A Message from President Barnes: Belonging
The longer we shelter in place, the more I think about belonging.
In aspiring to be a covenant community, our seminary is claiming that we want to belong to each other as we belong to the God who has made covenants of love, grace, and commitment with us. Princeton Seminary has long stressed our devotion to being a residential community of faith and scholarship. So staying at home to complete our classes and work is not something that comes naturally to us, but we’re now sheltering because that is what loving our neighbors looks like, at least for today. Still, it makes us yearn for the future when we can return to being physically together again with the people to whom we belong.
But the pandemic has also revealed how much we belong to people we don’t even know. It has exposed our radical dependence on one another and our created relatedness with all humanity, a vision that God has always seen but we too often miss. People working on the frontlines in hospitals and grocery stores and delivery trucks understand that we belong to one another, and so they put themselves in harm’s way to serve others. Their example calls all of us to see in new ways the breadth of those to whom we belong, as siblings in the human family.
We belong to the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, who are most vulnerable to this virus. That’s the primary reason we are sheltering in place – to protect the vulnerable.
We also belong to the children in Trenton who are going without the healthy lunches provided by their closed public schools. This is why the Seminary has been providing over a thousand lunches a week to the churches and food distribution centers in the city, joining our alumni and other local pastors to care for the children to whom we belong. This is also what loving our neighbors looks like today.
We belong to Asians and Asian Americans who continue to experience prejudicial hate rhetoric, and hate crimes, because they are falsely blamed for the pandemic. Looking for someone to accuse when we experience hardship has long been one of humanity’s great vices, and it is rearing its ugly head again. I recently joined the Asian Association at Princeton Theological Seminary (AAPTS) in signing the Statement on Anti-Asian Racism in the Time of COVID-19. This statement denounces racism and calls us to embrace Jesus’ healing work, which embodies the interdependence and kinship of all people. It has accumulated thousands of signatures, and I encourage you to consider adding your name as well.
We belong to the African-American community that is dying from this virus at vastly disproportionate levels. The systemic injustice that makes some communities more vulnerable to this public health crisis is a sin. To love these neighbors means committing ourselves to ensure that all people have access to the medical care, job security, and opportunities they need to flourish as well as anyone else in our society.
We also belong to the nations of the world that are facing this crisis on unequal footing, without the medical equipment and resources to combat the rapid spread of the virus, which leaves entire populations vulnerable to devastating loss. These are also our siblings in the family of God.
Quite a bit is being written about how we will come through this pandemic differently than we entered it. My prayer is that part of that difference will be that the church will come to see that our mission is not to make contributions to distant people when it is affordable, but to care for all humanity to whom we belong.
Grace and peace,
M. Craig Barnes