By Rev. Douglas Avilesbernal
Executive Minister, Evergreen Association
"oh! How we have blemished and scarred
that body through social neglect and through fear
of being non-conformists."
Why we Can’t Wait, MLK
Nazis have vandalized another church. Sadly, this isn’t uncommon. They vandalized a Baptist church, Morning Star Baptist Church, in Spokane. You can look up what they did to the physical space easily enough. But can any of us comprehend the damage these misguided people did to the church members' soul space?
Now everyone in this African American church knows they are not safe in their worship space. They have now been brought back into 400 years of enslavement, lynching, intimidation and more. The congregation is violently back to the ever-present reminder that the white power ruling the country can, and often has, taken everything away if they forget their place. They now have to worship God in fear in their own spiritual home. Not only that, many people who look like them now know the specter of violent racism has come to their home.
For people in the unwanted minorities, this event has long lasting repercussions. We in the minorities in our country know that when white power rises, minority lives are lost. While for many people this is an upsetting event that makes us wonder how did we get here, for the intended victim group it is a physical safety event. Every interaction going forward is run through the memory of that event. In being cut off on the road, complaining at a store, speaking with authority figures, voting, and other activities, our physical safety is at risk. An angry white person is no longer some stranger who might be having a bad day--now that person is a potential danger to my safety; therefore, it is best to avoid doing anything that makes them angry. Or we try to continue with life as it is and pray that any white person one might anger is not one of the many “unseen racists,” for if they are, one may pay with one’s life.
White supremacy is on the rise. It is also clearly supported and encouraged by the highest levels of society. Therefore, many racists dream they are on the brink of coming back to being mainstream again. Nathan Larson, running for office in VA one year ago, felt safe enough to include in his platform that he wants to restore a benevolent white supremacy society in our country. Thankfully he is still a fringe candidate. Only four years ago he wouldn’t have made the news. Seems that being mainstream is so close white supremacists can taste it, so much so that people feel more comfortable going on racist rants in public, calling the police on minorities just because they are around. We are back to hearing from our elected officials that “immigrants are rapists and drug dealers.” Our government is once again treating non-white children as subhuman. Charles Lindberg's racist cry of America First is supported by the president! Racists are on the brink of being mainstream again.
These are the historic moments when the overwhelming desire to go along can lead entire nations to cruelty beyond belief. Germany, Rwanda, the Balkans--all these nations were mostly Christian when they perpetrated their genocides. We have already taken a grievous step in that direction by jailing toddlers without their parents! Yet, those officials creating and supporting those policies could very well be re-elected because of said policies.
This is an historic moment when going along with the mainstream will destroy our souls and the lives of many. The fear of being seen as a non-conformist could become the door through which the hateful cruelty of racism comes back into accepted mainstream. Unless non-conformists like you and I cast our fear aside and stand firm.
It is time for us to embrace our Baptist heritage of dissent for the sake of Justice. As Bonhoeffer said, “the time is late” for us to do justice to our non-conformist heritage and stand, sit, block, speak, and above all love with a love so firm, broad and clear that both the perpetrator and victim know they are loved.
I pray you all find or make spaces wherever you are to say No! We will not just go along anymore! If it is legal, we will ignore it. That you will find the courage to speak to your legislators and vote your conscience for justice. That you covenant to do the hard work of learning how to best walk with our friends and family away from the fear that has led them to think of this cruelty as a solution to their concerns.
I pray our fear of being non-conformists no longer stops us from waging the powerful, systematic and intentional campaigns for justice to which Jesus calls us to this day.
What is that call?
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Let us embrace our Baptist tradition so we can be the non-conformists Jesus calls us to be.
Rev. Douglas Avilesbernal
We will gather next month for our annual meeting. Our theme will be part of our on-going Yes We Will! call to follow Christ. This year we will discuss ways to free the captives still in Luke 4:18. Our workshops will help us gain tools to work to end various forms of captivity, human trafficking, incarceration pipeline, and more. We need the time together and the tools to answer Jesus’ call effectively.
