Marriage Equality: Six Things You Need to Know

by Eric Bonetti

Following the recent decision by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which reversed lower federal court rulings that struck down state anti-marriage equality legal provisions, it's increasingly likely that the U.S. Supreme Court, sometimes called "the Supremes," will consider the issue in the coming months. With that in mind, here are some key things you need to know about the issue.

1. True Equality Requires a Supreme Court Ruling

Recent federal decisions to recognize same-sex marriages, regardless of the state of domicile, have done much to improve the legal standing of LGBT individuals. That said, there are a number of important federal programs -- including social security -- in which state of domicile, versus the state in which the marriage is celebrated, determine benefit eligibility. Thus, older same-sex couples, who may not cognizant of the ins and outs of these issues, could be in for a rude awakening if they move to a jurisdiction that does not recognize their marriages.

Additionally, many family law issues are handled by state, versus federal, courts. Wills, for example, are almost always probated at the state level. Similarly, issues involving divorce and child custody are typically state matters. And wrongful death cases and other litigation often are handled in state courts. Thus, even though a married same-sex couple may reside in a jurisdiction that recognizes their marriage, they can readily face legal issues in other, less friendly, jurisdictions.

2. There's no guarantee that the Court will hear the appeal out of the Sixth Circuit

It is a long-standing practice at the Supreme Court to decline to hear appeals until the circuit courts are in conflict, meaning that there have been decisions on both sides of an issue. This practice gives the Supremes the benefit of what it hopes are well-crafted arguments on both sides of the issue. WIth the Sixth Circuit the only federal appellate court to rule against marriage equality, it is entirely possible that the Supreme Court will decline to grant certiorari as a way to allow additional cases to make their way through the appeals process. If this occurs, there is no way to know what, if anything, the decision not to hear the case meant.

3. A Supreme Court decision may not be the sweeping ruling some are seeking

Another custom of the Court is to rule on the narrowest possible grounds. Thus, rather than striking down same-sex marriage bans nationwide, it's entirely possible that the Court will rule, as it has in the past, on narrow procedural grounds. Or it may choose to address only specific issues in the case that comes up on appeal, versus dealing with marriage equality as plenary issue.

But no matter how the Court eventually rules, the devil is in the details, and even a favorable Supreme Court decision will leave many specific issues unanswered. For instance, some have speculated that unfriendly states will try to place restrictions on adoption by married same-sex couples. And while few would argue that there should be a "religious freedom" exemption to the federal civil rights laws that protect against discrimination based on race, gender, ethnicity, pregnancy or disability, several states already are trying to carve out such exemptions when it comes to marriage equality.

4. Married same-sex couples will still face discrimination

Another issue facing married same-sex couples will be employment discrimination. While many assume that it is illegal to base hiring decisions on sexual orientation, such actions are not illegal under federal law. Additionally, 21 states still permit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. To make matters worse, federal legislative proposals to outlaw such discrimination have been stalled out in Congress since 1974 -- a total of 40 years, with no relief in sight. So there is still a great deal of work to be done, even with the tremendous progress that has been made on marriage equality.

5. Discrimination is alive and well in The Episcopal Church

Let me say upfront that I am proud of our denomination and our efforts to end discrimination. And living in Northern Virginia, once a hotbed of property recovery litigation, I am only too well aware of the heavy near-term price we have paid for social justice.

That said, many LGBT clergy friends have faced difficulty in finding suitable employment. And accounts of subtle discrimination, such as LGBT parishioners who get the cold shoulder in otherwise friendly congregations, abound. Similarly, even in inclusive parishes it is not uncommon for LGBT parishioners to face group and individual bullying.

Lacking the equivalent of the Ending Racism training that is held in many dioceses, LGBT church members in parishes where clergy are reluctant to intervene will likely continue to be left to fend for themselves for the foreseeable future.

6. You can make a difference

The old saying that all politics is local remains very true. While our dioceses and the national church have an important role to play in promoting marriage equality and ending prejudice, many of the challenges faced by LGBT persons occur at the local and parish level.

On the one hand, it's important not to underestimate the importance of day-to-day actions, whether it's a matter of extending a warm greeting to LGBT couples who visit our parishes, or treating same-sex spouses as the true equivalents of opposite-sex spouses. (Ask a married same-sex couple how often they have gotten the question in church, "And how's your friend?" if you want an unpleasant surprise.)

On the other hand, formal efforts to increase participation by all minorities, including LGBT persons, in our vestries, standing committees, and other ministries, are vitally important. It's easy to say that we welcome LGBT persons, but how many dioceses have no openly LGBT individuals on their standing committees?

Lastly, if you see something, say something. My experience is that, when LGBT parishioners face bullying or other bad behavior, friendly parishioners may resent the bad behavior, but be reluctant to speak up and say, "knock it off." In part, the problem is the whole "churchy nice" paradigm. Sometimes, the issue is a fear of alienating fellow parishioners. But regardless of the reason, taking a pass in the face of injustice and oppression almost invariably violates our baptismal covenants.

My prayerful hope is that the Supreme Court will quickly act to afford same-sex couples in all states the same rights as held by opposite-sex married couples, namely the right to form loving, committed families, recognized by law.

Eric Bonetti is a former nonprofit professional with extensive change management experience. He now works as a realtor.

Whose Life Is It Anyway?

by Linda Ryan

Not long ago, the House of Lords in London undertook a consideration of physician-assisted death and whether or not it should be made legal in Britain. It has also been a topic here in the US, most recently about a young woman, newly married, who has an inoperable and incurable form of cancer and who has indicated she will pursue physician-assisted death (PAD). Death, however, is not a topic not discussed easily or often. It's not usually a topic for dinner-table conversations, lessons at school or even mentioned at church. It is, though, a very important topic because it is something we all have in common: all of us will ultimately die, and avoiding the topic does not make it any less final.

The objective of physician-assisted death is to enable people to have some control over their lives when there is really not much anyone, including physicians, can do to either postpone the inevitable or mitigate its effects on both patient and family. We hear stories of people passing quietly in bed with little fuss and seemingly no pain and that's the way I think most of us would like to go when our time comes. It doesn't always work that way, though. Death can be very painful, prolonged and, unfortunately, messy. That in itself, as much as for the sake of everyone being aware of the wishes of their loved ones, is all the more reason we need to talk about it while it is still distant enough for us to be objective about it, or as objective as we can be about confronting our own mortality.

The older we get, the more we think about death, willingly or unwillingly. Young people may think they are invincible but they die too, mostly due to accident, murder or even suicide. Older folks, though, see family and friends pass, and their own declining health makes the specter of death more real, whether or not they want to consider it any more than a teenager would. We don't like to think of being incapacitated, dealing with excruciating pain, being frozen in immobility, having to have people change diapers for us like we were infants, or losing the mental acuity that made us who we were. We are told that palliative care, care that allows us the greatest quality of life possible at the time through medications and sometimes machines, should be sufficient to get us through death's door with as little loss of dignity as possible, but that isn't always the case. Sometimes we just want to feel we still can make decisions for ourselves about how we want to live -- and how we want to die.

Map_of_U.S._states_that_allow_physiian-assisted_suicide.pngIn the US, several states have already given electoral approval to physician-assisted death, where it should be available, under what circumstances, and with what restrictions. Their laws are fairly clear: the person must have their full faculties but have been diagnosed as terminally ill with six months or less left to live, and having made a clear declaration of their desire to have control over when they feel their life is no longer bearable. A form stating the desire and intent has to be witnessed by two separate medical professionals who have no relationship, professional or otherwise, to each other or to the patient so there is no chance of ulterior motive in the death. The medications must be self-administered or administered on the direct orders of the patient. It sounds pretty straightforward, but nothing this side of heaven is totally straightforward it seems.

