To all the good people of Moscow, greetings. I trust that you had a wonderful Christmas with your families, and as we are now on the threshold of a new year, I hope to do what I can to brighten the prospect of that year just a little bit. If I were in full possession of an olive branch, I would certainly offer it. But as it turns out, I only have two or three olive leaves—but what I have I do want to offer.
If you will bear with me for just these few moments, I want to begin on a personal note. I then want to discuss briefly three of the “bones of contention” that exist in our community, perhaps providing additional perspective. And then I want to conclude by giving you all something of a friendly heads up.
I helped my parents move here in 1971 just before I went into the Navy. When I got out of the Navy in 1975, I thought that I would attend college at the UI, catch up with my family and friends, and then move on with whatever I was going to do with my life. But I got married my first year year back, as a Vandal freshman, and Nancy and I started having kids right away. This is another way of saying that the roots started to go down pretty quickly.
Now I just said that I began living here as a resident in 1975. As the seal of our city states, we were founded as a town in 1887. What this means is that Moscow is 136 years old now, and I have been living here for 48 years of that time. And when I first started living here, Moscow was only 88 years old. Put into a percentage, it means I have been a resident of Moscow for 35% of its entire history.
And I love this town. All three of my kids were born at Gritman, and all eighteen of my grand kids were born there. My wife and I both graduated from the UI, and I was even privileged to teach courses for a few years at the UI as well. I wrote a weekly column for the Daily News for many years—which was how I first learned to type. It was also when I first began exasperating some of you with my pre-Cambrian versions of political theory, but that is another part of the story. Let us not get distracted.
Christ Church was also established as a church in the fall of 1975, and has been a thriving, growing church ever since that time. I have been the pastor since 1977. This means that our church and our associated ministries are also an organic fixture in our community. We are not an alien transplant, not at all, but rather are a significant part of what Moscow now means, and it has been this way for decades. I do not say any of this in order to dismay anyone unnecessarily, or to taunt, but simply to help us all recognize where we actually are. I can remember when Tri-State was right on the edge of town—and I say this because there is a real sense in which our ministries and our town are growing up together. Our kirker community is very much native to Moscow. There should be a way for us to figure out how to do this in a more civilized manner.
Now some critics are certainly going to say, “Psychiana was a fixture also,” and this gives us a good jumping off point for getting into our three substantive issues. But before going into that, we believe that Gamaliel spoke good wisdom centuries ago when he counseled the Sanhedrin on a topic very similar to this one. They were dealing with the problems caused by the extraordinary growth of the new Christian movement in Jerusalem shortly after Pentecost, and Gamaliel said this: “And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing” (Acts 5:38, NKJV). We (naturally enough) believe that what we are experiencing is the blessing of God, but we understand that there are others who would call it something else—a religious fad, or a craze, or an excitement, or cultic mind-control. But we don’t think of ourselves as an offbeat group, like Psychiana. We are more like historic Presbyterians, the kind that believe the Bible.
So if it is not a spiritually healthy thing, then let it go the way of Psychiana, leaving just a few trace elements behind. And if it is a spiritually healthy thing, we would like to keep doing what we are doing in order to be a genuine blessing to the outside community. This is what we believe Scripture requires of us (Jer. 29:7), and we really are seeking to live out this way of doing things.
Now at this point some of you are sure to think, “well, why aren’t you doing it then?” And this brings us to our three issues. There are no doubt other issues as well, but these three can serve as representative samples of the kind of challenges we are all facing together.
First, are we attempting any kind of a hostile takeover? No, not at all. Are we trying to duplicate what that Rajneeshpuram group did over in Oregon back in the eighties? No, not a bit of it. But if that is the case, then why do we say on our web site that we would like Moscow to become a Christian town? This statement was recently highlighted by the Meet the Press segment that was done about us, and so what about that? Or things like that?
So I am going to ask you to make a basic distinction together with me. We are Christians, and evangelical, which means that like the apostle Paul, we desire all men to have a share in what we have been given (Acts 26:29). If we didn’t want that, then that would mean that we didn’t really believe anything we were claiming to believe.
But everything comes down to the way in which this might happen. How might it happen? We want to love and serve our neighbors. We want our people to build businesses that enhance the quality of life for everyone else. We want people to come worship the Lord together with us if they want to. We want to do our part to contribute to a thriving and bustling downtown. We want to mind our own business. And we would want every last bit of it, soup to nuts, to be entirely voluntary. So our tag line “all of Christ for all of life” does not mean that we want to stand on your front porch 24-7, tracts in hand, wondering why you won’t open the door anymore.
By the way, I just mentioned “our people” building businesses. This is not something that is controlled in any way by the church. Our members are an enterprising bunch, with a shared worldview, but on a practical level they function in the same way that members of other churches do. They have a living to make, and they do so without direction or control from the church. Put another way, I don’t own a chunk of downtown. The only thing I own downtown would be my truck when I am there, and the books in my office.