In thinking of this problem, I cannot help but think that most of these are symptoms of the fear of the other prisons in which many of us live. Most worrying for me is how that fear shows up in hate much too often in our world. I have also spent months trying to figure out what our role is in all of this. Should we publish our concern and be a visible voice? How much authority do I have to speak on behalf of our churches? Should we encourage our churches to…something? I’m exhausted from worry about how bad things could get, but what can we do?
My strongest desire is to condemn. I want to condemn those in government spewing hate, those who remain silent because speaking out might mean they lose their seat and thus their power. But my strongest condemnation is reserved for all those who minimize our journey to radicalization. All the people who know someone and choose to unfriend them on Facebook. Those who remain silent when they spew the vitriol they learn. All the friends who say, so and so is crazy, just ignore him when he gets on his rants.
The parents and adults who have learned and taught their children to never talk politics with each other. That same community who cannot imagine that anyone who looks like us can be radicalized into unhinged zealotry that leads to murder.
I want to condemn all who want to convince themselves that racism is in the past and that these mass murderers are just sick individuals, that the racist comments coming from our government are not actually racist. All who want to embrace the comfortable blanket of accusing perpetrators of mental illness that frees us from communal responsibility and guilt.
I want to yell out how our casual toleration of racism in private and our silence in the face of it in public do contribute to mass murders, cruel and dehumanizing immigration policies and the flourishing and emboldening of hate.
In the end, I have come to the conviction that one way is to follow Christ into freeing the captives, including ourselves. The how is more difficult. Maybe it is time for organized love. We need systemic love. We need a structure that helps these men (mostly) come to terms with the fact that what they might experience as anger is in fact fear. Fear that is born from our society equating value with supremacy. Fear that if we are not on top they will treat us like we treat the bottom.
I want to condemn yet Jesus calls me to stand in the middle and love. However, I must admit I have not been very good at following Jesus. Perhaps together we can be better?
Join us this October so we may help each other to love all into freedom.
“Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25
Will you join us this October 11-12th?
Rev. Doug Avilesbernal
Rev. Douglas Avilesbernal
In John 8:1-8 we find Jesus at a courthouse teaching. While there they brought him a person condemned to death. It is clear her sentence was death by stoning according to the laws. It is also clear Jesus never disputes that the woman is guilty. He also stands between the executioners and the sentenced. He does not challenge her guilty verdict; he challenges her death sentence.
We can quarrel about the places where Jesus might not have been clear, or worse, those issues he did not speak on at all. However, in this case he is clear.
Sadly, our current government has chosen to reinstate the death penalty at the Federal level. They have made their choice.
As far as I have been able to find there is no evidence that the Death Penalty serves as a deterrent to terrible crimes. In our country carrying the sentence out is slow, costly and even then, we have killed innocent people. At the same time, there is no question that, aside from the innocent killed, those sentenced to death have committed heinous crimes. Is it justice to become what we are intending to punish?
We Americans do have a romanticized notion of swift justice. This lust has blinded us to the fact that we have often used the word justice as a façade for racial prejudice, hate, revenge, retribution, and more. We often escape in front of a screen for a couple of hours where justice is served swiftly and accurately. Always to the deserving, by mostly attractive men who are too honorable to wait for the corrupt and slow system. There is nothing swifter in our romanticized eye for an eye world than the death penalty. It is clear, quick, final and it feels good to make them pay. It does not matter that the death penalty does not deter crime. Many of us simply want to make THEM pay.
We have grown comfortable with seeking retribution or revenge and calling it justice.
This earthly sense of justice feels good and leaves us with a very satisfying sense of having received payback.
In response to my position I often hear the comment, “you’re only against it because it hasn’t been your daughter raped or your mother killed.” I do wonder how I would respond, and I don’t know. Is revenge the only response?