There was and still is a lot of controversy surrounding such a law or bill, mostly from those who claim religious beliefs and strong pro-life convictions. It is claimed that it is a slippery slope which, once passed, will allow others to euthanize relatives and others who they deem as unnecessary, too much of a burden or too expensive to care for. Statistics have shown that not all who are facing fairly immediate end-of-life issues have an interest in physician-assisted death and of those who are, even fewer request the service. Of those requesting, not all go through with it. Some die naturally without any intervention and others decide to opt out of it. So the actual number of such deaths is a few percentage points of total deaths, but it gives the terminally ill the choice they may want and feel they need.

It is compared, in a simplistic way, to taking a suffering cat to the veterinarian to be put to sleep when there seems to be little else to do other than watch the cat die in pain that could be alleviated by euthanasia. It is often said that we treat our sick and dying pets with more compassion than we do our fellow humans.

Religion-wise, those who object most to the bill are those with religious convictions they claim are firmly pro-life. They are very much against abortion, usually not approving of any form of birth control, and unwilling to allow women and their doctors to make decisions about the continuation of a pregnancy caused by (a) rape or incest, (b) a fetus with severe birth defects that will lead to a very short and painful life after birth, and (c) when the life of the mother (who may have other small children to consider) is at risk due to the pregnancy. Now they are also focused on how aged, infirm and/or terminally ill adults should live out their final days, whether or not they know the patient, the circumstances, the patient's wishes or religious beliefs. It comes down to who gets to make the decisions about how that patient's life should be lived -- and how it ends.

In the case of the House of Lords' consideration of the matter, what is somewhat surprising is the stance of two Archbishops of Canterbury. Lord George Carey, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, is quite conservative on most issues; however, he is firmly in favor of passage of the bill. At odds is the current Archbishop, Justin Welby, who is very much against it. A third archbishop, Desmond Tutu, formerly of South Africa, is equally firmly in the pro camp. I wonder if his battle with cancer gives him a clearer view of the ramifications as much as the prolonged treatment and death of his friend Nelson Mandela.

No doctor can say for certain when a person is going to die. They can guesstimate, based on symptoms, test results, and experience, but doctors are not omniscient. They tell a person that they have six months and that patient may die by week’s end or go on for years. It’s a crapshoot. PAS is intended to give the patient some control over when they feel their quality of life is compromised beyond any hope of redemption. It allows them to make a decision while they are still of sound of mental state, to say, “Here is my line in the sand; beyond this I do not want to go.”

There is a lot of concern that if a general physician-assisted dying law is passed, it would mean a wholesale slaughter of the mentally incompetent, the disabled, and others deemed unworthy of life, and that is a slippery slope nobody wants to go down. There are some families who, burdened by the care of an elderly, handicapped or terminally ill member, take the decision in their own hands. They usually end up in court for murder, no matter whether their intentions were in accordance with the patient’s wishes or not. There are also many doctors who believe their Hippocratic Oath holds them to preserving life at all costs, not ending it, even if their patient actively asks for it.

In the House of Lords, the outcome of the recent debate was a 65 to 63 vote in favor, not enough to make it law but enough to continue the discussion in another session. In the United States, PAS is legal in three states, Oregon being the first to pass the legitimization of Death with Dignity in 1994. So far people have not been beating down the doors in Oregon, Washington or Vermont (the other two states in which it is legal) to have either themselves, a loved one, friend, or even someone they barely know ushered gently out of this world and into the next. Quite a few people don’t seem to mind using physician-assisted death when it comes to executing criminals, but when it comes to the elderly, terminally ill, disabled, living in extreme pain, or even just lying there hooked up to machines without thought processes, it is a different story.

Where I think faith comes into this is in the realm of compassion. It is compassion that allows us to take our pet to the veterinarian for euthanasia. When it comes to human life, though, it is a different ball game. People take “Thou shalt not kill” seriously, and that becomes a place where the discussion dies. What place does compassion have when faced with this commandment although most are perfectly comfortable breaking or ignoring the other nine? When should a person be allowed to make their own choice? Should the religious beliefs of some take precedence over all, including those who have no religious beliefs on the subject at all? Who makes the decisions as to when life is worth living or is merely an existence? Would God really eternally punish someone who has been tried beyond their limits? Is that the kind of God we have?

What I think it comes down to is who has the right to make a decision about their own life? Who knows what the person is experiencing and how much they feel able to bear and for how long? Ultimately, the questions that have to be asked is, "What would God expect us to do? Whose life is it, anyway?"

Church, State and the Vanishing Wall

by Linda Ryan

There are always topics that tend to garner a lot of public opinion, one of the latest being the issue of church and state and how much control each of these two entities should have with regard to the other. A recent article in the Washington Post by Michelle Boorstein referenced the result of studies conducted by two respected public opinion polling firms. The results indicated that 46% of respondents feared that their freedom to practice their religion was being interfered with or constrained by government. Another 46% believed that religious groups were attempting to force their beliefs on all citizens, whether or not the respondents agreed with those beliefs. The statistics were, to say the least, interesting and a bit disconcerting.

The demographics indicated that those who feared curtailment of religious freedoms were older Americans, white, Evangelicals, Republicans and those with very conservative political views. Those who felt their own beliefs were curtailed or ignored by other religious bodies were those described as young adults under 30(Generation Zs), Democrats, politically liberal, and generally unaffiliated with a church, denomination or religion. In short, the two groups are as different as chalk and cheese.

Freedom of religion has been a topic of interest since the founding of this country. One group of the original colonies was established by entrepreneurs and young men anxious to make their fortunes. With them came the established church as important (as was conversion of the local Native Americans) but secondary to profit. Another group was founded by dissenters who felt they were persecuted by the established church and sought a place where they could practice their faith unhindered. Pilgrims who settled at Plymouth wanted to purify the established church of its' more Roman Catholic elements. Puritans were much more restrictive, wanting to do away with the established church altogether and follow a strict Calvinist theology. Other denominations came to the colonies with each wave of new immigrants, each denomination having the opportunity to either make a space for itself in the cities or carve out a niche in the ever-shrinking wilderness.

Thomas Jefferson wrote that there should be a wall of separation between church and state, a thought which was incorporated into the Constitution of the United States as part of the first amendment of what is now called the Bill of Rights. That amendment stated, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." While we may not be seeing individuals and groups attempting to establish a national church, we are certainly seeing those individuals and groups attempting to establish law based on one set of religious beliefs -- theirs.

In an article on the Episcopal Café website, Editor-in-chief Jim Naughton made the following observation:

I don't think our freedom of religion is in any danger, and I am disappointed that well-fed, well-educated, mostly white, mostly male religious leaders who know they will have access to whatever healthcare they need and a comfortable place to which to retire has succeeded in painting themselves as victims whose rights are in danger."

Naughton has summed up the situation rather well, but I have a feeling, though, that had any woman made such a statement, she would be widely pilloried as a "Feminazi," man-hater or an example of male-bashing.

Looking statistically, it is generally possible to see that the balance of power between male/female is clearly on the side of the males. In Congress, for example, the ratio of males to females is roughly 81% to 19%.3 The Supreme Court is 66.6% male to 33.3% female. The religious makeup is of identical percentages with 6 Roman Catholic and 3 Jewish members. One woman justice is Roman Catholic and one male is Jewish.

