The City

Letter to my Gallery Church family - Nov. 17, 2016

Dear Gallery Church Family,

We live in a world where responses can be quick and very public. I pastor in the tension of “slow to speak and even slower to become angry” and witnessing injustice that demands immediate action. It is also a time of navigating expectations, and this is a time of unprecedented expectations. People place expectations on themselves at unhealthy levels, and people place expectations on others that could never be met. It is impossible to please everyone – even a portion of the time.

This is very long. I wish I could have made it a quicker read. Please commit to reading it to the very end…

I am not a disciplined writer, and I don’t spend a lot of time on social media. I do enjoy posting encouragement, verses of Scripture, reminders of coming teachings, events and changes to schedules. I also love posting pictures of my amazing family and all that God is doing in my kids as they grow up. But I don’t like using social media to engage in debates, or carry on conversations. I prefer to do this in person and over meals or at least a beverage. I am not saying this is right or wrong; I am just stating my boundary to this point.

I have been drawn into reading, and at times, participating with some of the social media conversations about our election of new officials. I have laughed at some of the satire and cried at the obvious sin that is blinding us and keeping us at odds. It is at times like this that I wish social media didn’t exist. I miss the days of sending handwritten letters with a stamp to a friend or picking up a newspaper the day after something controversial has happened. At least then, we had a chance to take a few breaths and ponder our words. Now, we get it fast and we get it raw. Some people can do fast and wise, but not all of us. Some people use social media as a personal diary that once was locked and hidden under a mattress but is now available for all to read.

I have been accused of being silent and not standing up for injustice. I feel like my life and ministry in Baltimore tells a different story. I really think that what people are saying is that I don’t speak out on social media. This is true. I haven’t spoken up on social media. I don’t think too highly of it, so I don’t use it for persuasion.

I am, therefore, writing this letter to my church family in Baltimore, knowing that it will spread across other forms of social media – making its way to people who are not under my spiritual care. I will respond to my congregation (that is what I am called to), but I will not respond to others outside my influence. It is not because I don’t love you…I do. It is two-fold: 1. God placed me as a shepherd to some of His children, but not all. 2. Time – there is not enough time to go around.

There are a couple of points that I desire to write to you about. They are as follows: 

  • We really aren’t a Christian nation and have never been.
  • Anger leads to death/murder.
  • Thinking to yourself leads to wrong thinking and beliefs not based in truth.
  • We are lost in ourselves.
  • We need to learn to talk.

There is no period in US history where we had Jesus as Lord of our nation. I do agree with many people, that Jesus was the Lord and King of many who shaped our nation and have lived as citizens of the nation. But we must look at how we treated Native Americans, Africans, Latinos, and many others who have been treated as less than human. It is easy to see it if we take a minute to look back at the true history of our nation. We have not made Jesus our King. Money has been on our throne and we have pledged our lives to it as our lord. It is in it that we find our comfort, hope, and peace. So when we say, “America is a Christian nation,” or “America needs to rediscover its Christian roots,” or “America has lost its Christian values,” we are doing great harm to many who don’t yet believe in Jesus Christ. When we say, “My political party best represents Jesus’ will” then we are painting a picture of Jesus that is also not accurate or helping people come to know His saving love. Most of the Christians who have spoken aloud, to whom I am now adding my voice, have made things worse by elevating one sin over another and dragging Jesus through their political choice. I’ve heard people articulate this by saying that killing unborn babies is worse than abuse of the living or saying a person is from the devil when someone else sees that same person as one to be loved. It is time for white voices, especially in the Church, to say, with no reservations in their voice, that “Black Lives Matter,” and the immigrants of all colors, whether here legally or illegally, are image bearers of God. Most of the narratives in Scripture were from the voice of the one in captivity and not ones in power (voice of the Hebrews and not the Egyptians, Assyrians, Persians, or Babylonians – the voice of the early Christians and not Rome). We must look to Jesus and love our neighbors as Jesus defined in the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10).

