Remarks by Rev. Roy Medley at the Vatican

Governing Board Chair of the National Council of Churches

Sinodo Dei Vescovi
October 16, 2015

To our dear brother in Christ, Pope Francis, and to you our beloved sisters and brothers, I bring you warm greetings from Baptist Christians around the world who pray with you and for you, and especially from Dr. Neville Callam, General Secretary of the Baptist World Alliance.  Grace to you and peace from our Lord Jesus Christ.

Thank you for the honor of accompanying you in your reflection on the vocation and mission of the family.  I appreciate very much your emphasis on the centrality of scripture and prayer in family life as well as your desire that every Christian family nurture faith in Christ within itself and in others.

As you prepare to speak on the family, I urge you to emphasize the pastoral nature of the ministry which is entrusted to the whole church.  "I desire mercy and not sacrifice," says our God.  (Matthew 12:7)

There is no perfect family and no perfect marriage.  In our broken world, families are not only a source of great blessing, they can also be a source of great harm as when a father molests his daughters, or brothers and sisters fight over inheritance.  This is the pastoral reality:  families have their blessings and their dysfunctions.

People yearn for mercy.  Hence, in Baptist hymnology, Jesus as friend, is an important theme.  Hymns  such as "What a Friend We Have in Jesus," and "There is Not a Friend Like the Lowly Jesus," express for us the merciful presence of Christ in the midst of our imperfections and struggles.  They remind us of the one who in his vocation of suffering servant enters our woundedness.  This is the one who invites sinners to sit at his table; the one who is "gentle and humble in heart, in whom we find rest for our souls" (Matt 11:29); the one to whom we pray in all confidence, "Lord, have mercy."  

This is the presence of Christ and his church the world longs for but seldom expects.  Instead they see us abandoning them in the midst of their greatest personal struggles because of their irregular situations.   Two years ago, I was on a midnight flight and I was squeezed next to a young man 20 years old.  During our 3 hour flight he kept ordering one gin and tonic after another.  By his fourth he was quite talkative and he began to pour out to me, a stranger, the heartbreak of his life.  He was on his way home, having been arrested for possession of marijuana.  He had a learning disorder and could not read - a fact that brought him much shame throughout his school years.  His family life was a mess.  And on it went for half an hour or more when he then asked me, "So, what do you do?"  "I am a Baptist minister," I replied.  With fierce eyes he looked at me and said, "So, I guess you have just been sitting there judging me."  "No, Son," I said, "my heart has been breaking for you."  

These are the questions the world asks the church:  "Does God's heart break for me?  Does the church's heart break for me?"  Does Jesus still invite sinners to his table?  In the imperfection of our lives, can we discover through you, the church "What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear?"

Pope Francis, it is the pastoral heart of grace and mercy to which I hope you will continue to give full voice.

The Rev. Dr. A. Roy Medley,
General Secretary of the American Baptist Churches
Fraternal Delegate of the Baptist World Alliance

Since its founding in 1950, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA has been the leading force for shared ecumenical witness among Christians in the United States. The NCC's 37 member communions -- from a wide spectrum of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, historic African American and Living Peace churches -- include 45 million persons in more than 100,000 local congregations in communities across the nation.

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