Letter to the Bishops and Clergy of the CEC in North America on the Fourth of July 2019
I know some of you who will receive this letter are not citizens of the United States of America However, to save someone the task of taking names off a mailing list for this one letter, you are included. I hope you enjoy it and that some of my thoughts will minister to you as well.
During the development of Cable News and the beginning of the internet, especially social media, we are all assaulted with news and information. Some are true, and some are false. Social media and the internet have given rise to the validation of the “tabloid” press and, for better or worse, has given everyone a place to express their opinions or ideas without the necessity of facts or concern for truth.
I love reading history. I love reading historical novels (if you know of a good one let me know). I would have focused more on studying history, except that it meant remembering dates. Dates meant “numbers” and for some reason, anything that involves “numbers” escapes me. If I can get things in the right century, I am okay with myself.
I love, however, reading about the characters who made history and being able to hear the stories of those involved. I like to have things clarified as to the reasons things happened, how thing evolved, how things got settled, and the implications of those events on modern history. It is one of the reasons I can watch the PBS documentary on the Civil War repeatedly.
When it comes to the Revolutionary War, I grew up understanding the war with the limited information I was told in school. I thought that there was the “big bad British” who took the freedoms away from the “good and wonderful people of colonies.” When there was a tax imposed on the people, a group of colonists “threw tea” in the Boston Harbor, provoking a “shoot out” in Lexington & Concord with the “shot heard around the world.” The colonist signed a Declaration of Independence (which I had to memorize in high school). Then the British sent more “Red Coats.” Until finally, ALL the colonists came to arms, endured great suffering (especially in Valley Forge), and finally in Virginia defeated the English (after the French showed up).
Of course, there was much more. But what I knew and what my environment reinforced, made me proud to be an American. I still am. Plus, growing up in metro-Philadelphia, where the Declaration was signed, the Fourth of July, was a major feast day and a source of pride.
The point of this rambling is that much of what I knew about the Revolution was through filters. One of those filters is that every colonist supported the Revolution. The fact is that they didn’t. As many as 20% of Americans remained loyalists to the crown. Further, somewhere between 20% to 30% were considered “patriots” and wanted to break with England. Surprisingly, 50% plus just wanted to live in peace and didn’t take sides. American was divided. It was divided even after the war. There was a lot more work to unite and form a Union.
Perhaps the election and re-election of George Washington were the only uncontested elections in US History. From the time George Washington retired, every election reflected a division in the nation. Often a very serious division. Campaigns involved name-calling, false accusations, and even threats of death.
The compromises of the first Constitution, particularly regarding slavery, barely held the nation together. Hence, the nation fell into the great Civil War. Certainly, slavery was a major issue but underneath or behind that issue were concerns, attitudes, and beliefs about the nature of government and man’s relationship to that government. So much so that many in the Confederate states called the civil war, ‘the second revolution.”
Reconstruction divided the nation. Segregation divided the nation. The nation was divided about entering World War I. In the years before World War II; the nation was divided about entering into the war in Europe. Pearl Harbor united us for a moment as we came against the evil in Europe and the Pacific. But after we returned, we remained a divided nation. I remember the election of 1960 when the nation was divided. My father, normally not a political type, worked for Richard Nixon because he believed that if John Kennedy were elected, the United States would be ruled by the Pope. The election was one of the closest. There were accusations of voter fraud with some claiming that even the “dead” came out to vote.
The 1960s saw even more division. We watched on television not only the horror of racism and segregation but the horror of war. The nation again was divided, and we every night the media showed us the division. We saw that “hatred” and “rage” that one side expressed towards the other side. There was violence in the streets as some believed the only solution was the overthrow of the government and the establishment of a new social state. College campus were centers of revolution and groups like Students for a Democratic Society, or Young Socialist Alliance captured the minds of the youth.
Out of this division and turmoil, the country moved forward, and we talk about a new order. The evil of legal segregation ended. There was a new South. The Civil Rights Act and the Voter Rights Act changed forever the way Americans thought about each other. The War in Vietnam (not unlike Korea) has made us more cautious about entering battles overseas. Perhaps a lesson we are still trying to learn. They also brought about a renewed respect for our military.
I could go on and on, but history shows us that the American Experiment of a free people forming a Republic that governs “by and for the people” has always existed in tension and at times on the verge of collapse. The good, old days were not always that good, but as a country, America has normally come back to the values that have fueled the Experiment since the signing of that Declaration two hundred and forty-three years ago (a short time in light of world history).
We are still, as a people, trying to apply the core values of our nation to a host of problems. Do we have a strong federal government or is the best government that which governs least? Are we going to address, finally, the systemic racism that keeps one group from obtaining the same advantages as the majority? Or, have we already addressed these issues and are now living in a post-racist society? What about immigration? Is it open borders with Lady Liberty inviting all, or do we close our borders to protect ourselves from crime and drugs? What is the balance of power? What about the right to bear arms versus the protection of our children in the schools?
Not only is there division, but merely suggesting a position on your Facebook page can result in a long “sophomoric” chain of rantings, name-calling, labeling, and judgment. It is amazing to me thatwe even attempt to resolve extremely complex issues and do a theological inquiry on a medium that is designed to share what you had for dinner, your recent vacation, your plans for the summer, or an occasional joke.
