Dear Church Family,

Last night, Jan 6, 2021, we, like all of you, watched aghast as violence erupted in the Capitol building. We were saddened and sickened by the hatred on display and the threat to our nation. We continue to be troubled by the fissures of polarization and angry dehumanizing rhetoric that have been deepening and lengthening for years, and that were on full display last night. In the face of such troubling times, what are we to do? Briefly, we the leadership of First Pres encourage all of us to do three things:  
1) speak the truth
2) pray
3) live and show the way of Jesus
More on each of these is written below, including a specific invitation to join us in corporate prayer and fasting tomorrow, Friday, January 8 at 12pm

Scripture tells us to speak the truth in love and to share the Lord’s values, wisdom, and ways, even when they are not easily received. We want to clearly state the truth as it pertains to yesterday’s events, and encourage you to do so as well in all your spheres of influence. 

  • We condemn violence and hatred, and all speech that purposefully incites violence and hatred. 
  • We stand against the idolatry of nationalism. Nationalism happens when we go beyond patriotism and find our hope and identity in politics, in a political party, or in a political figure. Nationalism happens when we conflate being a follower of Jesus with being a “good American.” As Jesus-followers, we are called to be good and helpful citizens of our country by encouraging its good ideals and also calling out its sin. But we are not called to worship our country and treat it, or any political party or outcome, as an ultimate reality. 
  • We are heartbroken at the sight of the Confederate flag in the Capitol. The Confederate flag is a symbol of people’s unwillingness to confront the reality of our nation’s historical failures in issues of slavery, racism, and oppression. The Confederate flag can also be used to make a statement about current unwillingness to engage in the need for racial justice and reconciliation in our country in this present moment.
  • We grieve with our sisters and brothers of color who are deeply feeling the weight of yesterday’s actions. For many people of color, yesterday's actions are not surprising, and are a continuation of the angry rhetoric that they have been experiencing for years, and another example of the hypocritical standards of how marginalized people are treated.   

We speak these truths not out of hate, but out of a deep love for Jesus, for each other, for our country, and for all people, even those with whom we may disagree.   

In the words of Rev. Dr. Dana Allin, Synod Executive of our ECO denomination, “I long for the Lord to come again in powerful ways that tear down the dividing wall of hostility that we face in our country, and unfortunately even in our churches. I know that we need to do even more than pray, but we need to start with prayer and fasting. Let’s humble ourselves before our Lord as we pray and ask for healing for our nation.” 

We at First Pres Winston Salem invite you to join us and churches across ECO in a day of prayer and fasting tomorrow, Friday, January 8. Some of our staff will lead a prayer gathering over Zoom at noon (linked here) tomorrow. Please consider fasting during the noon hour as a part of this practice of prayer, or fast throughout the day if the Lord leads.  

Let us join together by praying in these ways: 

  • That God would intervene so that there would be a peaceful transfer of political power. 
  • For President Trump, President-Elect Biden, and all our elected officials. 
  • For our black and brown brothers and sisters who are feeling great pain. 
  • For those who feel unheard and are consumed with anger.  
  • For healing of the deep divisions within our own local church, and the church nation-wide. 
  • That all of our eyes would be opened (not just “their” eyes, but mine too) to the upside down, surprising ways of Jesus, who is the only hope for peace in our world.
  • To confess our own, and the American church’s, errors of the past, and ask God to change our hearts and heal us. 
  • For the Lord’s wisdom about how to be a part of His redeeming and reconciling work of justice and peace in our communities, nation, and world.  

Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayers.  

What we witnessed on the news yesterday, including the language and attitude of our sitting President, as well as the behavior of the rioters, does not reflect the way of Jesus or the values of God’s Kingdom. Brothers and sisters, we must embrace God’s invitation to live every aspect of our lives in a way that is worthy of the calling we have received (Eph 4:1). The call upon anyone who follows Jesus is a summons to peace. Following in this way of peace means resisting violence in word and deed, and turning away from anything that intentionally harms another. But it is also a call to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And this Gospel hinges on justice and reconciliation: not only God accomplishing justice and reconciliation between Himself and sinners, but also God righting the wrongs between us, and healing the divisions between us. The Gospel is not just about me and Jesus; it is about how Jesus brings me together with my brothers and sisters, and together reconciles all of us to God! As Senior Pastor Peter Barnes has written, “we cannot describe ourselves as being filled with the love of Jesus if we aren’t pursuing justice.” 

And so, Jesus-followers must find a very different way of living than what is currently being modeled in our country. We must walk in the surprising, upside-down way of Jesus that pursues peace, justice, and reconciliation, and embodies the wisdom of God (see 1 Cor 1:18-25) rather than the wisdom of the world or of American nationalism. 

What does it look like to live and show the way of Jesus?

  • Listen. We must first be concerned with listening to others, rather than making our own voices known. We must seek out and listen well to the voices of our brothers and sisters of color and those who are marginalized. We must first seek to understand their perspectives, rather than defend our own. We must first seek to care for others, rather than care mostly about our own voice or our own rights being honored (Phil 2:3-4).
  • Show care for all. In these polarizing times, it can be so easy to cast someone with a differing opinion as “other,” and to turn away. And yet perhaps now more than ever in the modern age, Jesus’ command to love our enemies (Matt 5:44) rings with conviction and urgency. We must be willing to tangibly as well as emotionally care for all people, even those who have starkly different opinions and perspectives than we do. Seek the Lord about the specific ways He is inviting you to show love to your enemies. 
  • Be unified in Jesus across divides. The enemy seeks to divide and destroy. Therefore, we must cling to our union in Christ, the One who binds us together even in our differences. Political or social common ground will never be stable enough for us to stand upon. We must anchor ourselves to Christ and therefore to each other, trusting in the firm foundation of Jesus’ love that reconciles all people and all things to God. 
  • Avoid breaking relationships. Social media, for all its benefits, has contributed to the fracturing of relationships because it enables unchecked enmity in online political and social “dialogue.” However, we believe that online “dialogue” is not true conversation. We encourage you to avoid conversation, especially online but also in person, that perpetuates violence, division, bitterness or enmity, or causes the fracturing of relationships. We encourage you to embrace civility, decency, and humility in all conversation. For a guide, see For The Health Of The Nation: A Call to Civic Responsibility, which is a resource for Christian discipleship designed to encourage thoughtful, evangelical engagement.  
May the presence of the Triune God -- the Father who loves us, Jesus who is our peace, and the Holy Spirit who binds us together -- comfort us, challenge us, and guide us. Amen.  

Yours in Christ,
Rev. Dr. Peter Barnes, Senior Pastor
Rev. Amy Carlan, Associate Pastor for Discipleship
Rev. Mike Horne, Associate Pastor for Congregational Care
Rev. Heather Thomsen Tang, Associate Pastor for Worship, Music, and Arts
Rev. Dr. Yvette Lovett Martin, Business Manager
Rev. Dr. Uchenna Anyanwu, Interim Director for Missions 
First Presbyterian Church
300 N. Cherry St.
Winston-Salem, NC 27101
p: 336-723-1621