When Charles Roberts IV shot 10 girls and killed 5, the families of the girls and their Amish community found another way. The Amish outnumbered mourners at Robert’s funeral and they visited his family to share in their grief together. I have no reason to think that if Roberts had survived these same mourners would have asked for his death.
It makes sense to want strong deterrents to heinous crimes. We should have strong consequences for evil acts. Christ did come to end our eye for an eye sense of retribution.
Is Capital punishment really that bad? Yes, because it is the result of our “us vs. them” world of separation. Our history of humanity has taught us that this type of separation has always ended with the powerful doing its best to destroy the weaker side.
I believe that reinstituting the death penalty is yet another cruel step moving us closer to the Rome of Jesus’ time and away from our Christian principles.
Watching this journey closely is important because we are living historic times in our country and especially for Christians. Previously, Christians have allowed themselves to be carried by fear into a world of retribution, vengeance and hate. Germany, The Balkans, Rwanda and others were all mainly Christian countries who, step by step, followed the path of hate that led them from alienating the other to genocide. Am I comparing us to them? Yes. Will we end in the same place?
Will we be good, obedient citizens and go along? Or will we stand with Jesus against this practice that does not deter horrible crimes but does satisfy our darkest desires for revenge? Will be stand between the hate and the victim and firmly love both?
This is not an easy choice. We will pay a price for standing on the side of love for all, perpetrator and victim. But if we do not, this path leads to open hate and pain that lasts decades.
So, let us remind each other that we all have blame to carry as well as grace and the call to repent and sin no more.
In hope that Love does prevail when wielded firmly and generously,
Executive Minister, EBA
Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell
Ministry Associate for Social Media
There is a scam that is targeting churches across the country that our Evergreen congregations need to be aware of, in that people are impersonating the pastor of a church and sending emails to request money. An email is sent presuming to be from the pastor asking for support for an immediate emergency need. The “pastor” requests that donations be made in the form of gift cards. The email address may appear as the pastor’s correct email, masked by the scammer. Often, you can click on the sender’s name in the email to see the full email address. However, some scammers are able to mask the entire email address, or the address will be off by one letter or number, easily missed by someone not carefully reading.
The best way to make sure a request is real is to contact the pastor by phone or to send a new email (do not reply, as that will go back to the scammer). Also, churches should have policies in place about collecting money online and how they would collect donations, and whether or not they would ever accept gift cards. See my previous article on Online Giving for safe ways for churches to collect funds.
Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchel
Sharing responses from our Evergreen Association churches to the terrorist attacks at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand:
First Baptist Church of Salt Lake City: Our hearts are breaking for our Muslim brothers and sisters in the wake of the massacre in New Zealand. We stand together, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist Etc. against this hate.
Queen Anne Baptist Church, Seattle: We grieve with our Muslim neighbors and are in solidarity with the Muslim community after the horrific terrorist attack at mosques in New Zealand. As people of faith, we pray for all to have freedom, peace, and safety in their place of worship.
Fairview Community Church, Costa Mesa, CA: Rev. Sarah Halverson-Cano represented us today in sharing flowers, condolences and love with our Muslim brothers and sisters. We join with them in prayer and grief.
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA shares these words: Join us in prayer for the families and communities of the victims of the Christchurch mosque shootings. We pray for Muslims all over the world, that they feel the love of others on this tragic day and know they do not stand alone.
Seattle First Baptist Church: We love and support our Muslim neighbors. As a community of people striving to follow the way of Jesus, we condemn the tragic violence against the Muslim community in New Zealand. We mourn with our Muslim siblings. As a community in the Christian tradition, we recognize the long history of violence against Muslims in our God's name, and we condemn it. Let us rededicate ourselves each day to working together towards a world where all are free from fear and characterized by justice and celebration of all people and all religious traditions.
Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church, Oakland, CA: On Thursday many of us from the faith communities of Alameda County gathered for a a meal and discussion of important topics of at the Muslim Community Center in Pleasanton. It was a beautiful time of unity and hope. Last night the news came of the attacks on the mosques in New Zealand.