In the ecclesiastical realm, at least among Roman Catholics, various Orthodox denominations and sects, many if not most Protestant denominations, and among many non-Christian faiths, the ratio of male to female leaders is more on the order of 100% and no females need apply. Statistics do not tell the whole story; what is easily seen, however, is that power and the control which comes from power is firmly in the hands of one group and that group shows no real signs of wanting to relinquish or even share it unless they are required to do so.

The increasing clamor that particular groups are being persecuted because others do not jump on their bandwagon or voluntarily agree to follow their beliefs is, I believe, the ultimate hubris. Dissenting opinions and people stating religious beliefs of their own in various media or even with picket signs hardly qualifies as persecution. In a sense, it feels like a reversal of the Christians in the arena with the lions in ancient Rome, only this time the Christians are circling the lions.

The news is full of reports of members of various religious groups around the world being shot, beheaded, burned alive, kidnapped, or forced to flee with only what they can carry on their backs by another group of religionists who are bent on conquest and/or conversion by force. Protests from groups in this country who claim persecution because people choose to decline to follow their particular belief system appears both ludicrous and totally egocentric. The egocentrism and feeling of persecution being felt in some quarters is the fear that they will either (a) displease God or (b) lose power and control resulting in someone else mandating different beliefs on them. For them, it is a case of force or be forced, or so it appears.

The chain-link fence that used to be the wall of separation has come to pass since more and more legislative regulations and judicial decisions are reflecting a favoritism of specific religious points of view over those of others, including those who have no religious beliefs at all. One glaring example is the recent Hobby Lobby decision where the Supreme Court decided in favor of the defendant's request for relief from providing insurance coverage of contraceptives for its female employees, regardless of those employees' own religious beliefs or lack thereof. Hobby Lobby declared that it would violate their (Hobby Lobby's) religious convictions to have to provide such coverage. Five male Roman Catholic justices, who shared a similar religious beliefs regarding contraception, ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby. The three female justices and the Jewish male justice dissented.

There have been other legislations and decisions that upheld one religious group's beliefs over others' whose personal, physical, and medical well-being have been compromised without their consent or control or even any seeming respect for their own freedom of religion and practice. It seems the separation of church and state is a one-way street. The direction of the one-way street is determined by groups and individuals with very deep pockets and endorsed by people with power and control to make it happen.

So where does that leave us? Where is the dividing line? Is there a way where the two can really work together for the benefit of all? There is a place for legitimate medical legislation, I believe, particularly when it concerns all segments of society and helps to ensure their health, safety and equal treatment. Many religions teach the need for care for the most vulnerable in their societies, yet some who profess the same religion choose a very different interpretation of the same religious texts and teachings that mandate that care. Both religion and the government require the cooperation of those over whom they exercise supervision and control to a certain extent, and both have areas in which they have strength to balance a weakness in the other.

Perhaps if the two worked together, not to gain preeminence for one particular lobby, special interest group, religious entity or adherents to a particular religious belief alone, but rather for the benefit of all, it might fulfill the mandates of both to provide for the equality of access to all civil rights, benefits and religious autonomy without regard to the person's race, gender, cultural background, orientation, economic status or religious preference.

For Christians, that would mean the beginning of the realization of the kingdom of God, a place of peace, harmony and justice here and now, not later and somewhere far different. It won't be popular with the rich, the powerful and those at the top of the hierarchy who would need to give up some power, prestige and control. It would, in the long run, produce a true prosperity, not an economy based on the perception of limited resources when it comes to the good things in life. It would provide for a healthier earth too, which would be a good thing because humanity still needs a home planet, a place where they have to share the good and the bad, even with people who disagree with them.

Ultimately, though, it is a choice for all of us to make as to which path and which leaders to follow, which fear to feed and which to brush aside. Hopefully, we will make the wise choice.

Linda Ryan co-mentors 2 EfM Online groups and keeps the blog Jericho's Daughter . She lives in the Diocese of Arizona and is proud to be part of the Church of the Nativity in North Scottsdale.

Fourth of July and the liturgical calendar

by George Clifford

The Fourth of July—Independence Day—is not only a national holiday but also a feast day observed in our Episcopal liturgical calendar. The newly formed Episcopal Church included the feast in its 1786 prayer book and then omitted it in 1789. The change occurred upon the recommendation of Bishop William White. He contended that former loyalists, who constituted the main obstacle to the Episcopal Church growing, found the feast objectionable. The 1929 Book of Common Prayer restored Independence Day as a feast. That history suggests three lines of thought.

First, the inclusion, omission, and re-inclusion of Independence Day in the liturgical calendar should warn against equating nationalism and Christianity. For its first century and a half, Episcopalians viewed loyalty to Christ and not the nation as paramount.

Today, perhaps much less than in 1786, the United States is not part of Christendom (if one presumes that Christendom still exists somewhere). The US is a multi-cultural, multi-lingual, and religiously diverse nation. Consequently, we should object, as did most of the nation's founders, to legislative efforts to establish Christian teachings or practices. No law can ban private prayer. Conversely, no law can require belief in God. Indeed, printing In God We Trust on US money seems patently hypocritical, as people are often more confident in the dollar's power than in God's power.

Second, notions of US exceptionalism—the idea that the US is the new Israel, a city founded upon a hill as a light to the nations, or a nation especially blessed by God—are incompatible with Christian inclusivity and justice. Paraphrasing the book of Acts God is no respecter of peoples or nations, loving all equally.

I proudly served the US Navy for over two decades, ready and willing to go into harm's way to defend our freedoms and way of life. However, I also knew that the US was neither the most just nor prosperous nation. The US has some admirable characteristics, but we can also learn from other nations. Viewing the US as a member of the global community, co-equal with the other members, best coheres with God's equal love for all. On Independence Day, we thus do well to give thanks for the goodness of this land and to seek God's wisdom and assistance in addressing our shortcomings and failures.

Similarly, placing a US flag adjacent to the altar generally sends a wrong message, tacitly implying that God somehow especially favors the US. I have had the US flag removed from the worship space of every congregation that I have served except one. In the military, confusing loyalty to God with loyalty to the nation is an ever-present danger. In my civilian parishes, my congregations have all included citizens from several nations. The one place in which I did not remove the flag was the US Naval Academy. There, as part of the recessional, midshipmen dipped the US flag before the altar dramatically symbolizing the priority of loyalty to God over nation.

Third, we appropriately reinterpret what we celebrate on Independence Day. Our reading of the Declaration of Independence illustrates the positive potential of this process. The well-known, rightly treasured expression that "all men are created equal" originally meant white, property-owning males are created equal. After much struggle, some of which continues even in the present, most Americans now interpret that phrase to mean that all people, regardless of socio-economic status, race, ethnicity, or creed are created equal. This new reading is so widely accepted that the historically ignorant often respond with surprised disbelief when informed of the phrase's original meaning.

In addition to struggles to end racial, ethnic, religious, and sexual discrimination, we now hear belated calls to end injustice against gays, lesbians, bi-sexual, and transgender persons. This struggle will require, like its predecessors, decades to complete fully but, with God's help, the arc of history bends inexorably and irreversibly toward justice. Ten years ago, only one state had legalized same-sex marriage. Laws in 20 states now permit same-sex marriage; court rulings are pending in seven more states. Sometime before 2020, same-sex marriage seems likely to become legal in all US jurisdictions.