I believe that the whole of the Scriptures is God-breathed and profitable (Old and New Testament). I believe that none of the Bible is fully understandable until the Holy Spirit reveals truth, and you turn to the four accounts of Jesus’ life that are labeled as the Four Gospels. In here you find Jesus and the Holy Spirit coming. Jesus makes it all make sense. One of those Gospels was written by Matthew to the Jewish people in first century. He wanted them to see Jesus as he had and love him as he did. One of the most important teachings Jesus ever gave is found in Matthew in what we have labeled as chapter 5 – The Beatitudes. In this chapter, Jesus turns everything over. He exposes how wrong we are and how messed up our logic and reasoning really is. In this section, Jesus talks about anger and murder in the same sentence. What I mean is, Jesus says that anger and murder are on the same path. If we are not careful, if our anger is not reconciled, someone is going to die. We may not strike someone dead, but our words and actions might. I have seen it in the lives of middle school students (boys especially). One boy is hurt and becomes angry. He starts talking to friends about how he’d like to get even. Then one of his weak-willed friends, one that lacks discipline or maturity, acts out on behalf of the boy speaking his words of hate. I’ve seen it in dads who talk about all forms of hatred in front of their sons, and then the son, who has never even seen or had a negative interaction with another, hates them or harms them just because dad shared his hatred/anger in an unhealthy way. There is a reason why racist individuals in our nation now feel the freedom to act on their hatred. When hate or anger is displayed by a leader or person with influence and not held in accountability, it leads to murder and numerous forms of spiritual, emotional and physical harm.

Thinking to ourselves is dangerous. I heard Paul Tripp say recently, “Who is the number one influencer in your life? You are. No one talks to you more than you.” This is profound and true. So many of us are feeling alone right now, solely because we have said to ourselves, “No one is with me. No one understands. No one is feeling this way but me” or some variation of this line of thinking. It isn’t true. We have to balance our thoughts with the thoughts and perspective of others, especially the thoughts of Our Father in Heaven. We can’t navigate these days without reading the Scriptures, talking through them with others, and praying in community. We must fight isolation. We must initiate with each other face-to-face in the presence of God and each other. Here are two examples of how the Bible addresses thinking: Philippians 4 and 2 Samuel’s story of David walking on the roof of the palace. The Letter to the Philippians tells us to deal with conflict and tension, plus provides a simple guide to controlling the progression of our thoughts. The book of 2 Samuel records the devastating story of how David thought to himself, took a walk on the roof when he knew trouble would find him, and started down a path of death and destruction.

I have found, even in what I do, that if I don’t inspect my heart and have others inspect my heart, I do the right things for the wrong reasons. If we are not careful, even those of us who are seeking justice and attempting to speak for those who have no voice, we will become what we don’t want to be. We will fail to see in ourselves what we hate in others. We will justify our sins and condemn others for theirs. We will love some of the people around us and hate others. We will say everyone has value, but in actuality, many to us are less than others. Without Jesus, we are lost in ourselves. If we don’t help one another walk through passages like Colossians 3; Ephesians 4:17-32; 1 Peter 3:8-22; Romans 1; Matthew 5; and many others, we will end up giving off words that speak of Jesus but display in our living a life that points to the Evil One. When reflecting on these verses, the Holy Spirit brought to mind Booker T. Washington. He served our Lord and our nation 100 years ago. This was yet another era in our nation’s history when it was difficult to be a black man. I was reminded of the time when he was invited to the White House. He was the first black man to receive this invitation and have dinner with a president. After that dinner, a short time later, he found himself in the lobby of a hotel. He had just completed a long day of speaking in multiple churches and public venues. In that lobby, a white woman mistook him for a hotel staff member and requested a glass of water. She had no idea who he was. Booker T. Washington, now one of my heroes, didn’t remind her of who he was; he got her a glass of water and asked if she needed anything else. Wow! Now I see why that president, Teddy Roosevelt, had this to say after their meal, “As much as any man I’ve ever met, he lived up to Micah’s verse, ‘What more doth the Lord require of thee than to do justice and love mercy and walk humbly with thy God.’”