Psalm 56:1 Be merciful to me, O God,
because I am under attack; my enemies persecute me all the time.
As witnessed by these acts of terror, the attacks do come. As we pray for the grieving let us also work for the day when we lay our hate aside, put weapons down and the fear of attack becomes unfounded.
Shell Ridge Community Church, Walnut Creek, CA: In response to the mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand on Friday, March 15, we offer our deepest sorrow and personal horror. At least 49 people were murdered in the shooting with dozens more hospitalized.
We also express our condemnation of violent and destructive actions motivated by racism and religious bigotry. We stand in solidarity with our Muslim sisters and brothers in the face of this tragedy, as we continue to stand with our Jewish sisters and brothers following the murders in Pittsburgh less than six months ago, and our African-American sisters and brothers murdered while praying in church in South Carolina before that. This is a time to be bold witnesses.
We recognize and respond to God's call in the gospel of Jesus to explicitly and unequivocally speak against the irrational fear-mongering and hate campaigns leveled against ethnic and religious minorities. Such perspectives are irreconcilable with fostering a just and sustainable humanity. We understand and believe that our human differences and diversity are a source of great strength and potential. May this violence elicit our peaceful protest and solidarity.
Morgan Valley Christian Church, UT: Let us pray for all of those mourning losses and survivors who will be healing for the rest of their lives. We stand against radicalism and terrorism on display today against Muslim people peacefully worshiping. It is our responsibility to see the face of God in every person we meet and love them.
First Baptist Church, Denver, CO: Dear Brothers and Sisters of the Colorado Muslim Society: Please know that the members and friends of the First Baptist Church of Denver offer you our deepest condolences and love during this time of great grief, pain, fear and what we can imagine might be anger.
In November of 2017, many within your community reached out to our faith family after a mass-shooting took place at a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. We were grateful for your love and care and offers of support.
Heinous acts such as took place in Christchurch, New Zealand, remind us always of the human capacity for evil. When these horrific events take place, they also remind us of our human need to stand in solidarity with each other.
First Baptist Church of Denver is grateful for your witness to our world and for your commitment to peace for all people. We have shared meals and events with you in our facility and have been enriched by the relationships this has fostered.
If we can offer any tangible support during the days and seasons ahead, know that we will stand at the ready to serve you as we can.
In the spirt of love and inter-faith support, your faith friends at the First Baptist Church of Denver.
Burien Community Church, Burien, WA: We are broken hearted to hear about the terrible shootings at the Al Noor and Linwood Mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. As American Baptists, we strongly believe in the freedom of safe worship for all people of all faith traditions. Our siblings of all religions, including Islam, deserve to be able to pray in peace and safety in their houses of worship. An attack on any house of worship is an attack on all houses of worship. We believe that God loves everyone, and that freedom from persecution because of religious belief, or lack of religious belief, is a right of every person born. We are praying for the now fifty lives lost and their families from this terrorist act, and we grieve with the people of New Zealand and particularly the Muslim community there.
To our local Muslim community we want to say that we see you, we stand with you, and what hurts you, also hurts us. We have more similarities than differences between us, and we are praying for you in this terrible time. In this terrorist incident in New Zealand, and in similar actions here in United States, such as at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, at the Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek, and others in Canada and other countries, there has been a terrible unifying thread of white nationalism. We know that thoughts and prayers must be backed by actions (James 2:26), so we gird ourselves against institutionalized racism, and the fear and hate that it engenders. We are just one congregation, but we know that small actions of justice and hope disrupt the surface of societal detachment, and will create ripples of love and solidarity through our shared community.
