In 1995 I met a retired minister and member of First Christian Church named John Harms. I thought John was probably 75 years old, but I was surprised to learn he was nearly 90! I had the joy of learning about John’s passion and dream of having a social mission committee at First Christian Church. It would take a long essay or even a short book to describe precisely what Dr. Harms meant by “social mission,” but I can tell you in a brief Lenten devotional how he opened our eyes to doing “social mission” in a Disciples of Christ congregation.
John believed what was happening in the world was also happening in the Church. He believed there was no separation of the Church from society or the separation of society from the Church. The important moral, social, political and economic issues of our country and community were also important issues for the Church. John Harms insisted every congregation was called to study and engage the issues but always from within the context of the Christian community.
How congregations studied issues together was just as important as what they learned together. The process of engagement could never violate the ethics and norms of the Christian community. From the beginning, we learned treating each person and each view with respect was the only viable method. Of course, John never assumed we would come to uniformity of views or agreement on many issues. However, he fiercely believed we were all called to read, study, research, and discover more about the vital issues of the day. John was concerned that finding access to reliable information and facts for ordinary people was becoming more and more difficult. Over and over again he would explain if we are to be good citizens and faithful Christians, we need exposure to all kinds of people, new ideas, and theories that are different than our own.
This disciplined “social mission” process never had the aim to beat someone or discredit anyone, but to promote broader understanding of the world and clarification of our own beliefs and convictions. One of the issues we studied at the time was the pending legislation about casino gambling in Oklahoma. At the very first meeting, John assigned Church members to interview people who were lobbying for this legislation. I remember him saying our goal was to find the very best and strongest arguments on all sides of the issue about casino gambling. In the end, our mission was to provide as much reliable and trustworthy information for our congregation to study and review. Our goal was to help our congregation wrestle faithfully with the issues that confront us.
The wisdom of Dr. Harms was rooted in a deep trust of God’s presence in our community. His life and witness urges us to be no less rigorous, faithful, and gentle with the vital issues of our day.
Gracious God, Through your Son you have called us to live a life beyond ourselves. You have charged us to be moral, ethical, and loving. We desperately need you to help us become that living reality and witness. Give us courage and patience to love and learn from those who seem so different and alien to what we know and trust. Amen
Posted on Sun, March 19, 2017
by Micah James