“Time won’t leave me as I am, but time won’t take the boy out of this man”--”City of Blinding Lights”, U2

Friday, September 02, 2005

Update: Second Response from the Rev. Tom Zeigert

I just received a gracious email from the Rev. Tom Zeigert about the April 2005 Event at Venice UMC. Tom responds to my email to him that I posted here. He clarifies some assumptions that I make about that event, so I wanted to make sure this gets posted as quickly as possible.

As I read his email, Tom makes the following points:

1. Invitations were sent out to speakers representing diverse viewpoints, not all invitations were accepted, probably because of Venice's reputation as a left wing community.
2. The event was partisan but the church had hoped for better.
3. The church plays an important role in being a voice of conscience to business and goverment while being independent of both.
4. Demographics and varying world views will lead to different strategies for leading the lost to Christ. His previous appointment was in a military community and he was successful there.
5. Tom is not a pacifist, but war is always evil. There is a place for a strong military. God isn't pleased by the evil we do but does forgive. Just war is bad theology and pastors who don't point that out are guilty of the bad theology of convenience.
6. Given the the overwhelming cynicism in the Venice community for professed Christianity, Tom's ministry requires him to affirm his community's passions and commitments and to affirm their place in the world.

I hope that I have summarized it accurately, but just in case, I include the email he sent in full below (Note: I was having trouble with the formatting when I cut and paste, so I retyped the letter so if I made a mistake I'll go back and fix it):
Dear Tim,
(And please call me Tom). Thank you for sharing with me your observations and concerns. All of them are reasonable and appropriate and well founded. No "buts."
Just to clear up a few assumptions:

(1) Gen. Tommy Franks was in LA during the event, was invited, but didn't respond. Local organizations, including those involved in the Apr 19 event have people from the White House Administration, including California Representatives and our 2 Senators, and our own US Rep. (our local US Rep is Jane Harman, a democrat who continues to voice support for the war in Iraq),
Venice has a reputation for having a large extremely left wing population, you might say. I'm sure it feels unfriendly to many who hold traditional world views--"contempt prior to investigation." Usually they tend to beg off when invited. Were any to accept, we would make sure the environment would be more balanced. We have tried to make sure those we invited could set guidelines to feel less threatened.

Your evaluation that the event was partisan is well founded. We had hoped for better. But just because one viewpoint refuses to show up doesn't mean the other should be quiet, particularly when the opposing viewpoint is getting its way. You know, the founding fathers worked to create a balance of power not only in government but in society itself. They worked to make it the case that the de facto power of Land holders and businessmen in combination wit the de jure power of government would be balanced by the institutional power of the church, whereby the church would never be influenced by government but influence it and business morally and ethically. Uncompassionate capitalism would be tempered by God: "In God We Trust" right on our money! The church in America was designed to critique policy and systemic oppression. What I love most about the UMC is that it has always been faithful to its role in American society.

(2) Just as you begin your ministry with your neighbors with where they are in their world view, so do I. In Starkville, my ministry would initially look much differently than it does here. But, in the end we both seek to lead the unchurched, agnostic, and pain-filled to Jesus Christ. You will agree with me, I'm sure that the demographics and world-view of Venice California is far different from those in Starkville Mississippi. It really wouldn't be fair for me to judge your ministry strategy against mine, or vice-a-versa. (In the end, maybe someone will count the saved.)

(3) You have suggested that I am a pacifist. That is not my evaluation of myself. You missed my point that while wars do not lead to peace, sometimes we must choose the lesser of two evils. ["At the same time, it is important for people to understand that sometimes a system corrupted by the powers and principalities...leave us no good choice but only the lesser of two evils."]
A strong military is appropriate and wars will be fought. But, I do not pretend that any war is "just," "good," or "right," only better than the alternatives sometimes. God must weep when we kill one another. God is never pleased with the evil we do. But God forgives because God understands, and Jesus Christ is the proof. But war is not good and no good comes from it, maybe only less evil (and I'm not sure about that). {FYI: My last appointment was in Tentynine Palms where the largest Air-Ground Marine Base is. Many of my congregants were Marines and Veterans. My ministry was considered successful as we experienced a 600% increase in church attendance while I was there.}

I am not a fan of Augustine nor am I impressed that the Roman Catholic Church wants to draw some fine lines on "just" and "unjust" wars. The United Methodist Church, in our Social Principles par. 165 B & C calls it rightly, in my mind: All nations have a right to determine their own destinies but war is evil--though sometimes necessary. I think any church that allows those who come to it for guidance in faith to believe that some killing is just misses the entire New Testament's point: Killing is never just or right, merely forgivable. [I will be very clear too: Just because a professed Christian believes that there can be a just war does not make it so. They have been misled. And the pastor that lets them get away with it has a bad theology of convience. How much more powerful it is to know, that in world that sometimes leaves us no good choice, God understands, loves, and forgives when men and women will not.

(4) One last point about strategy for Christian growth: 90% of Venice is unchurched. Some of the reasons include that the church is in bed with governent, irrelevant, without compassion, supporting views repugnant to them, too many laws not enough human dignity, too judgmental not compassionate, I'm sure you could expand this list even from your distance removed. I meet people where they are. I affirm their passions and understand their commitments. I remind them that God is with them and loves them. Jesus died for them. Then teach them to live rightly with God and look to Him for guidance. One thing I learned in the barrios of LA: Before you can bring people to Jesus, you need to bring "bread" to them. Its no small thing to affirm a person's place in the world. And its and even greater thing when someone who felt abandoned by God can affirm God's place in the world again. You might be surprised to learn what man people who come to this church, cynical and repelled by what appears as professed Christianity, wind up confessing to me and asking me about and professing to me. But, that's my ministry.

Hopefully, this is not a debate. I do not deny your respectable position. I just live somewhere else and have something else in mind. You may have noticed that I do have a motivating understanding of the gospel that guides me and restricts me. It is how God chose to impress me so that I would do what he would have me do. I am also sure that God guides you as well. I am thankful for your ministry and that God has helped us connect. I praise God for the passions that drive you and your faithful actions. All of us here at Venice UMC are praying in word and deed for the deliverance of those who are effected by the hurricane and its devastation.

Blessings and peace, Tom.

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