A Pastoral Message to the Congregations of the American Baptist Churches of New Jersey January 13, 2018
Dear ABCNJ Family,
Our regional family is unique in all of the regions of ABCUSA because we are blessed with racial and ethnic diversity that mirrors the kingdom! The members of our more than 280 churches come from every continent on this planet, except Antarctica, and has made us who we are and shaped our peculiar witness for Jesus Christ. Our region has no real ethnic majority. This is what makes us a singularly unique region in our denominational family because, together, we represent the humanity of God’s desire.
Our life together is held and animated by a 3-fold vision: we are “Christ-centered, Mission- focused, and Pastoral in spirit.” Being centered in Christ requires us to walk on the path that Jesus has set for us, and that path always leads us to mission, and we do mission with a servant heart and for the sake of Christ.
It is within this unique ministry context where we as American Baptist congregations in the state of New Jersey strive to live out the grand declaration of the Apostle Paul that, “Jesus himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14). As a regional family, we are committed to breaking down any wall that prevents us from being with one another. We have not fully arrived to that heavenly ideal in our journey, but our striving defines who we are as we commit to the journey of making the reign of God in Christ visible here on earth as it is in heaven.
In recent days, in a meeting at the White House with legislators to discuss immigration reform, the President of the United States referred to Haitians and people from Africa (and of course, by extension, people of African descent) with vulgarity and hateful rhetoric, and singled out to stigmatize Haitians as disease-bearing, modern-day lepers. ABCNJ has 24 Haitian American Baptist congregations - 16 in New Jersey and 8 in Florida. We have 2 African congregations. Our sisters and brothers of African ancestry - Haitians, Africans, and African Americans - comprise 1/3 of our total regional family. The words that came out of the President directly demeans and dehumanizes our sisters and brothers who we deeply cherish and love.
As followers of Jesus we must speak out and denounce, in his name, words that fan the winds of fear, divisiveness and racial hostility - not only in our diverse regional family but in our diverse nation, and call these words to repentance and proclaim in its place the fierce conviction that the reign of God’s love is now here. This is not about partisan party politics, because the ultimate allegiance of the disciple is to Jesus Christ alone. We are called to speak to power the truth that sets free, regardless of who is in power. This is what it means to be Christ-centered. From Moses to Esther, Ruth, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and Micah, the people of God were always called to set people free from oppressive captivities, and to speak truth to power. When the Herodians (religious collaborators of the empire) attempted to trap Jesus into admitting allegiance to the emperor, Jesus told them to “Give unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” The church’s voice is muted when it abrogates its prophetic voice by surrendering its allegiance to earthly power.
The church is the embodiment of Jesus on earth, as Jesus was the very embodiment of God. We are called to bring the presence of Jesus in every space we inhabit and change the world. Tomorrow we commemorate the life and ministry of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a great American Baptist who gave his life to the struggle for racial equality and economic justice through non-violent and peaceful resistance. He called all of us to realize “The Beloved Community”, a society based on justice, equal opportunity, and love of one’s fellow human beings. The Civil Rights Act was passed and enacted because of his leadership. It was not legislators who transformed American society, it was the church.
The Holy Spirit’s work of love remains unfinished in the world. The church must speak. We shall overcome.
Rev. Dr. Elmo D. Familiaran Interim Executive Minister and Senior Regional Pastor