Economic injustice is more elusive to define and rallying support to end it more difficult. Requirements that voters pay a poll tax in order to be eligible to vote replaced the prior requirement that eligible voters must own property. The poll tax—struck down by US courts as an unconstitutional attempt to limit voter eligibility—has subsequently given way to campaigns in which the winner is almost invariably the candidate who raises the most money. The recent primary defeat of the US House of Representatives Majority Leader, Eric Cantor (R, VA), by an unknown and poorly funded Tea Party candidate is the notable exception to that generalization. Calls for racial justice by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stirred the nation, mobilizing people on both sides of the issue; tellingly, his calls for economic justice were widely ignored and now largely forgotten.

Money does not assure happiness. Research indicates that people living in the US who earn more than $75,000 per year experience only marginal increases in their happiness when their income increases. However, people who earn less than $75,000 (and that is 60% plus of us) experience significant increases in happiness when income improves. In other words, money cannot make us happy, but a lack of money can keep one from having the resources to live a reasonably happy and good life.

A tension between the present and future in-breaking of God's kingdom on earth echoes throughout the New Testament. Unfortunately, when it comes to money, wealth, and power Christians individually and collectively too often emphasize a future rather than present focus. This tension is evident when one compares Matthew's better-known but probably later version of the Sermon on the Mount with Luke's presumably earlier version. Luke, for example, records Jesus taught that the hungry shall be satisfied (a call for economic justice!) whereas Matthew records Jesus taught that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be satisfied (spiritualizing and thereby eviscerating the call for economic justice).

Justice delayed is not justice. Will we, as does Matthew's gospel, spiritualize Jesus' teachings and emphasize economic justice will only arrive with the fullness of the Kingdom? Alternatively, is God speaking to us through Luke's gospel, calling us to join in the struggle for justice for the least amongst us? Independence Day is an opportunity not only to celebrate progress toward equal dignity for all but also an excellent time to encourage progress toward equal opportunity for all in the pursuit of happiness.

George Clifford is an ethicist and Priest Associate at the Church of the Nativity, Raleigh, NC. He retired from the Navy after serving as a chaplain for twenty-four years, has written Charting a Theological Confluence: Theology and Interfaith Relations and Forging Swords into Plows: A Twenty-First Century Christian Perspective on War, and blogs at Ethical Musings.

Part 2: A little child shall lead them: a year after Sandy Hook

by Doug Fisher

Part 2 of 2

Amidst the current debate over gun regulation that has been marked by polarized conflict, Christians are called to a different source of authority than themselves. The English word, “obedience,” comes from the Greek root, “obeir”; and “obeir” literally means “to listen,” or, “to hear.” As obedient Christians we are called to listen – both to “our friends” and to “our enemies” – in order to engage that reconciling spirit which is the very spirit of their God.

Episcopal Bishop of Oklahoma, Edward Konieczny, was a police officer for eighteen years. He has been involved in shootings that resulted in death; a friend and partner died on a shift that had been his; and days before leaving for seminary, a door opened to a rifle pointed at his head that miraculously didn’t fire. As a Bishop who sometimes carries a gun on drives through his rural diocese, he confesses that both sides of the gun control debate presume he is “on their side.”

“Until very recently,” Bishop Konieczny says, “I was adamantly opposed to any expansion of gun control. But as I have reflected on the current debate — and the emotionally charged and morally complex gun-related moments in my past — I find myself struggling and evolving in my understanding of guns in our society. I think it is time for an honest conversation about the assumptions on which both sides in the gun debate base their arguments. It's time for both sides to acknowledge that neither offers a complete solution to the problems of violence in our society.”[15]

In a country where twice as many suicides as homicides result from the use of firearms, we need to consider the Harvard School of Public Health studies that indicate firearm access as a critical risk factor in consummated suicide. We need to consider how this selfsame access arms potential murderers. And at the policy level, we need to explore why these studies show significantly lower suicide and homicide rates in “low-gun states” than in “high-gun” states.[16]

Many of us fight the gun industry as the political “other side.” Yet in 2000, in exchange for clemency from potential lawsuits against the company, gun manufacturer, Smith and Wesson, agreed to prohibit the sale of its guns without background checks, to install locks on all its guns, and to develop technology that would allow its guns to be fired only by their owners. Sadly, in the wake of their agreement with the Clinton administration, gun rights lobbies successfully discouraged the sale of Smith and Wesson guns, leaving the weakened company to be finally sold at a fraction of its former value.[17]

If this attempt ended on a disappointing note, such attempts can be made again. The Smith and Wesson story tells us three things: first, not all gun manufacturers need to be against the regulation of guns; second, the technical expertise of gun manufacturers can be used in making legal guns safer; and third, because the free market has shown itself to be an inadequate agency of gun regulation, the Federal Government must regulate the marketplace to accord its citizens the inalienable right to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

This may be happening in New Jersey. A state law passed in 2002 declares that when technology to prevent gun use by unauthorized persons was developed, it would be required on all new guns sold in the state. Now that electronic identification devices have been successfully incorporated into handguns – including one utilizing a “fingerprint-based locking system – such regulation is viable.[18]

Those who see every possible solution as no less than an impossible task may take heart in Saint Francis, who knew only too well the daunting opposition. “Start by doing what is necessary, then what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” By freeing ourselves from the prison of self-interest that divides us from our fellow human beings, we might stand against the odds, and with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, become another “prisoner of hope.”

As expressed in President Obama’s State of the Union address: “Our actions will not prevent every senseless act of violence in this country. Indeed, no laws, no initiatives, no administrative acts will perfectly solve all the challenges I’ve outlined tonight. But we were never sent here to be perfect. We were sent here to make what difference we can, to secure this nation, expand opportunity, and uphold our ideals through the hard, often frustrating, but absolutely necessary work of self-government.”[19] And in the words of Ana Grace’s father, Jimmy Greene, “What we desire and deeply pray for is real change, and we stand alongside the folks who organized Sandy Hook Promise, who say real change doesn’t happen when we immediately take sides and get ready to fight the other side.”[20]

The kingdom of the world – whose literal gravity drew Jesus to death by suffocation – stands to suffocate the possibility of our common life of “Happiness.” Yet stretched between the kingdoms of the world and that of God are the arms that embraced all of creation, revealing that mysterious economy whereby the more we give, the more we have together. Between despair and hope, between death and greater life, between hatred of ourselves and love for God, spans, crosses, breathes anew the possibility of the pursuit of Happiness together.

We are called to embrace a world that is still torn by the cruelty of the Cross – and which can only be healed by the impossible, subversive, reconciling love of God. As inextricably entwined as death and resurrection, it is a task of impossible hope: that out of the ashes of a nation’s children lost can come a greater life of the spirit. Only by committing to a life amidst the bells that toll for the human condition can we look to a day when the tolling bells turn, and peal for eternal joy.

The time has come for the fallen children of Newtown to rise again, and to lead us. The time has come to allow their terrible deaths to be redeemed by a new life together. The time has come for us all to be gathered in God’s arms – just as these children were gathered by their teachers – to know the way of God is the way of sacrifice that ultimately transforms even death.