There remains one issue that is exposing more than any other the division that exists in America. ST. Teresa of Calcutta said, “the nation that will abort its young has lost its soul.” Is America losing her soul, or has it lost her soul? In either case, the redemption of a nation, a nation, and homeland I love, is not a political solution or a judicial solution. Men without a soul will not bring about an end to a holocaust. We see troubling things in our past and future like genocide, slavery, segregation, sex trade industry, the abuse of women, systemic racism, and the other great causes. Seeing this, one sees a call for social justice with a Church in leadership as a voice for the oppressed, the disenfranchised, and the poor. But, abortion is by far the greatest evil ever to happen in America and world-wide. It is not millions of babies that have been burned alive or butchered in the womb since 1973; it is billions world-wide. One hundred and fifty thousand babies are murdered in the womb every day.
I rejoice at the great victory in Alabama and other states that have made abortion all but illegal with criminal penalties for so-called doctors, nurses, or other persons who abort babies for profit. I am sickened to live in a State where a baby who survives an abortion can be left to die or be euthanized. Whether or not it is rare or never used at all, the fact that it is legal and possible is abhorrent. The Governor, who claims to be a Roman Catholic yet lives with his mistress, along with legislators applauded and cheered with joy at the signing of this bill into law. Are we losing our soul, or have we lost our soul?
I am an American because I was born in America. I was born into a family that loved America, and to parents who survived the Great Depression, served in World War II, and taught me to love America. My parents were Republicans because Eisenhower was a Republican. My grandfather was a Republican because he believed Franklin Roosevelt was a communist. We were Episcopalians and were proud that the government of the United States and the Episcopal Church complimented each other. We were proud that the majority of Presidents were Episcopalians. While at the same time, I think my mother would have been a loyalist during the Revolution because she loved Queen Elizabeth and everything British. She was proud that we had a relative that fought in the Revolutionary War. My father was proud that we had a great uncle that died at Gettysburg fighting for the Union. He also supported States Rights and segregation. At the same time, he was proud of my civil rights activism and my anti-war activities. I was taught to vote because we were free, and we were Americans. I have voted in every election (even local) since I became voting age.
I was raised and surrounded by men (and women) who saw evil and believed that the Church had an obligation, in fact, a mandate, to speak against injustice. This was to be done in the tradition of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, William Wilberforce, John Wesley, William Temple, Jonathan Daniels, Martin Luther King, Ralph Abernathy, Paul Moore, and several clergies who would not be silent in the light of evil. I learned that the Church had a role in the streets and the market place when it came to injustice. It had to be a voice, resisting violent solutions to social problems and was to make visible Christ’s love even if it meant martyrdom. When the world had engulfed itself in hatred and violence, the Church was to be light.
I was taught that we engaged in social ministry (Matthew 25) because we did it unto Jesus. The image of Jesus was being formed in us through the Eucharist, Scripture, Prayer, Service, Fellowship, and especially in surrender to the Holy Spirit.
I believe things in America might become more divided. America refuses to recognize that if we continue to kill our innocent children in the womb, we will keep open the doors for the destruction of the family, the dehumanizing of human sexuality, gun violence on the streets, prolonged wars. It will also add to the using of people in groups for political ends, the abuse of women, and even the increase of opiate addiction to numb the emptiness that our culture offers in the name of freedom. It is no wonder that we want to legalize marijuana.
As a Bishop, a Priest, and a Deacon, my place is to minister at the Table of the Lord. I am first and foremost called to preside at the Eucharist, where Christ is made present among us. Christ is the only one who can redeem and restore our soul. It is in Christ that we have our freedom, that no one can take away. It is in Christ that we find our eternity and the eternal destiny of all creation. It is at the Eucharist that we enter not only into the redemption of the world and every soul but also the great eschatological banquet, which is the source of hope for all humanity.
My diaconate reminds me that not only am I to wash the feet of those who have become weary from the world, but to wash them, equip them and send them forth into the world with the Good News. It is the Good News, not political platforms or Supreme Court rulings that are going to give us back our souls. My diaconate reminds me that the Church needs schools, emergency housing programs, ministry to the dying, outreach to the homeless, street counselors outside of abortion clinics, Christians in the halls of Congress, programs that offer help to single mothers and fatherless children. We must be engaged in social justice because Christ Jesus has a heart for the broken, the least, the lost, and the lonely.
In the Eucharist and the poor, we will find our soul. Whether times get worse or better, let us call out for a revival that is found in Jesus, and sustained in the Eucharist, and the poor; 2 Chronicles 7.14. Jesus is the One who brings healing and deliverance not only individually but to entire nations as we immerse them in the Holy Spirit and teach them to obey.
God bless America. America bless God. I am thankful for the freedom that those men and women proclaimed and shed their blood for over two hundred years ago and throughout two hundred and forty-three years. I will continue to pray for our country and our leaders and teach others to do so. No matter what the outcome of an election. I will continue to work for the advancement of the Kingdom, thankful that it is much easier here in the United States than other places. And, I hope that this Fourth of July, we can stop for a day and celebrate us without damning, hating, and railing against those who disagree with us.
Under His mercy,