We need to learn to have a conversation – Talk. I am tired, as many of you are, of not being able to talk about the issues without people getting angry. I am tired of people thinking that what they see is all that there is to see. I’m sure I’ve been guilty of this as well. There are so many layers to our nation’s problems and to this generation’s sins and struggles. When Peter was writing his first letter to the early church, he reminded them of their identity in Jesus, their purpose in Jesus, and how to live while waiting for His return. I think we lose sight of how much of that “how to live” was talking to each other with a tremendous amount of hurt to overcome. He was writing to a group of people who were sharing the same food for the first time (maybe the first time in human history). Men and women were being taught how to value each other, slaves and slave masters were sharing the same table, murderers and victims’ families were together for the first time, and the list could go on and on. He focuses his writing on chapter 3 in verse 8 when he says, 

“Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, 
be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with 
insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you 
were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” 

Peter knew that they needed to have an anchor point for when circumstances and their differences would seek to destroy them. They needed to have the same mind (which was who they were in Jesus Christ), they needed to be sympathetic (meaning to walk in another shoes), they needed to love each other (as Jesus loved), they needed to be motivated by that love to act (compassion in love in action), and finally, they needed to never forget the importance of humility (Jesus’ example of humility – Philippians 2). We would be wise, in my opinion, to let Peter be our pastor for this season of time in the Church here in our nation. Peter guided a very diverse group of people to talk about what they do until Jesus comes back. We need to talk again about what we do until Jesus comes back. If we don’t, we will repeat the sins of our nation again—brother against brother—wealthy against the poor—citizen against immigrant—educated against uneducated—sinner versus sinner.

So here is what I’m asking based on what I have shared in this letter:

  1. Don’t use God’s name in vain. Don’t attach God, Father in Heaven, Jesus Christ, or the Holy Spirit to a political party, candidate, or position. There is no way this will answer Jesus’ prayer recorded in John 17. No one candidate or political party lines up with Jesus Christ. Don’t say that God loves the unborn more than those abused through racism. Don’t say that one leader is God’s leader when God has given the earth to us to rule and reign, (being honest…sometimes I feel like this was a big mistake on God’s part… He must really love us) and He allows people to lead and will use them for His purposes. Jesus is the only anointed King. We follow a Lion, not a donkey or elephant.
  2. Don’t write and post something without sharing it with a trusted circle of family and/or friends. Too many of us are writing words that are not intended to hurt people we love, but in reality, they are. Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should. Wisdom is seeking guidance and walking with a love of others first. For example, by the time you read this letter, my wife and several of our pastors, and a few trusted friends have already read it and given input and rewording. The Holy Spirit used them to help me make clear what I believe the Lord of All asked me to write.
  3. Do something as Jesus would and don’t just speak/type. I am a firm believer that we are meant to actively wait for Jesus to come again. We are not meant to sit in front of our computers, read others’ words, and type responses for hours (just as I also believe that we are Netflix/Hulu binging too much). We need to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. So… eat with people, serve others out of what you have worked hard to earn, give of yourself, and don’t just talk about current events – join in the Kingdom of God by learning what Jesus would do and then practicing it.

There is so much more I’d love to put into this letter, but I am ending it by asking you to pray for me as I am praying for you. I have been given an assignment from our Father in Heaven. I am attempting to fulfill it. I need to propel the church to prosper our city by transforming one neighborhood at a time, one block at a time, one family at a time. I am attempting to share the Hope and Love of Jesus – pray that people listen and repent of their sins. Pray that I share this message with integrity and in love. We must awaken the Church to the desperate needs of our urban areas (places of population density) and the rural spaces of our nation and world. We must share our resources as our brothers and sisters did in Acts 2-9. This work must be completed – Pray that I will be faithful to complete my part and that many will join me (especially those that claim God’s family at Gallery Church of Baltimore).

Grace and Peace be with you.

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Ellis Prince, Lead Pastor 

Gallery Church of Baltimore

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Jason Labonte

Thank you, Ellis.
As I’ve said before, I have always appreciated yours and the other pastor’s not attaching God’s name to any political party.
Please don’t listen to the accusations that you have not stood up for justice.
Again, thank you.

Vickie Vanderpool

Well said, Thank you!  Continuing to pray for you!

Thanks for this perspective, Pastor Ellis. I greatly appreciate your wisdom and prudence.

Roland Quinn Jr

I’m sorry but I think that all lives matter regardless of race,color or creed. Our corrupt govt. and the media have created this mess by stirring up hate, division, and racial unrest. It is up to us the church to bring healing to this hurting country. You said in your letter that we shouldn’t put our faith in any political party or elected official, any one who does that is foolish, but.we are commanded to pray for those in authority over us..

Raina Brooks

Thanks for sharing Pastor Ellis! I am thankful for your leadership. Will be praying for you, our church and our nation.

Frank Govan

Wow. Thanks for sharing your heart Dear Brother. Well said.

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