Your fellow children of God, Burien Community Church
First Baptist Church, Berkeley, CA: At First Baptist Church of Berkeley this Sunday, we will pray with our Muslim sisters and brothers: "Khudaya, rahem kar" (Have mercy on us, Lord)
Rev. Douglas Avilesbernal
Glad for the end of this year
Hopeful for the beginning of 2019
I wanted to thank you all for the amazing work you have done in 2018 with your churches and communities. We are living in very difficult times for the church yet you have all contributed to Evergreen being an oasis of church hope in our world. I did mean to write church since currently it seems like the church is often as much a barrier to the Gospel as secularism. So thank you for working hard to help our churches be seen as welcoming places of hope and support by doing your best to follow the Gospel.
We are a diverse community. We are diverse because we’ve opened our arms and hearts. We are diverse because the “other” feels welcomed among us. We are diverse because we do our best to keep from falling for the fear of the other so prevalent in our time. We are diverse because for many of us the fear is not of the other and what they will take from us. Instead our fear is of what we would become if we come to hate the other. I am glad we are not diverse because it is fashionable or politically correct.
We are an active community locally and regionally. I have noticed as I visited about half of you how we all seem to be trying very hard to do what we preach. I am thankful for the blessings that brings to your communities and honored to witness all that wonderful work. I commend you on your ministries.
We participate in just practices. It would take pages and pages to enumerate the many ways our churches advocate for justice in our communities. I’d just like to remind us of our communal participation at our annual gathering. A little over a week before we were to gather in San Jose we received a message letting us know the workers at the hotel we had chosen to book our rooms were on strike. We had booked over a dozen rooms in that hotel. Yet, you all responded in support of the hourly wage workers on strike and all reservations were withdrawn! Then, when the pastor of our host church, Liliana Davalle suggested we walk over to the picket lines and join the workers many of you joined that as well! We also sent a letter to the hotel’s corporate office in support of those striking and stating that we as a region were watching this strike and will share with our entire denomination the outcome of those negotiations. Keep being a voice for justice wherever you are!
2019 Will be a busy year
Blessings on 2019,
Rev. Douglas Avilesbernal
Evergreen Baptist Association
By Rev. Doug Avilesbernal
NIV “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
When I was too young to know better January was a big letdown for me. All the excitement was over and there were no big days to celebrate. In fact, the only thing that happened was going back to school!
As I grow older and my vision broadens I am beginning to be thankful for the “break” we have in this month. There is not a whole lot happening so we’re free to recover as we rest.
However, I do wonder if I have missed a very important aspect of this season my whole life. I think I have let the celebration of the birth on Christmas be the only and most important aspect of the season.
But, looking at Mary and the Shepherds in the Luke passage we get a look at what can be a wonderful addition to our Christmas season. We can see how they all experienced the excitement of receiving the news of the birth before hand and celebrating it when it happened. What I find interesting is what they do after that. Mary “treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart” and the shepherds “returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen”.
The birth of a baby changes the life of everyone around her. But this change was different, they all knew something extraordinary had happened and it changed how they looked at life. The shepherds became evangelists! Mary explored deep within.
In this post-Christmas glimpse we get through the Gospel of Luke we see some signs of what happens when one encounters Jesus in a meaningful way. It might be a good idea to add January to our season life.
When I was too young to know better January was a disappointment. As I grow older and have less energy to spare January is a time of rest. In both of those I have missed the fact that January can also be a time to meditate on what happened as well as to share the wonder of the gift we have received with the world! I pray you take the freedom of January to meditate on what has occurred and be energized by that wonderful gift.
By Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell
Ministry Associate for Social Media
You may have heard of GDPR: General Data Protection Regulation. This is a regulation in the European Union that regards how personal information is collected online for citizens of the EU. This regulation most likely doesn’t apply to your congregation, unless you have members who are from the EU—either people who still claim their citizenship in the EU or who were part of your church and moved to the EU. What this means is that you need their permission to be on your email list, your newsletter list, or even to receive your boosted Facebook advertisements. The GDPR is to protect people from having their information sold to another party or shared without their permission.
