Minister to the Nation

I love this picture so much, but it makes me squirm. They say that a picture is worth a 1000 words. So I guess I should just let the picture speak. But, I have to wonder why the Rev. Dr. James Forbes is benedicting the congregation of Riverside Church from the rear of the church? Instead of looking into the beauty of the faces of the whole people of God, as God looks to encounter us, Dr. Forbes outstretches his arms to the back of their heads.

Funny how a friend just remarked to me yesterday how annoying Riverside is. We want to like it. And I share that sentiment. Afterall, I went to seminary across the street. It was one of those places that you had to go to worship. You had to experience Riverside. You had to sit in this amazing sanctuary. And you had to experience Dr. Forbes preaching.

As with anything, preachers need to be inspired by other preachers. I happen to think that Dr. Forbes is a little long winded, but I can offer with this criticism with a smile and the offhand comment, "but he's got Pentecostal roots." But, truth be told. Riverside never fed me. I never left there feeling fulfilled -- which is really what worship is all about. If we are not feeding the flock, we are not doing our job. This sounds insanely harsh.

But, there it is in the New York Times this morning. Dr. Forbes is going to leave Riverside to become a "minister to the nation." It sounds like he wants to compete with the likes of Ted Haggerty in offering President Bush spiritual advice, but this time from a "liberal" perspective. I don't know about this. It makes me really uncomfortable as I wonder about the separation between church and state. Religion can't help but be political. But, can politics help being religious?

One of Riverside's members commented, “How do I feel about him leaving?” Mr. Bynoe asked. “God bless him. His 18 years here have shown no accomplishment. He has preferred to get in with the left wing of the Democratic Party and do their bidding.” Dr. Forbes should not be evaluated by his accomplishments. It's a problem that I didn't like about Riverside. Ministry is about empowerment, where Dr. Forbes seems to be on an ego trip. An ego trip that has only gotten worse as he claims his divine call to minister to people across America.

I can only cringe. I went to seminary in a place where we relished in the political. We talked about it. We were mostly democrats. We made outrageous claims, as was the tradition of our institution. But, in our churches, I don't believe that this is how it should be. And whether or not Dr. Forbes wants to be in or out of a church, his political view seems devisive. In my heart, I don't think that this is what our faith tradition is about. It's not about getting people to move politically. It's about the care for the least of these, as well as care for ourselves -- and I just feel that ego trips negate this call. We are supposed to minister to people, not the nation. What happens to the people?

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