And only then will we know the truth that Jesus spoke in his Sermon on the Mount. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”


[15] Edward Konieczny, “My Take: The Thin Line Between God and Guns,” April 10, 2013

[16] Harvard School of Public Health Online, “Means Matter: Firearm Access is a Risk Factor for Suicide,”

[17] Gary Fields, “Weapon Makers See Danger in Cooperating Over Safety,” The Wall Street Journal, January 16, 2013

[18] Ashby Jones, “New iP1 Pistol May Trigger Old Gun Law in New Jersey,” The Wall Street Journal Online, November 20, 2013

[19] President Barak Obama, “Remarks by the President in the State of the Union Address,” February 12, 2013

[20] op. cit., Peter Applebome and Elizabeth Maker

The Rt Rev. Douglas Fisher is Bishop of the Diocese of Western Massachusetts

Part 1: A little child shall lead them: a year after Sandy Hook

by Doug Fisher

Part 1 of 2


Since the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, many have written passionately and well about the need to stop gun violence in our country in editorials and pastoral letters from religious leaders. I felt, however, there was a need for something more thorough as we consider theologically and socially how to respond to an ever growing gun culture. For the past several months The Rev. Chris Carlisle and I have worked on a “reflection” document. It is not a definitive study by any means. It is a reflection that invites more reflection from its readers. And hopefully actions for a safer and sane society.

As long as this document has been in the works, I hesitated releasing it this week- the week of the first anniversary of the awful events at Sandy Hook. But then I took to heart the statement made by the group “Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.” They said, “On December 14, we’ll have a moment of silence for Newtown, but with all the gun violence that has happened since that day, is more silence what we need?"

I invite you to read “Reflections.” And to offer your own thoughts on this blog. May all who follow the Prince of Peace offer an alternative to a culture of violence.


The first unified response to the tragedy in Newtown – after the breathless shock – was the tolling of church bells across the nation one week after the shootings. Whatever our particular religious convictions, a sudden need welled within us to resonate with our fellow human beings, and give voice to our sense of helplessness. Before taking conscious account of our faith, we seemed instinctually moved to take some kind of action, if only to speak our unutterable, corporate grief.

Perhaps it is uniquely in the depth of despair that Christians learn a truth about their faith: that for the God that they profess to be the God that they profess, it is a God that must be rung for everyone. As convincing as may be the walls that divide us by institutional tradition, in moments like Newtown, people of all faiths are inexorably drawn together. There seems to be spare room for rarified distinctions or expansive claims about their God when together we must face the specter of evil by which innocent people die.

For Christians, the diabolical nature of violence returns to the Cross, where, beginning with a handful of women, Jews, and outcasts, it was astonishingly redeemed. For two thousand years, this Roman tool of execution has been finding its miraculous redemption by the startling recognition that even death does not escape the reach of God’s unqualified embrace. Yet for all their passing glories, Christians still must face their inevitable condition of “sin” – a word that finds its origin in an archer’s term that literally means, “to miss the mark.”

Stretched between the gravity of earthly life and the possibility of God, Christians are called into the kingdom of the world, by which to reach the kingdom of heaven. Just as the gravity of Jesus’ human body suffocated under its own weight, so must we submit to the ways of the world that cause us suffocating grief. And just as Jesus was revealed as God in human flesh, he would be given to the evil of a world whereby he overcame the darkest ways of human life in the light of a divine embrace.

If no one had gone to the tomb, suffocation may have been the last word of Christ. Yet when the women went, what they found in their midst was not death, but resurrected life. According to Luke’s gospel – however we ascribe the nature of their startling appearance – two men in ‘dazzling clothes’ ask the question: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

For Christians, resurrection is not to be reduced to a single act two thousand years ago. Nor is it confined to the person of Jesus, who laid bare God’s resurrecting life. Resurrection marks the nature of God’s life as revealed in Christ’s self-sacrificing love – sweeping up God’s children in a holy, willful wind, by which even death could be redeemed.

Six-year-old Ana Grace Marquez-Greene, described as “a blur of joyful energy who loved singing, dancing, floral headbands and the Bible,” died at Sandy Hook Elementary School almost a year ago. Only a month after her death, Ana Grace’s father, Jimmy Greene, was able to rise up and claim the need to “come together on issues that are not political but that are, above all, human issues that affect us all as human beings.”[1] And in the words of Alex Haller, an uncle of Noah Pozner who was also killed, “We have to make something positive come of this, and I feel a need to advocate for change right away… To me, this is now a lifelong mission, to make children safer and to stop mass shootings.”[2]

If the resurrected life of the Sandy Hook children is being borne by their families and friends, it must be borne by us all, as implored in the last State of the Union Address. Alluding to the hundreds children who have been killed before and since the Newtown tragedy, President Obama referred to America’s families, “torn apart by gun violence.” “Gabby Giffords deserves a vote,” beseeched the President. “The families of Newtown deserve a vote. The families of Aurora deserve a vote. The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence – they deserve a simple vote.”[3]

But still we are faced with the obscenity of the continuing fallout: gun sales soared the week immediately following the shootings in Newtown. The next time they spiked was following the President’s announcement of gun reform measures. In the innocent face of our fallen children, the insanity continues in a tacit acceptance of the National Rifle Association’s Wayne LaPierre: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”[4]

One wonders if Esquire blogger, Charles Pierce, is right when he reflected on the nearby killing of a TSA security guard at Los Angeles International Airport. “There is nothing ‘random’ about how we have armed ourselves, and there is nothing ‘random’ about the filigree of high-flown rhetoric with which we justify arming ourselves, and there is nothing ‘random’ about how we learn nothing every time someone who could be anyone decides to exercise his Second Amendment rights by opening fire. There is nothing random about how we got where we are today, here in Terminal 7, where people have sought refuge from the bloodshed, four terminals over. There is nothing ‘random’ at all. We have chosen insanity over reason. We have done it with our eyes open.”[5]

Yet those who insist on extreme “solutions” leave us with no solution at all. In the hope of bringing order out of chaos it is natural to want to ban every kind of gun. However we may feel that outright interdiction is the ultimate solution, at the present moment such a prohibition marks a time that is yet to come.

There are gun advocates – and fellow human beings – who engage in the debate reasonably. Many appeal to the Second Amendment as the rationale for “bearing arms,” perceiving this right as fundamental to their own individual freedom. Others identify the right to hunt as a “pursuit of happiness” which has nothing to do with heinous acts like the one committed in Newtown.

The Second Amendment is frequently invoked in the context of the debate. “Constitutional Originalists” – typically branded, “political conservatives” – perceive the Constitution as a document that must be “literally” interpreted. Its meaning is unchanging, and has to hearken back to the Founders’ original intent: in the case of gun control, that the right to bear a gun is no less than “an inalienable right.”

Such contention, inherent in all textual interpretation, is familiar to the Church. Conflict between Biblical literalists and those who stress “the spirit of the law” continue to divide us in our common search for an authentic understanding of God. However different may be the authority to which the Church ultimately appeals, the challenge is the same: how to faithfully discern the meaning of our sacred texts.

Those who assume that a literal reading of the Constitution’s Second Amendment grants gun owners the right to bear any kind of weapon should reconsider “literalism.” During the Revolutionary War, the likes of an “arm” was the inaccurate flintlock musket whose required thirteen steps before being fired allowed a shot every twenty seconds. The AR-15 assault weapon used at Sandy Hook Elementary School – whose high capacity magazine is capable of firing forty-five rounds a minute[6] – is a far cry from the literal arms the Founders only could have sanctioned, giving us at least to reconsider the complexities of all interpretation.

