Local churches urge Americans to choose unity, virtue over political divide

Ginghamsburg Church Pastor Rachel Billups speaks to her congregation Sunday, Jan. 10.
Ginghamsburg Church Pastor Rachel Billups speaks to her congregation Sunday, Jan. 10.

Credit: Jeremy P. Kelley

Credit: Jeremy P. Kelley

Several local church leaders made pleas for unity Sunday in the wake of the violent riots at the U.S. Capitol, urging people to choose the virtue of their religious beliefs over the divisiveness of our political culture.

Ginghamsburg Church in Tipp City prayed for those hurt or killed at the Capitol, prayed that government leaders would be led by God’s wisdom, and prayed that all of us would be guided by light and truth rather than blaming and hating those we saw as “others.”

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“We human beings have a tendency to want to create categories of us and them,” Ginghamsburg Pastor Rachel Billups said. “But those things are not our identity. Red and blue is not where we find our peace. Political parties and candidates is not where we find our unity.”

Billups, like many other ministers, called for members of her church to turn to their faith instead.

Rev. Peter Matthews, at Grace United Methodist Church in Dayton, played a tape of philosopher and political activist Cornel West, asking how people could sustain hopes for democracy in times of “spiritual blackout,” when empathy, courage, integrity and decency were lacking.

Joshua Ward, pastor of Omega Baptist Church, preaches to his congregation Sunday, Jan. 10.
Joshua Ward, pastor of Omega Baptist Church, preaches to his congregation Sunday, Jan. 10.

Credit: Jeremy P. Kelley

Credit: Jeremy P. Kelley

West talked about the sparks of love, truth and justice never being snuffed out, but that “sleepwalkers” needed to awaken, ascend to their better selves, and then pursue something bigger than themselves.

“There is a global perception that America is at an inflection point,” Matthews said. “Are you ready to answer the call of God that’s been on your life the whole time? To no longer circumvent, and say, well, I’m only human. To do away with righteous excuses.”

Some congregations made public statements earlier this week. Temple Beth Or in Washington Twp. decried the violence and called for unity and justice amid “the great divide which threatens our nation.”

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“As in the beautiful words of the prayer, may we remember ‘that both the left wing and the right wing are attached to the same bird and both wings are needed to soar,’ " temple officials wrote.

At St. Helen Catholic Church in Riverside, Rev. Jim Fitz said while Jesus Christ is seen as “the light,” Americans have experienced much darkness in recent months — from the COVID-19 pandemic, to racism, to “the darkness of our present political environment.” He called on each person to do their part to shatter the darkness.

“May we come to know (each of) ourselves as the beloved son or daughter of God,” Fitz said. “And let us act out of this belief. It will make an incredible difference in the way we see others, the way we treat others and the way we live our lives. It will make an incredible difference in this time of darkness.”

Fr. Jim Fitz (second from right) celebrates Catholic Mass at St. Helen Church in Riverside on Jan. 10.
Fr. Jim Fitz (second from right) celebrates Catholic Mass at St. Helen Church in Riverside on Jan. 10.

Credit: Jeremy P. Kelley

Credit: Jeremy P. Kelley

Rev. Joshua Ward told his Omega Baptist congregation that politics stunned him twice in 16 hours this week. First, when Raphael Warnock’s 82-year-old mother, years removed from picking cotton, voted in her own Black son’s successful run for U.S. Senate, Ward said, “I don’t recognize this Georgia.”

But hours later, Ward saw a mob spurred on by President Donald Trump storming the U.S. Capitol building, with congressmen hiding under benches. “I don’t recognize this America,” Ward said.

On a Sunday when many Christian churches focus on the story of Jesus’ baptism, Ward talked about going out “into the wild” like John the Baptist did. He said people should not be seeking not just forgiveness of sins, but following John’s “message of life change.”

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At Ginghamsburg, Billups said the bad news is that our country is divided and “human beings are bent on giving one another hell.” She said the good news is that long ago, when all hope seemed lost, and people were sinners and at each other’s throats, “Jesus Christ came to bring healing.”

She said even in tough times, Americans can act on that today, connecting each other as bridges, rather than being one more barrier. She cited a model, calling for people to ask anything, listen well, freely disagree and love regardless.

“You say I’m a dreamer?” Billups asked. “You bet I am.”

“I have a vision for this faith community that we can create honest vulnerable space to have hard conversations without destroying one another with our words,” she said. “Imagine that … We could experience that kind of healing and wholeness. We could agree to disagree. … Let’s all be the bridge.”

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