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On May 7, 1945 Germany surrendered to the Allies, ending the war in Europe, but another serious problem remained.  Due to the ravages of war, roughly 100 million European civilians faced imminent starvation.  It was described by the New York Times as “the most stupendous feeding problem in history.”

Democrat Harry Truman said, “I knew what I had to do and I knew just the man I wanted to help me.”  Who could help Truman avert this humanitarian crisis?  None other than the ex-president who had been vilified by Truman’s popular predecessor, FDR, as the primary cause of the Great Depression. 

Republican Herbert Hoover

Hoover was uniquely prepared for this challenge.  At the end of WWI, Hoover served as Woodrow Wilson’s food czar, saving millions from starvation.  (I’m not attempting to put Hoover in a positive light simply because we share a unique bond—growing up in Iowa and attending Stanford.)  Together Truman and Hoover, despite ideological differences, worked together in 1945 and 1946 to ship five and half million tons of grain to Europe and thus a humanitarian disaster was averted.  Their partnership also served to resist the spread of communism on the continent.  

While both men had been extremely unpopular and both took flak from their own parties for the partnership, in a 1951 Gallup list of Most Admired Men Truman and Hoover ranked #3 and #5.  People appreciated what these two men had accomplished together. 

This and other stories of presidents and ex-presidents working together appears in The President’s Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy (2012).  In today’s world of partisan politics, it’s hard to imagine overcoming enormous ideological obstacles.  We have a lot to learn from the surprising friendships and partnerships between these Republicans and Democrats who once hated each other.

There may be another realm more divisive than politics.  Theology.  Whereas in the US we only have two main political parties, we have hundreds of denominations.  New ones appear every year and most denominations are deeply suspicious of all the others.  Somehow I don’t think that’s what Jesus had in mind right before his crucifixion when he prayed that his followers would be one (John 17:20-23). 

Part of what it means to be missional here at Biblical is that we are willing and even eager to partner with people and organizations that we may not agree with, in order to advance God’s mission.  We cannot forget that God’s mission is more important than our theological differences.  While Truman and Hoover weren’t focused specifically on God’s mission (although feeding the hungry is certainly part of it), their attitude of working across ideological differences provides an example of what it’s like to be missional.  

On Saturday April 29, I had the privilege to spend the day with two organizations that have formed missional partnerships across denominational barriers to serve and minister. 

Urban-Priesthood-Alliance

I ate breakfast in Philadelphia with the Urban Priesthood Alliance, a group of urban pastors who graduated from Biblical in 2011.  (Their website is still a work in progress). They come from a diverse range of churches: Baptist, Church of God in Christ, Brethren Assembly, African Methodist Episcopal, as well as non-denominational churches.  As a result of their training here at Biblical, they felt that God was calling them to partnership in order to advance God’s mission together not only in Philadelphia but also the world.  The focus of the morning was to help support the ministry of Brother Peter Odanga in Kenya.  I was proud that this group of pastors graduated from my seminary. 

In the evening, I spoke on topics related to God Behaving Badly at a meeting of the Netzer Network, a group of ministers from Brethren, Baptist and non-denominational churches in the Pottstown area of Pennsylvania (members include Biblical alumni and a current student).  We talked about how to use the problematic passages of the Old Testament to engage atheists, agnostics and seekers with the gospel.  At the end, I shared how difficult it was for me spiritually to spend so much time focused on troubling aspects of God’s character.  Afterward, they gathered around me to pray for me and bless my ministry. 

It’s always a blessing to work together to advance God’s mission. 

What examples of missional partnerships have you seen? 

David Lamb is Associate Professor of Old Testament at Biblical. He’s the husband of Shannon, father of Nathan and Noah, and the author of God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist?He blogs regularly at http://davidtlamb.com/. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/david-lamb.

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