect the urgency and determination found in Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words. In his speech “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” he reminds us, “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late.”
As people of faith, we are called to meet the challenges of this moment. At Ecumenical Advocacy Days 2022, we will unite to amplify our Christian voice in advocacy for civil and human rights in the United States and abroad. Won’t you join us?
From the Public Policy Director ...
Greetings to all!
These are three of the public policy matters we have been working on:
1. FAIR DISTRICTS COALITION
As stated on its website, the Ohio Fair Districting Coalition is "committed to fairer state legislative and congressional maps. We are a non-partisan team of voting rights experts and organizations working to create a better and more equitable representational democracy." The coalition includes Common Cause Ohio, the League of Women Voters of Ohio, Ohio A. Philip Randolph Institute, the Ohio Council of Churches, the Ohio Voter Rights Coalition, and more.
Under the unshakable conviction that God desires people in every zip code to flourish, not just some, and that partisan gerrymandering is an affront to human dignity, the Ohio Council of Churches has given leadership to the Fair Districts effort. Through marches, rallies, petition drives, and Statehouse testimony, the Ohio Council of Churches has been involved in the effort to establish fairer and just legislative districts.
On Wednesday, March 16, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled the third set of state legislative maps drawn by the Ohio Redistricting Commission reflected partisan gerrymandering and were therefore unconstitutional. Of course, this was a major victory in Ohio’s fight against deliberately unfair legislative voting maps, and a crucial victory in the national movement for fair legislative districts.
Click HERE to learn what you can do to help Ohio achieve fairer voting maps.
2. HONESTY FOR EDUCATION
We are in collaboration with the Honesty for Ohio Education campaign that is speaking out against HB 327, which is designed to "prohibit teaching, advocating, or promoting divisive concepts."
The Honesty for Ohio Education effort opposes attempts to restrict and censor education around the history and legacy of racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, classism, and other forms of discrimination. The coalition also opposes attempts to divest local control from school districts, school boards, families, and communities.
The Honesty for Ohio Education Coalition partners include the Ohio Council of Churches, the League of Women Voters, the Ohio State Conference of the NAACP, the ACLU, and the Ohio Federation of Teachers. On March 9, the group held a press conference at the Ohio Statehouse. OCC Executive Director Rev. Dr. Jack Sullivan Jr. gave an passionate speech about why HB327 should not be enacted. You can watch his speech here.
Click HERE to find out how you can support the Honesty for Ohio Education campaign.
3. COLLABORATION BAN
The Ohio Council of Churches has signed onto efforts to rid the state of Revised Code § 3501.054, which, according to the All Voting is Local organization, purports to bar any public official responsible for administering or conducting an election from collaborating with any nongovernmental entity on activities related to voter registration, education, poll worker recruitment, or similar election-related activities.
This outrageous measure would prevent not-for-profit organizations such as churches from working with employees of the Boards of Election on providing non-partisan assistance on issues such as voter registration by making it a misdemeanor offense.
Rev. Dr. Amariah McIntosh
Public Policy Director
Ohio Council of Churches
Our hearts go out to the people of Ukraine as they face war and uncertainty. Church World Service has established the Ukraine Crisis Response fund to address the unique needs of Ukrainians displaced by the current conflict. CWS has an ongoing refugee/migration programming in Europe, specifically Bosnia and Serbia, and has technical expertise in the areas of forced migration, migrant assistance and protection, child protection, disaster and emergency response, coordination and refugee integration and community sponsorship. The situation in Ukraine and neighboring countries is unstable and ever-changing. While the details around the long-term needs are still developing, CWS is committed to help. For more information or to make a donation, visit: