It’s 11:10 PM. I’m writing this post at 36,000 feet, traveling at precisely 493 miles per hour over Perryton, Texas, on my way to Seattle. It’s the end of a long but enormously satisfying day in New Orleans. (Gretna to be exact, on the Westbank of that iconic city.) My hosts for this visit to Believers Life Family Church (BLFC) were Pastors Randy and Cathy Cilluffo, two extraordinary people who have served this church for over 14 years. They’ve shepherded their congregation through a major expansion of ministries and a building program, not to mention the harrowing months and years after the storm of the century, Katrina. This would be enough to command my admiration and loyalty to these good friends, but there’s actually more–a lot more.
I first visited Believer’s Life in 1986. Yes, that’s 1986–25 years ago. That’s when Randy and Kathy’s predecessors, David and Millie Long were there. I’ve made almost annual visits ever since. During that time, Pastors Randy and Cathy have made numerous ministry visits to Washington, offering everything from their wise counsel to their limitless generosity. In fact, BLFC is our second longest running supporting church in the country–the Tabernacle of Orchard Park, New York, is the only one that beats them. 25 years is a long relationship by any estimation–and there’s no end in sight. In fact, on this visit they renewed their commitment to our work on Capitol Hill.
All this is terribly important to me. Washington, DC, is a lonely place to live and minister. Like New York it’s a city that never sleeps–and never, ever relaxes. It runs on tension and adrenaline. People are transient–they come and they go. Everyone seems to be competing with each other–it’s the nature of politics. And trust is very hard to find. Betrayal is part of the game of winning, gaining advantage, defeating your opponent. And, as one of the past chaplains to the United States Congress told me, “Most pastors get to see their congregants on their best day and on their best behavior, Sunday. We get to see our members on their worst days and their worst behavior.”
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. I wouldn’t trade my calling for anything, even if God offered me a choice. (Which, He clearly has not!) But friends like Randy and Cathy, and church families like BLFC make it so much easier, so much more enjoyable, so much more bearable. Their interest, their prayers, their moral support, and their generous financial support form a lifeline to us from Heaven. Even more, they create a network of accountability. Washington is a place full of temptation. I learned that when a lobbyist offered me $1 million dollars to abandon my ministry and work as a spokesman for his high-paying clients. I had to literally get up from the lunch table and flee to escape succumbing. Churches like BLFC form a bulwark agains that sort of satanic seduction.
Churches also provide our ministry with individuals supporters, volunteers, and other tangible and intangible resources. They’re the gateway to an almost infinite number of wonderful people that form what I call our “extended ministry team.” Maybe they pray for us–which the the most valuable thing they do. Maybe they talk us up among their family, friends, and fellow church members, which forms a safety net for us. Maybe they send in their $20, $50, $500, or even $5000 gift. It takes money to do ministry in Washington–a lot of it. Without the kindness of individual and church supporters, we’d have to close our doors.
Oh, and there’s one more thing churches do for us–they give me a place to escape to once in a while, to keep company with “normal” people who see the world just a little more conventionally than the people I usually see in Washington. Again, don’t get me wrong, I love both equally, but I’ve got to have a break every now and then, and preaching for the great folks at BLFC and other congregations like it give me just the break I need so I can re-up for the call they’ve commissioned me to pursue.
Grateful to God for all our churches,
“But your name shall be . . “ Genesis 17:5
Monday began a new term for the US Supreme Court. The calendar of cases set for review always begins on the first Monday of October. You may have seen our article or video on the Red Mass, the annual church service held in Washington the day before to pray for and recognize judges, lawyers and all those involved in the law. Several of the “Supremes” (as they are affectionately known here in Washington) usually attend.
This year we asked you and your church to join us in praying for the Supreme Court justices by name. The reason we did that is because that’s how God sees them–in fact all of us–as named individuals, not as an anonymous block.
Names are important things. The Bible is filled with names, including several for God. We learn Adam’s name immediately after he is created. In the angelic command to Joseph, he was told to name Jesus. We all know what it’s like for someone to remember our names–it means we’re important to them.
There’s another dimension to names. Names indicate individuality, uniqueness, something special that sets us apart from others. It has to do with our identity–and even our dignity. “Hey Rob,” is always a compliment when compared to, “Hey you.”
When it comes to people in public office, we often think of them as, well, “them” or “they.” Besides simply being rude and disrespectful, there’s a bigger problem with this. “They” are never “us.” In other words, “they” are something different from what we are–and if “they” are different, then we can treat them differently from how we treat ourselves.
Here’s the big problem with that outcome: It violates the command of God, “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.” (Luke 6:31) If we have names–and we want our names to be respected–then we must respect the names of others. Believe it or not, “those” Supreme Court justices have names.
Not only do the justices have names, they have nicknames, genealogies, personal stories, personalities, and everything else any one of us has. In other words, they are real people–like us.
This is how we at Faith and Action know the justices. Not as an anonymous block, “The Court,” “the Justices,” “those characters,” “the liberals,” or “the conservatives,” the majority”, or “the minority,” or, as someone recently wrote me in an e-mail, “those idiots.”
Unless someone wants to be called an idiot, they shouldn’t call anyone else an idiot. At least that’s how the command has it. And, if they don’t want to be known simply as “them,” or “those ‘somethings,’” they–each by name–should call others by their names.
This is why we asked you to pray with us for the justices–Samuel Alito, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, Anthony Kennedy, John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Sonia Sotomayor, Clarence Thomas–by their names. Putting a name with a face is the beginning of a relationship. Praying for someone with their face in your mind and their name on your lips is an even greater relationship. In fact, the greatest gift you can give to someone is your prayers because it links that person to God, whether they know it immediately or not.
So, if you wonder how we relate to the members of the High Court, we relate to them as individuals, known and loved by God. Like every other person in high government office, they have souls, stories, and people who know and love them. They are sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, mentors, friends. They watch movies, read books, play sports, go out with buddies, listen to music. The Justices also cry, and laugh. They feel pain. , and, yes, pray.
The next time you think of “The Court,” try thinking of them as Sam, Stephen, Ruth, Elena, “Tony,” John, “Nino,” Sonia, and Clarence. It may change your heart towards them–and help you to pray.