But here’s the distinction. To the extent that laws and coercion enter into it, we are entirely opposed to any attempts to bring such things about by means of mandates from above. That’s not how any of this would ever come about. It will not happen in a “top down” fashion. So what about the “Christian town” part? If such a thing were to happen, it would happen quietly, with no one really noticing as it took shape. And then one day, people would just wake up and realize that the seal of the city had a church spire at the center of it. See above. We find dystopic scenarios of the Handmaid’s Tale sort as repulsive as you do, and what we have in mind is something more akin to the 1892 Supreme Court decision in the Holy Trinity case that determined the United States was a Christian nation. We are not looking for a hellhole with Bible verses attached.
The second issue would be the confrontations we had with our city government during COVID, and the subsequent arrests of some of our people at one of our psalm sings. And I would also add the subsequent prosecution of my son and two grandsons because of how they protested those arrests with stickers. My point here is not to go through all the details of those controversies again, which are still in the courts, but rather simply to frame the whole thing with this larger issue in view. We do not do such things because we are trying to impose an onerous burden on the citizens of Moscow, or establish a peculiar view of our own on everyone. We were resisting a coercive mandate, not trying to impose one. And we were doing this for the sake of all our citizens, and not simply ourselves.
So we do not believe we somehow should get special privileges, or that the laws don’t apply to us. Rather we believe that the laws should apply to everyone, including our city officials. The psalm sing where the arrests happened was perfectly legal, which is why the charges were subsequently dropped. So our desire is that all the citizens of Moscow retain their right to do perfectly legal and constitutional things. We don’t believe that your constitutional rights should evaporate simply because some people in authority are going along with an artificial and engineered panic. As the full story of the last few years has unfolded, and particularly with the releasing of the Twitter files, the more vindicated we feel in the stand that we felt we had to take.
But I not trying to get you to agree with that. None of this means that we expect you all to agree with the particular point we were making, or the way that we made it. It is that we want you to know that we were also fighting for your right to make points in public that we don’t agree with. The bottom line is this. We were not trying to impose our point of view on people who differ. We were resisting the illegal imposition of one point of view on people who differ. This time it was us, but on another occasion, it could well be you. So when it comes to your exercise of your constitutional liberties, you have absolutely nothing to fear from us. In fact, on this issue and others like it, we are being the consistent liberals. And even if you do not agree with the reasoning here, I wanted you to know that this is in fact the reasoning here. The arrests were at a psalm sing, but it could also have happened just as easily with somebody else singing John Lennon’s Imagine.
And last, if you are aware of us at all, you have probably been made aware of various sexual or molestation scandals that have occurred in our community over the years, and which our leadership has consistently dealt with in a conscientious way. It is not my point to get into the details of any of those cases, but rather, again, to provide a larger frame of reference on them for you.
The church is to be thought of as a hospital for sinners, and not a rest home for saints. Whenever a church gathers, and particularly if it gathers in larger numbers, as has happened in our community, you are going to attract all kinds—strugglers, victims, pharisees, hypocrites, and a mass of regular folks at the center seeking to live consistent Christian lives. As our community is now the size of a small town, I don’t have any doubt that in the future we will have more gnarly pastoral situations down the road—we do live in a broken and fallen world. It is one of the reasons why pastoral ministry is necessary. Life can be hard, and people need pastoral protection and guidance.
We will tackle all such situations as we have sought to do in the past, which means that we want to be biblically responsible in our pursuit of justice and safety for everyone concerned. In the decades that I have been in ministry, I have seen more than a few such tragic situations. But I have never seen one of them that was helped out or improved through becoming a topic of online controversy. Whenever that happens, the people who know the situation are not free to talk, while the people who don’t know are under no such limitation. So to help prevent such a complication from ever seeming appropriate, the thing we want you to know is that we are a church that practices church discipline, as necessary we report crimes to the appropriate authorities, we hold our members to their vows “to live as becomes a follower of Christ,” and that this is all tied in with our public stand against the degradation of our public morals. We do believe that the pornification of our culture has had destructive ramifications on a large scale, and we want you to understand that we are very much engaged in the fight against every form of sexual abuse. In no way do we defend the indefensible or excuse the inexcusable.
I said earlier that I was going to conclude with a heads up, and so here it is now. In the coming year, we are going to be trying various things that we hope will make our situation with the community less adversarial. We are not so foolish as to think that some trivial PR work, or a misbegotten charm offensive, is going to fix everything. But we are going to be looking for ways to ameliorate what we can, as we can. If there is general agreement that things should be ramped down, at least a little, we would like to help ramp it down in any way consistent with conscience. So if you see something like that from us and say huh to yourself, please know that it is not “a trick.” Whatever things we decide to do, it is being offered without guile.
Cordially in Christ,