I recently told someone that my Bible professor in college saved my faith. He took my Sunday School faith and enlarged it, making it wider and deeper. Wide enough and deep enough to accept the harder questions of the adult world that continually challenges our faith and make us doubt and wonder. I still remember Old Testament I, 1st semester, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 8am. It was a right of passage for all religion majors at Lambuth University. I learned many new things there, one of which is what truly constitutes a covenant. A covenant is an agreement made between two or more parties, but Dr. Davenport added that in a true covenant the terms are set solely by God…non-negotiable. I see his point in reading Genesis 17 and seeing phrases like “I will make” and “you must keep my covenant.” For a time after learning this I walked about asking, “Is this a covenant?” I felt kind of like the little duck in the children’s story asking, “Are you my mother?” I was constantly asking because we label many, many things in the church covenants, we love this term, sincerely I think because of the sacredness that it lends to our relationships.
This key point stuck with me though, and as I have been talking to churches about church-to-church partnerships that come with a…you guessed it, covenant, I have again started to think about what Dr. Davenport taught me in my 8 am class, my first semester, freshman year of college. As I look at covenant partnerships between churches, especially between the global south and global north there is something about this revelation that struck me…and hard. When the church from the global north (AKA the western church, AKA the wealthy people) set terms in a covenant what we are really doing is taking the place of God. It is His job, not ours to set the terms of any covenant in the church. So if it is not our place to set the terms, which also conversely means it is not the global south’s job either, who does it, how can we enter into sacred agreements?
First, if God is setting the terms of the covenant then both the Global North and the Global South are on the receiving end. Which puts us not on opposite ends of an agreement, but on the same side, helping each other fulfill our calling to be the body of Christ. This places all of us where we belong, as sinners, straining to fulfill a new covenant with God, and both of us failing to do so outside of the grace and mercy that God has for all of us.
This also means that we need to be looking to God for the terms of any covenant we set in the church. We should start looking at places like 1 Corinthians where God reminds us that we are all part of the body of Christ, that we all receive the same gifts from the same spirit, and that all parts of the body are needed and important. We should start looking at places like Luke 4 where we learn that our purpose here is not to provide money and receive money, not to be the patron or the patronized, but to be forgiven, to be healed, to be set free as Jesus comes among us and to bear witness to others being forgiven, healed, and set free as Jesus comes among them. We should stop throwing the global south a bone by saying that they can “pray for us” and start seeing what they have to teach us. I was fortunate today to be part of several conversations that did talk about that exact thing as I visited with pastors in the Alabama-West Florida Conference of the UMC and professors at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, AL.
As I looked deeper at the meaning of covenant, something I have not done in years, I realized it places all of us, regardless of our status, education, wealth, or any other markers of supposed privilege, exactly where we need to be, together, in the same posture of worshiping God, receiving forgiveness from God, and being blessed to be doing Kingdom work in the world.