Even without the GDPR, it is a good idea to make sure you have people’s permission to send them your church newsletter or to print their information in a church directory. A simple permission form for members or regular attendees is easy to create, something that says, “I give my permission for this church’s name to reprint my contact information in the church directory,” or newsletter, etc.
It is also a good idea to have some sort of permission form for people to use or share their photos online—and especially, always, with children’s photos. You can do this either as a permission form, or an opt-out. A simple note at events where photos may be taken that “photos taken at this event may be posted online; if you do not wish to have your photo or your child’s photo posted, please fill out this form” or “please let name of person in charge of event know.”
There are reasons that people may not want to share their personal information, or they may be willing for the pastor to have it, but not for the rest of the congregation. It is always a good idea to ask first.
by Rev. Douglas Avilesbernal
Adventus. [Latin] - arrival, approach.
Advent. [Middle English] - a coming into place, being, arrival
Early Church- A season of preparation for coming into the church as it prepared for the second coming of Christ.
Middle Ages-when Advent changed from expectation of Jesus' second coming to a season of preparation for the celebration of Jesus' birth.
21st C-a chance to recapture the meaning and value of intentional and sustained spiritual preparation for the celebration of Jesus' arrival into our world.
Adventus has had a long journey in the life of the greater church. Through it all the season has always been about the faithful answering, “yes we will!” To Jesus’ call.
Originally it was the time of preparation for new converts to the faith. During those times becoming a Christian meant a radical life change. This change was not a spiritual choice alone. Becoming a Christian meant societal change as well. Which is probably why there were very few upper class converts for centuries.
Once the church came to power the nature of Advent changed, it became more of an inward journey. It was then that it also begun its journey toward what we know now, a loosely held tradition that reminds us that Christmas is coming.
Advent has lost nearly all of its significance in its journey from adventus to advent, from an intentional process of preparation for a different life as a follower of Christ to little more than the season when we begin to hear Christmas carols and decorate our homes.
It makes sense, we live in a world where there are no consequences from becoming a Christian. It is illegal for us to be fired because of our faith. We aren't necessarily disowned by our families or ostracized by our friends. We can be or become Christians while being no different from any non Christian around us. In fact, we are free to be less loving, less caring and all around a worse person than any non Christian person around and still call ourselves Christians.
Perhaps it is time for a new understanding of the season. Perhaps we need to recapture the yes we will of Adventus. An intentional Season of preparation that can help us deepen our faith and relationship with Jesus. A season long enough to create changes in how we live our lives. Interestingly, science has discovered how doing something for around 40 days is a good way to create a habit one is more likely to Keep.
Will you be intentional about adding your yes we will to your Advent season this year?
By Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell
Ministry Associate for Social Media
Google Calendar is a great way to keep track of events in the life of your church. Google Calendar is an online calendar that you can use for personal and church use, and has an easy-to-use mobile app. You can set up different accounts and choose whether they are public or private. For example, at Queen Anne Baptist Church, we have a QABC General Calendar that is public, but then we also have a Staff calendar that only staff members to add their vacation days or any other pertinent information. You can also put in location information for scheduling meetings or for building use, so if you are renting out your space, this is a great way to see what group is using what space at what time.
Google Calendars are easy to embed on your website. To get the HTML code, simply click on Settings, then click on the name of your calendar, click on “make available to public” and then scroll down to “integrate calendar” and copy the HTML embed code. You can also add email accounts to make them administrators of the calendar to edit or change events.
We have an Evergreen Association Google Calendar that is public! You can visit our website at www.ea-abc.org and click on Calendar to view, but you can also go directly to the calendar here: https://firstname.lastname@example.org If you use Google calendars, you can add the calendar to yours, and choose what color you’d like it to show up as. This is a great way to know when events are coming up so that you don’t schedule something at the same time as another event. Currently there are not many events on our shared calendar. Email me at email@example.com with information such as location, date, time, and details of your event. If your church uses Google Calendar, you can share that calendar with me at the same email address.