The very nature of language, whether spoken in church sanctuaries or the halls of government, requires that meaning – conveyed by either Jesus or the Founders – bears an inevitable spirit. Even most Biblical literalists seek such a “spirit” in the Scriptures. The words of the Declaration of Independence similarly resonate: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

In both cases such a spirit is necessarily borne in relation to other human beings: to neighbors, fellow citizens, and – as known to both Jesus and the Founders – to our enemies. The tragedy at Sandy Hook not only meant the death of our own beloved children. With it came a threat to our common hope for the pursuit of this greater “Happiness.”

President of The Children’s Defense Fund, Marian Edelman, asserts, “Sandy Hook was no fluke. In 2010, a child or teen was killed by guns every three hours and fifteen minutes – that’s more than 21 lost lives every three days from gun homicides, suicides, and accidents. A child or youth was killed or injured by a gun every half hour. Between 1963 and 2010, an estimated 166,500 children and teens aged 0-19 lost their lives to gun violence – the equivalent of over 8,328 classrooms of 20 children, and an average of 3,470 deaths a year for 48 years or 174 classrooms of 20 children and teens every year.”[7]

The truth is that we live in a culture of violence – generated by video games, Hollywood, and even by the way we have come to speak to each other. From expressions like, “I have you in my cross hairs,” to “I’ll take a shot at that,” violence is so much a part of our lives that most often we don’t notice it. Rather than viewing language as a neutral means of communication, we need to understand the power of language as a vehicle for good, and for evil.

Research increasingly reveals how the media itself perpetuates this culture of violence by making spectacles of violent acts, and their attention-starved perpetrators.[8] Rather than allowing itself to be used to aimlessly destructive ends, it is incumbent on the media to stand up and accept its responsibility to the culture. If freedom of the press demands that the truth be brought to light in a democracy, it equally demands the recognition that the truth cannot be truth in the service of delusion.

To the extent that mental illness is a threat to our shared life, we must commit ourselves to our common health. “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” depend upon our mutual well being – both physical and mental – as a requisite condition of our corporate life together. In the same way it would be dishonest to ignore mental health in gun control discussions, so it would be dishonest to conclude the threats it poses demand armament.

What would it mean to become “our brothers’ keepers,” whose welfare was no different from our own? What would it mean to know our health as a nation is but the health of the sickest among us? Indeed, what would it mean not only to effectively protect against the threats such illness poses – but to care for the mentally ill in the selfsame ways that we care for ourselves?

In the words of Ana Grace’s mother – who is a licensed therapist – it may begin with a stunningly counterintuitive spirit of generosity. When asked in a television interview if she was able to feel sympathy for the mother of Aaron Alexis, the Navy Yard gunman who killed twelve people on September 16th, Nelba Marquez-Greene replied: "Of course. She's a victim herself. And it's time in America that we start looking at mental illness with compassion, and helping people who need it. This was a family that needed help, an individual that needed help and didn't get it. And what better can come of this, of this time in America, than if we can get help to people who really need it?"[9]

For all the hatred surrounding the gun control debate, it appears that the most deeply affected are the ones leading the way with wisdom and compassion into our difficult future. “Sandy Hook Promise” – a Newtown organization founded by those who lost children and friends – asks its website visitors to make two simple promises: “I Promise to honor the 26 lives lost at Sandy Hook Elementary School,” and, “I Promise to do everything I can to encourage and support common sense solutions that make my community and our country safer from similar acts of violence.” Proclaiming, “Our hearts are broken; Our spirit is not,” Sandy Hook Promise pledges to have “conversations where even those with the most opposing views can debate in good will.”[10]

It should not be a surprise that the Christian promise of mercy, compassion, and hope may come not by way of “the wisdom of the world,” but by the wisdom of its vulnerable children. Almost three millennia before the shooting in Newtown, the prophet Isaiah stood in a violent, war-torn land – against impossible odds – to set forth a renewed vision of God. The promise of peace, Isaiah proclaims, would not be fulfilled by politicians, but by the startling, unpredicted, holy, prophetic, paradoxical power of the child: “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them.”

Given the current political climate surrounding gun regulation – in which the NRA has identified gun control supporters by an online “enemies list” – such conversations won’t be easy. Those who argue for gun control in the name of nonviolence and peace must recognize such peace has to begin at home, and in relation to those who oppose them. So Saint Francis of Assisi was moved to say, “While you are proclaiming peace with your lips, be careful to have it even more fully in your heart.”

If there is polarizing conflict over gun control, there is widespread commitment to change: from the call of the Catholic Jesuit weekly, “America” to repeal the Second Amendment,[11] to that of a United States Army General who “spent a career carrying typically either an M16, and later an M4 carbine.” On the strength of his experience on the battlefield, General Stanley McChrystal said, “We’ve got to take a serious look—I understand everyone’s desire to have whatever they want—but we’ve got to protect our children, we’ve got to protect our police, we’ve got to protect our population… Serious action is necessary. Sometimes we talk about very limited actions on the edges and I just don’t think that’s enough.”[12]

The Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts-Schori, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, recently released a statement calling on its members to express their concern to Federal legislators that gun violence be swiftly and specifically addressed. The Presiding Bishop asserts that “the necessary policy decisions are clear and widely supported: limits on sales of military-style weapons and high-capacity magazines, effective background checks for all gun purchases, better access to mental health services, and attention to gun trafficking.”[13]

Across religious traditions, the call for change resounds. Jewish, Muslim and Christian clergy from Newtown are urging reform. In a joint letter, hand-delivered to the offices of the one hundred US Senators who were about to vote on gun control measures, they wrote, "We pray that you will vote for meaningful gun violence prevention laws that include a ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines, enforceable universal background checks, an end to gun trafficking, and prosecution of straw purchasers."[14]

To take “serious action” in the Christian tradition does not risk – or accommodate – hatred. It requires self-sacrifice in the name of truth, justice, and reconciliation. It finally requires our shared humanity, revealing the richness of a life which cannot be realized by polarized self-interests that deny the value of each other.

[1] Peter Applebome and Elizabeth Maker, “Private Pain and Public Debate Take Toll on Newtown Parents,” The New York Times, January 20, 2013

[2] Ibid.

[3] President Barak Obama, “Remarks by the President in the State of the Union Address,” February 12, 2013,

[4] Eric Lichtblau and Motoko Rich, “N.R.A. Envisions ‘A Good Guy With a Gun’ in Every School”, The New York Times, December 12, 2013

[5] Charles P. Pierce, “There is Nothing Random About the Lax Shooting,” Esquire, November 1, 2013

[6] Bushmaster Operating Manual

[7] Krissah Thompson, “Marian Wright Edelman marks 40 years of advocacy at Children’s Defense Fund,” The Washington Post, September 29, 2013

[8] Ari Shulman, “What Mass Killers Want – and How to Stop Them,” The Wall Street Journal, November 8, 2013,

[9] “Piers Morgan Live,” CNN, September 18, 2013

[10] Sandy Hook Promise website,

[11] Editors, “Repeal the Second Amendment,” America, February 25, 2013

[12] Luke Johnson, “Stanley McChrystal: Gun Control Requires ‘Serious Action',” The Huffington Post, January 8, 2013

[13] Episcopal New Service, “Presiding Bishop Issues ‘Call to Action’ on Gun Violence,” February 1, 2013

[14] “Newtown Rabbi Joins Muslim, Christian Clergy in Urging Gun Controls,” March 12, 2013,

The Rt Rev. Douglas Fisher is Bishop of the Diocese of Western Massachusetts

Truth will out

by Torey Lightcap

The truth, they say, will out.

