(RNS) When churches conclude their summer hiatus and resume full-scale ministries this week, much will have changed from a year ago — outside their doors.
Conditions might have changed inside, too. But it is the world outside that demands fresh attention in mission and ministry.
Ferguson, Mo., has happened, revealing disturbing trends in law enforcement and deep fault lines between white experience and black experience.
Russia’s aggression against Ukraine happened, threatening a resumption of dangerous tensions between Moscow and Western democracies.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria happened, raising the dreaded specter of a take-no-prisoners war on modernity, reason, progress, women and other faiths.
The 113th Congress happened, mired in systemic dysfunction, with one party determined to cripple a black president and to channel more wealth to the wealthy.
The Koch brothers and their megabuck cronies happened, changing the face of electoral politics with unprecedented infusions of cash and ideological vitriol.
The two-tier economy happened, with one tier doing extraordinarily well and a much, much larger tier falling further behind, leaving despair among all age groups.
Border wars between terrified migrants and swaggering white men bearing arms against children happened, threatening America’s true core value as a welcoming nation promising freedom.
These outside-the-walls developments have little to do with the usual church fussing — except to say that it’s time for church people to stop their usual fussing.
This year will be a test. Can American Christianity get over itself and truly serve a desperate society? If churches do nothing more than business as usual — the mega getting more mega in splendid isolation, the struggling trying to hang on by not offending anyone — the Christian enterprise in America will have declared bankruptcy.
That means the mega must abandon their prideful isolation. They must put their considerable resources to work in making this a better nation for all citizens, not just a more comfortable home for like-minded evangelicals.
Progressive and conservative churches must put down their ideological swords and work together among people walking by their closed doors.
Black churches must dare to teach whites what black life is like; they must push beyond mutual suspicion to forge alliances. Politicians won’t provide jobs and dignity; gospel-bearing believers must do so.
Roman Catholic churches must dare to become neighborhood centers of peace and justice — not jealous outposts of a global brand, but neighbors helping neighbors.
Now is the time for churches set among the poor to get radically engaged in securing employment, feeding and sheltering, and standing in solidarity with the “wretched refuse” coming to our shores.
Now is the time for churches set among the shrinking middle class to stop remembering the 1950s and to see 2014 for what it is: a battle zone in a great class war between the rich and everyone else.
Now is the time for churches set among the wealthy to stop begging for scraps to improve facilities and echo Jesus, who commended radical generosity, radical sharing, radical self-denial.
Our nation needs faithful servants who have the boldness that Jesus commended. The year since our last fall homecoming shows a nation in deep distress. Time for us to step up.
(Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the president of Morning Walk Media and publisher of Fresh Day online magazine. His website is www.morningwalkmedia.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @tomehrich.)
YS/MG END EHRICH