Redemption for the
Through War? Church Visit #20 U.S.
On Sunday, February 15, 2009 Martha Conte, Gayle Dunkelberger, Margaret Eberle, Nora Freeman, Debbie Kair and I attended The Church in the Highlands, a United Church of Christ-Congregational church in
We were welcomed by the pastor, the Rev. Melanie Miller, and by many in the congregation. As Nora reports below, we offered the opportunity to spread our message on cable television, as well as the possibility of speaking to a church gathering.
But we learned later in the week that not all parishioners appreciated our visit. One couple, objecting to our being welcomed by the pastor, said they would withdraw from the parish. We understand that they felt the pastor should have told us to leave the church and that politics has no place there.
In addition, as will be discussed, we were told about the possibility that the theological connection that has been made between suffering and redemption may be being interpreted in a way, however unconscious, that is making war more acceptable.
We visited the Gothic stone church in a residential part of
The spirit of the service was summed up well by Reverend Miller, who said in her Call to Worship: “We are welcomed, we are forgiven, we are loved.”
Early in the service, at the time for “sharing joys and concerns”, we rose on the right side of the church and held up two banners. The first said:
JOIN US – HELP END THE WARS!
Cost of War From US Taxpayers
OVER ONE MILLION CIVILIANS HAVE BEEN
KILLED, WOUNDED OR DISPLACED
The second banner read:
PEACE ON EARTH Good Will to All Luke 2:14
Reverend Miller was obviously not surprised by our presence. (She said later she knew of our visits because of reports such as this one that have circulated on the internet.) She immediately told the congregation that our group has been visiting churches, that we were welcome, and she invited us to visit with parishioners during the social hour after church. “The United Church of Christ is a very big tent,” she said.
We held the banners up for several minutes, until we felt that all had had a chance to read them, and then we returned to our pews.
Reverend Miller’s sermon dealt with choices, starting with a recounting of Jesus’ choice to heal a leper and the resulting need for Jesus to withdraw into the desert because of the crush of crowds seeking healing. She also spoke of the unlikely choice of God, through the prophet Elisah, to heal the leprosy of the Syrian general Naaman, which led to Naaman’s acknowledging Yhwh as his god. Naaman was advised to call on Elisah by an Israelite slave girl, another unlikely choice, said Reverend Miller.
“I stand before you saddened,” she said, “by the choices played out in our world. And she continued:
“God does not choose military strength. God does not choose money. God does not choose war. God does not choose one nation over another.”
“God chooses healing and peace. What will you choose?”
She said that people may say: “Yes, we must always choose peace, but…”
She concluded, saying that “God’s wish for the world is unconventional…God’s choices differ from our own…God chooses love and life and happiness and health and grace and forgiveness not only for Naaman and the slave girl but for you and me.”
After the service, I asked Reverend Miller whether she had given sermons specifically on the Iraq War, and she said she had done so at the First Congregational Church of Chappaqua when she was assistant minister there. She thought perhaps the sermons were not seen as threatening because she is a woman and was the assistant, but she believes that the pastor at that time, at the start of the Iraq War, had to leave the church because he spoke out against the war.
Reverend Miller said that the pastor gave a sermon critical of the war in which he suggested that the theological concept of redemption coming through suffering might be making war seem, even if unconsciously, palatable. I called Reverend Miller when writing this report to make sure I understood this point, and she said that while no one would be likely to say directly that the suffering of Iraqis has a redemptive quality, she felt that perhaps on an unconscious level the theological connection between suffering and redemption might make some people think “that somehow this violence is OK.” This, she said, “leads us down a road that I’m not prepared to go.”
Reverend Miller said that “the notion of ‘atonement’ doctrine in Christianity is the most problematic connection between redemption and suffering since the atonement doctrine tells us that we are redeemed specifically through the BLOOD of Christ…it is specifically the ‘bloodshed’ part of the redemptive action that is problematic.”
In pursuing this point on the internet, I found a sermon given in 2007 by the Rev. James Kubal-Komoto of the Saltwater Unitarian Universalist Church in
“For example, in talking about the Holocaust, to say that anything good came out of the Holocaust seems to be almost monstrous. Six million people died. An entire culture was nearly wiped out.
“I also wonder about the wars in
At the social hour I asked Reverend Miller whether we might have an opportunity to make a presentation on the wars to the church on a weekday night, and she said this would be a possibility.
After the service, we were graciously invited to join the congregation for a special brunch in honor of one of the church members. Debbie and I encountered a couple of elderly women who asked us to sit with them. They were curious about why we chose to raise our banners in protest of the wars in a church. I explained that we are trying to bring awareness of the wars in
One of the women talked about how her father had been a World War I veteran, and then her husband and brother were in World War II. She also mentioned that when she was in college in a small school in
The women asked Debbie and me where we are from. It turned out that one of them is Debbie’s neighbor at the housing complex where they live in Hartsdale. Small world! We were later joined by Lorraine Buonoconto, who had participated in the service as a layperson. She has a public access cable show in