A few nights ago I was in a dimly-lit eatery in Denver International Airport, lingering over a panini and watching people watch their phones. The people at the bar were lingering over ESPN with the same artificial interest you see around almost every TV at almost every bar. Virtually all the human beings in the room had their backs to me, and everyone felt distant - the whole environment a constructed reality, distantly held.

The government shutdown had been all over my friends’ Facebook feeds for better than a day, and this had me feeling a little spiky to boot. The cavalier attitude with which some were treating the subject was truly shocking. Trying not to feel too self-righteously indignant, I wondered what it would be like to wake up and to find oneself labeled Nonessential.

Gradually, as the food on the plate and the beer in the glass disappeared into me, two disparate streams of thought began to flow into one another. The first was that I get a little testy about working extra hours whenever someone on a plane innocently asks me that sixty-four-thousand dollar question, “So what do you do?” Over the past nine years I have enjoyed enriching conversations in the answering of that question on airplanes, and equally have been able to learn about other people’s lives and loves. God, and the hidden truth of our lives in Christ, has often been at the center of such conversations. But tonight I was just tired. Tired and grumpy.

The other stream of thought was that crazy shutdown and the hubristic intransigence that had given rise to it. There had to be better ways of dealing with conflict than shuttering government services for what looked to me to be nothing more than a childish political revenge scheme.

By the time I had signed for my check and walked off, I made a decision to lie about something. I decided that if asked what I do, I would lie and say that I was “a nonessential government employee.” This, I reasoned, would have the double benefit of bringing both awareness of a much larger issue and and keeping me from hearing an hour-long confession I was not prepared to hear.

All the way to the boarding area, standing around waiting, and finally in my assigned seat, I tried to expand the size of the lie to cover any questions my seatmates might have. I anticipated such questions, remembering that “Once you tell a lie, you need ten more lies to cover the lie.” How far out did this net have to stretch?

I’m not proud of it, but this is what I came up with: if prompted, I would say I was a civilian teacher on contract to the Pentagon and worked with most branches of the Armed Forces. I worked nine months out of the year as a teacher, spent an additional month conducting research, and then laid out the other two months. My fields of specialization were mob psychology and deprogramming(!). The deprogramming thing had been receding ever since 9/11 because of administrative policies of non-negotiation, which meant that I was spending increasing time teaching the intricacies of mob psychology and crowd supression. (To spice it up, I might say that I worked hard at promoting the more humane approaches of this often tricky craft, and that I wondered if this somehow set me apart from my colleagues.) I made up terms that seemed conceivable (to me) coming out of the mouth of such a person, and I thought about what kinds of things scholarly journals would say about these areas of work. I thought about what it would be like to spend hours and hours watching recordings of satellite imagery and drone footage, and then listening to top military brass hash them out. And anything beyond any of that -- anything I could not easily imagine a response for -- I would just say that my security clearance didn’t permit me to say. Above all, in tone I was to be pragmatic yet hopeful about the government shutdown because that’s who I really am (hopefully pragmatic), and anything else was going to just sound blatantly phony.

It didn’t feel -- well, it didn’t feel all that good to find within myself the capacity to do this mental legwork just to make and spread and cover over a lie. But I was committed.

You know how these conversations go. “So what took you there?” or “Business or personal?” or whatever. You can see the question coming. I got the business-or-personal? one, swallowed, and hedged. I was playing chicken with myself and losing.

“Bit of both,” I said truthfully. “I was with a cohort of friends who are all involved in roughly the same work I do.”

The double-bind! Not only had I made the next question inevitable (“Oh really? So what do you do?”), I had also opened up a new aspect not accounted for in my planning. Quick: How many people could there possibly be who teach depogramming and/or mob psychology in the Armed Forces? Five? Could there be five? Because there were five of us on the trip. Oh, but that’s real life. That’s immaterial. I never said a number; there could have been three or ten or twenty of us.

There was, however, no next question. Just a weird quiet. “What takes you to Omaha?” I asked.

“I’m from the area north of there. I have a very close cousin who died the other day. The funeral is on Friday.”

Turned out north of Omaha meant close to where I live. I was sorry to hear about her cousin. Was it sudden? I’m sorry. Cancer? That’s terrible. What was your cousin like? Small, engaging talk about important things. Who I really am in my vocation as a priest received a small mention, but it was coming out of my mouth without the need to protect or explain it.

And just like that -- as carefully as it had been born, as thoughtfully as it had been knitted, as pragmatically as it may have been needed -- the lie expired. Whatever I actually had to offer this conversation was good enough; the lie, now dead, would have been an insult to someone’s humanity in a moment of vulnerability. Worse, it would have come disguised as an object lesson, delivered with impolitic ego.

Empathy and compassion are like microwaves that zap our exterior stories and lies into submission. When we hear of another’s pain -- when it’s not a constructed reality but a real-live pain with a name and an address -- the opportunity arises within us in less than a heartbeat to be aware of another, to be human, to answer pain not with smothering platitudes or even theological precision, but with listening care. Just care. Just being-present-to, and letting everything else rest for a minute. For all our “skill,” our “tools,” and sometimes in spite of them, there’s no substitute.

And (especially in the Midwest) that minute can be a fast one. To the rest of the world it’s just a couple of people being decent towards each other. No hugging, no tears. No big epiphanies.

I had boarded the plane outfitted with a hubristic lie about being nonessential. For the briefest of hours, I met someone, whose name I don’t even know, who reminded me about what it meant to become “essential” when called upon to be that, to be whatever that meant. The truth had gotten out, and it proved, as it always does, to be entirely sufficient in and of itself.

Then it was on to baggage claim.

The Rev. Torey Lightcap is Rector of St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Sioux City, Iowa and on the adjunct staff of Episcopal Café.

Harvard students reflect on a week of marathon terror

By Luther Zeigler

Harvard seniors Ali Evans and Robert Tamai crossed the finish line of the Boston Marathon just under the four-hour mark at approximately 2:49 p.m. last Monday. A minute later they heard a blast they would never forget. According to a report in the Harvard Gazette, Evans said: “when I saw the smoke rising and heard the initial screams, I turned to Robert and yelled, ‘Run, man, run!’” As the two students sprinted to safety, Evans says she shouted the Lord’s Prayer “at the top of my lungs, repeatedly.” Friends of Evans and Tamai, who were at the finish line to meet them, were ten yards from the first explosion. Amazingly, they were not injured.

The undergraduate President of our Episcopal Chaplaincy at Harvard, senior Graham Simpson, was at mile 25 near Fenway Park when the two bombs exploded. In a homily delivered this past Sunday evening, Graham described his experience of the chaos of that moment: “I had no idea what had happened until I started receiving texts from people asking me if I was okay and what was going on. It seemed impossible to believe at first, but we started walking back towards campus, deciding right away not to take public transportation. I was overwhelmed as I tried to sort out what was going on and what my friends and I should be doing . . . . Even once I crossed the river, the situation continued to overwhelm me. I was safe and so was everybody that I knew. But it was immediately clear that dozens, if not hundreds, were hurt and that at least two people were dead including an eight-year-old boy. My phone continued to buzz with texts asking me if I was all right and if I knew what was going on. I received so many texts that read simply, ‘Love you,’ words that had never felt more heart-felt and sincere. Sadness, relief, anger, sympathy, fear, and love all swept over me, in a cloud of contradictory emotions.”

