In a church newsletter, my pastor recently cited a discussion she heard between the columnists E.J. Dionne and David Brooks. They were lamenting the loss of a mainline Christian voice in the public sphere, and Brooks declared that mainline Protestant churches are too weak today to assert such a voice. I will confess that I have had my own moments of similar lament. I have bemoaned out loud the lack of Jesus’ revolutionary spirit in churches today. I have decried the silence and timidity of pastors who are afraid of “controversy” in the church should they dare to speak of justice. Yet, my immediate visceral reaction to reading the comments of Dionne and Brooks was not at all along these lines. Instead, I thought about the overwhelming response to a recent statement by clergy who have called for action in solidarity with Standing Rock.
When I initially worked on the statement with the Rev. Marlene Whiterabbit Helgemo and the Rev. Dr. Rebecca Voelkel, I figured that it would be signed by perhaps 10 to 20 clergy who had been involved in Standing Rock solidarity over the past month or more. I thought such a response would be wonderful. I figured it would lay the foundation for this small group to do more together. That was my main hope, and I thought I was dreaming big.
To my surprise, however, circulation of the statement quickly snowballed as clergy forwarded it to others via email, and one clergy asked that I post the draft on Facebook, so that she could share it with colleagues. Soon more than 270 clergy had signed the statement. As of Tuesday afternoon, that statement has now received over 9,000 likes on Facebook. On top of this, I have been inundated with emails from clergy and laity who are passionate about their desire to go to Standing Rock as an act of solidarity.
In this moment, the public voice of the church does not look weak to me. Instead, it looks strong and growing. In short, I feel that I am witnessing the church be the church, and it is a blessing that literally brings tears to my eyes as I type these words. For the sake of justice and for the sake of Standing Rock, may we continue to be the church.
The Rev. Dr. Brooks Berndt is the Minister for Environmental Justice for the United Church of Christ. He can be found on Twitter as The_Green_Rev.