Responsively Yours: A Charge to Keep
Sometimes at church during a baptism or a renewal of our vows, I find the language of this covenant startling: “Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world and repent of your sin?” Wow. Those are not challenges you hear every day! If you work at Google and hear the mantra, “Don’t be evil,” on a regular basis, these commitments could appear mundane, but they aren’t mundane for me. I’ve had a profound sense of the struggle to resist evil during encounters with individuals stuck in addictions without help, or seeing women demonized in popular culture, or when visiting communities suffering in extreme poverty. But usually, that’s not the way I see my daily choices.
The language of the covenant reflects that “This world is not my home,” as the song goes. It says we are sojourners, and that our true identity is in Christ. We are invited to faith in Christ and into relationship that recognizes our deepest and truest self. Without saying yes to God and yes to the proposition that we can be that loved, integrated person because of Jesus, we are always chasing something that is missing.
The language of this covenant also reflects our responsibility to renounce and reject evil forces and powers. This is a challenge on many levels. It is personal. We resist temptation every day — to be mean, to ignore people, to damage the earth, to use authority carelessly, etc. — but this challenge is not just personal. The evil forces of this world include social policies, practices and systems that cause harm. Our current systems are creating concentrations of wealth in the United States that sociologists know lead to instability. Global policies often leave financial penalties the only price some pay for environmentally dangerous operations while others — workers, people who live near the plant and even the ecological system — bear uncalculated costs in their health and well being. Systems that govern access to land, water and other natural resources can spur competition between governments and corporations for needed resources in which impoverished states have little bargaining power. How negative must the effects of such systems be before we call them “evil” and accept our responsibility to renounce and reject them?
Thankfully, this aspect of our commitment as baptized believers is a shared duty. United Methodist Women is a community that helps us learn how to be whole people, loved and invited into relationship through Jesus Christ, and it provides us with a community of faithful women and men who are working at living into these baptismal commitments. We are challenged by each other, and we are equipped through our work together to identify evil forces and reject untenable “either-or” choices.
The baptismal ritual charges the congregation to “Do all in your power to increase their faith, confirm their hope, and perfect them in love.” May our willingness to hear God’s call and to live in ways that are more loving and just be a witness to God’s great love and work in the world.
Harriett Jane Olson
United Methodist Women