by David Romanik
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to participate in a baptism for the first time since January. While I am always moved at baptisms, I found myself close to tears throughout much of this service. In part, I think my response to this service was simply a function of the fact that I hadn’t witnessed a baptism in almost six months. Like a familiar and beloved song that I hadn’t heard in a while, the words of the liturgy had a fresh power that touched the recesses of my heart. On a deeper level, however, I think this baptismal service had a special power because of how the words of the liturgy spoke to our current context. In particular, I was struck by the poignancy and urgency of the final question of the Baptismal Covenant:
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
At the Church of the Heavenly Rest, we like to say that the Church is called to be a “repository of grace”. What we mean by that is that the Church is the one place in this world where your primary identity is as a person created in the image of God. Other institutions tend to view human beings in terms of the ways they can contribute to (or detract from) the life of the organization. By contrast, the Church, at her best, is more interested in the fact that we are bearers of God’s image: created and redeemed by the God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Our goal as an institution is to treat everyone who comes into our midst accordingly. While we do not always succeed in fulfilling this mission (and indeed, our failures throughout history are manifold), our articulation of this goal is our sincere attempt to honor our baptismal covenant and respect the dignity of every human being.
The police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others have revealed that respecting human dignity is not an abstract issue. Indeed, for many people, especially Black Americans, this question that concludes our Baptismal Covenant is a matter of life and death. As I’ve witnessed the protests against racial injustice in recent months, I’ve been reminded that the Church’s role is to work to ensure that human dignity is respected not just within the Church, but throughout the world. Our Baptismal Covenant reveals what this looks like. The Church is uniquely called to create opportunities for reconciliation: to share in the ministry established by God in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Respecting human dignity is not and cannot be a passive enterprise: it requires us to strive for justice and peace.
To be clear, this is about more than adopting a particular slogan. Indeed, our work on behalf of human dignity must flow from our identity as the Church. In order for us to share in the ministry of reconciliation and strive for justice and peace, we must begin to develop an understanding of what reconciliation, justice, and peace look like, particularly in the context of race. To that end, we will be exploring these and other questions over the coming months at Heavenly Rest. I encourage you to enter these conversations with open minds and hearts, trusting that our community can be not just a repository of grace, but a wellspring of grace, one that has the power to transform this community and the world.