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Eastern Washington Legislative Conference Panel

Panel share ideas on how to influence public policy

Elise DeGooyer, Bishop Gretchen Rehberg, the Rev. Sandy Messick, Bishop Emeritus William Skylstad, the Rev. Gregg Sealey and the Rev. Walter Kendricks participated in the panel.

A panel of bishops and church leaders related the 2018 Eastern Washington Legislative theme, “Framing Faithful Discourse for the Common Good,” to bridge the anxiety prevalent in today’s political, religious and economic climate.

Elise DeGooyer, co-director of the Faith Action Network, moderated their discussion on how to inspire and mobilize people to live faithfully and influence public policy, even as the government leaders seem paralyzed by divisions and hate.

The Rev. Gregg Sealey, superintendent of the Inland District of the Pacific Northwest United Methodist Church, said society is in a time of cultural reactivity.

“As leaders of faith communities, we should cultivate a different way of being in the world but not of it, so we are less reactive” he said. “We have an opportunity to break the herd mentality and lead the culture a new way.

“If we focus on the Divine, we do not blame or need quick fixes.  How do we step away from the culture and engage our faith so we will be different in the world?” Gregg asked.

Bishop Emeritus William Skylstad of the Catholic Diocese of Spokane said, “We need to take first things first and look at our own part.

“It’s easy to blame others, but the Scriptures say that where our heart is, there is where our treasure is,” he said, telling of the Hispanic bishop of the San Bernardino Diocese describing himself as a “recovering racist.”

“Looking at where my heart is demands humility, listening, relationship with the Lord and one another in the human family,” Bill said. “Racism in the heart is unhealthy physically and spiritually, and works against the common good. We need to challenge what we see in each other’s hearts.

“For many, the first lenses to look at life are politics, economics and profit,” he said.  “Where is the Lord?  I need to look at all life through the lens of faith.  I need to see people of every culture and creed as brothers and sisters. We need to respond to everyone who is hungry, thirsty or naked.”

The Right Rev. Gretchen Rehberg, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Spokane, asked, “How do we engage in discourse for the common good?  How do we take our inner work to do that?”

She prefers looking for the common good—“moving from strength to strength” as Psalm 84 says—rather than judging what some are doing wrong: “How do we work with different approaches, acknowledging and understanding differences, not dismissing or demonizing them?”

She quoted poet Maya Angelou: “I did then what I knew best. When I knew better, I did better.”

Gretchen said that when “we recognize we are doing wrong, we need to know we can learn and grow.  We need to assume that the possibility to grow is there.

“Instead of leaving people where they are, we need to assume the best of people and believe they can grow. That way we can allow for healthy discourse of hearing and valuing each other,” Gretchen said.

The Rev. Sandy Messick, executive minister of the Northwest Region of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), told of a former member of the Westboro Baptist group, which she said “hates everyone.” From the age of five, she “protested everyone,” believing what her church leaders believed.  She went to protest after protest and held sign after sign, until she found Twitter.

Sandy said some responded to her hateful messages with hate, but some started to dialogue with her and engage in conversation with her.  She defended the Scriptures and faith she knew.  Then some Twitter friends came to protests to meet her in person.

A Jewish woman gave her home-baked goods, while the young woman held a sign against Jews.  She entered in dialogue, felt heard and then was able to hear.  She left the church and lived with people who had listened to her.

Sandy listed four things those who engaged her did:

The Rev. Walter Kendricks, pastor of Morning Star Baptist Church and president of the Spokane Ministers’ Fellowship, sees life through a spiritual lens.  His career with an airline took him around the world, but it did not satisfy him. When he started to study theology, he concluded that God either is or is not, and God’s Word, God’s revelation, is either true or is not.

“As we explore the common good, we realize that from one man, God created all nations.” Walter said.  “The key is faith and faith conversations with those who are not like me.  I don’t want to take anything from anyone when I ask for equal treatment, justice and my rights as a citizen, but it angers some.”

Walter knows “the common good” means “I can’t be all I’m called to be until I make sure you are all you are called to be.  The common good calls us out of our comfort zone,” he said. “I want you to be all you can be, so you allow me to be all I can be.”

Walter opened discussion pointing out that society is as it is because the church has let God’s Word be muddied.  Instead of society reflecting the church, the church reflects society. 

He said preachers should make people uncomfortable.

Bill agreed that a good sermon should not make people comfortable.

Gretchen said Roman Emperor Constantine’s conversion was a missed opportunity then, but can be seen today as a tragic mistake.  It’s where Christians became part of culture and lost themselves.

“It’s not just true of the church today, but also for the church of all decades.  With his conversion, Christians accepted that a follower of Jesus Christ could be in the military and lend money.  What difference did it make to follow Jesus?  The church failed there,” she said.

Gregg said people need to look at themselves rather than blame others for homelessness.

Sandy said the leader of the Poor People’s Campaign, the Rev. William Barber, a Disciples pastor, speaks out of faith and quotes Scripture in a pastoral and political way. 

“The campaign is Christian and interfaith.  It calls Christians, Muslims, Jews and people of all faiths to speak out about immigration, refugees, poverty and hunger, because Jesus modeled that and because faith compels us to work for the common good and care for the least.”

“Education, formation and evangelism are about the common good and caring for the least,” said Bill.  “When a bomb goes off in Kabul, it hurts me and has an impact on the common good.”

To a question about people assuming they are at a point of scarcity, but God speaking of abundance, Gretchen agreed most do not see their abundance.  She spoke of a theology of “enough.”

“We need to live into awareness that some will not have enough, if we do not share. Capitalism can be a religious system,” she said.

Another asked why more than 50 percent of Evangelical Christians and non-Hispanic Catholics voted for the current President.

Walter said, “God loves everyone—black, white, straight, gay, Democrat and Republican. Where is the disconnect?”

Bill said, “the church is not to be partisan, and we need to look at all as brothers and sisters.”

Gregg, who sees an urban/rural split, said after the election, he visited some communities and saw many Trump signs.  At a church meeting, many seemed pleased with the result.

“In the current culture of Facebook, social media and friends, we surround ourselves with people who believe as we believe. At church meetings, we need to see the diversity of opinions, engage people in conversation, hear their concerns and build relationships.”

Sandy told of being at a meeting in Washington, D.C. with people who had supported Clinton and were dumbfounded that she lost.

“They were in a bubble, believing everyone believed as they did.  They did not engage with or listen to others.  We need to listen and engage more,” she said.

Gretchen’s cousin, who is a right-wing Republican in Congress, sees her as liberal.  She said they agree on fundamental desires about solving hunger, homelessness and crime, but disagree on how to do that, so they listen to each other.

Bill said that often people are concerned about which way the winds are blowing.

“Our role is to change the direction of the wind,” he said.

For information, call 535-4112.

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