Yet, as was to become clear the next day, the Harvard community was not spared by the tragedy. One of the victims to die in the blast was Krystle Campbell, a former Harvard Business School employee whose mother and brother still work at the University. On Wednesday afternoon, the business school community gathered to remember Krystle and the other victims. Led in prayer by my fellow Harvard chaplain, Fr. George Salzmann, hundreds were on hand at the Business School to express their support for the Campbell family and to lean on one another.

That same Wednesday, I worked with students and other Harvard chaplains to organize a candlelight vigil in Harvard Yard on the steps of Memorial Church. The Harvard Glee Club opened the service with song as dusk came over the Yard, illuminated only by the candles of the hundreds gathered. Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Humanist chaplains were all there, united in their commitment to peacemaking and in their stand against violence.

Harvard juniors Tara Raghuveer and Anqi Peng both spoke at the vigil. Peng, whose Boston Marathon race stopped just short of the finish line when the explosions hit, said that when she returned to campus all she wanted to do was find – and hug – every one of her friends. But Peng also commented on the incredible outpouring of selfless generosity she witnessed by police, bystanders and local businesspeople in the chaos at the finish line. As Harvard University President Drew Faust put it in her remarks that night, it is precisely these simple acts of human goodness that we should notice. Quoting the words of Toni Morrison, who recently spoke on campus, Faust reminded us: “We tend to overlook goodness, and we must put goodness in the center of our lives.”

Jonathan Walton, the new Pusey Minister of Memorial Church, offered a benediction to close the Wednesday evening vigil, in which he observed: “Anxiety is understandable and anger over senseless acts of terror is appropriate.” But, Walton entreated: “Don’t allow your anxiety or your anger to take your mind to an awful place. Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that.” Looking out at the flickering points of candlelight, Walton sent us out with the words: “As you blow out your candles tonight, let the light of God light you up.”

But then the violence returned the next night, as the two suspects emerged from the darkness in a violent outburst on nearby MIT’s campus, leaving one of its security officers dead and others badly injured. The older of the two brothers suspected of bombing the marathon also ended up dead in the streets. Then came the manhunt for the younger brother in neighboring Watertown, followed by the lockdown that kept us all confined in fear and anxiety until this young, nineteen year old boy was captured on Friday night.

As we learned more about the Tsarnaev brothers throughout the day on Friday, and their deep ties to the Cambridge community, it was no longer possible to dismiss them with mere labels like ‘Chechnyan terrorists’ or ‘radical Muslims’ as some in the media were inclined to do. For, truth be told, they were one of us, American kids from the neighborhood, our neighborhood. Here is how senior Graham Simpson put it in his homily:

“When Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured Friday night, I felt relief. I hoped for some sort of justice. I was satisfied that our law enforcement had successfully pulled off their manhunt. But I felt very uneasy, confused and further saddened. How could a 19-year-old that lived within two blocks of one friend, had worked at a Harvard pool with another friend, and had played one-on-one basketball with a third committed such hateful acts? He seemed like such a normal American citizen. He had wrestled at his high school, won a scholarship, and liked to play FIFA. It doesn’t fit for me. I could feel no joy at Facebook statuses of ‘Got him’ or consider going out to the parties that had been rescheduled in celebration of his capture. I did not – and still do not – know how to react. An unclear muddle of thoughts fills my head.”

Meditating on one of the readings for this past Sunday, Psalm 23, Simpson concluded his homily by wondering aloud whether the Christian life may itself be a paradox that holds together both the inexplicable suffering of this life and the hope of new and fuller human relationship:

“I am trying to accept that it is okay to feel conflicted and confused at times like this. That is part of what makes us human. And it is in these moments that we can reach out to God and feel the Holy Spirit. The Lord is with us in green pastures and he leads us beside still waters. The Lord also walks us through the valley of the shadow of death with his rod and his staff. And sometimes we are not sure whether we are in the green pastures or the valley of death’s shadow. Maybe we can be in both places at the same time. We can experience the suffering of the cross and the hope of the resurrection. . . . The shepherd protects and guides us, but the shepherd also feels our pain and fear. And as Christ is in all of us, we must all feel each other’s pain and also protect one another. We look to the hope of a new day, but that does not mean that we cannot mourn and lament. Perhaps it is in the midst of this contradiction that we are called to live.”

The Reverend Luther Zeigler is the Episcopal Chaplain at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.

Ancient Christians in the modern world

by Sam Candler

On Tuesday morning (12 March, the Feast of Gregory the Great, in the Episcopal Church), I listened to news reports, analyses, hopes, fears, and projections about the Roman Church; the world is fascinated with the old and reverent process by which a new pope is elected.

Even Christians of other denominations are paying attention. Of course, I am quite glad to be an Episcopalian, in the Anglican Communion of Churches, where most of our bishop election processes are far more “democratically representative” than the Roman process of selecting bishops. (Furthermore, our Episcopal hierarchical structure stops locally; we are not an empire. Our bishops have no real jurisdictional authority outside their own dioceses; and even within those dioceses, our best bishops work collegially with layperson and deacons and priests.)

But we other Christians respect our dear Roman Catholic brothers and sisters; theirs is an old and revered tradition, and we really want the best for their leadership. For better and for worse, all Christians are affected by the Roman Catholic choice of pope; since non-Christians often tend to perceive all Christians in the same manner, the way any Church acts does affect all other denominations, to some degree.

However, I am particularly intrigued with the fascination of non-Christians with this Roman election system. They are legitimately curious about an event that clashes with our modern Western insistence upon open process and full transparency. The cardinals are kept to themselves, with no access to outside communication at all. Conversations occur which will probably never be written down. Ancient prayers and ceremonies and customs are repeated solemnly, customs which few non-Christians even understand.

Yes, the entire world is fascinated with that ancient system; parts of the system are quite attractive. Its solemnity is attractive, as is its sheer beauty. Surely, one would be inspired to vote honorably while inside a piece of art painted by Michelangelo! The system’s obedience to tradition is also attractive, as is its insistence on not being carried away by every wind of modernity that blows into the world.

Well, I observe that many faithful American Roman Catholics do wish for change in the Roman Catholic Church. One poll (see The New York Times, March 6, 2013, “U.S. Catholics in Poll See A Church Out of Touch”) claims that a majority of American Roman Catholics longs for policy changes on such critical matters as married priests, the possibility of women priests, and especially certain birth control methods. Personally, I doubt that the Roman Catholic Church will be changing those policies soon, no matter who the next pope is; but I do pray it does!

But there is also a dangerous reason for our fascination. Every human being, whether Christian or not, carries inside us a temptation for absolutism. We are tempted to think that our world would be so much easier if everything were settled, once and for all, with decisions that made everything perfect, forever. Absolutism is even more enticing when it is wrapped in secrecy.

Unfortunately, absolutism leads to empire, and I am wary of empire wherever it is. I am wary of imperialism, and it is an attitude that seems to come from so many quarters these days. It often comes from the places we love: from political parties who want one hundred per cent agreement with their platforms, from absolutism in general conventions, from our naive desires to make bishops emperors, from “political correctness” that can look like nonsense (read George Will’s “The Pop-Tart Terrorist” in The Washington Post, 8 March 2013), from any government who thinks that perfect law will create a perfect society.

The challenge of every Church is to bring the wisdom of our ancient prayer to the challenges of our modern world. But both ancient Christianity and the modern world agree that “empire” rarely succeeds in honoring the common good. So, I pray the same for the Roman Catholic Church as I do for the Episcopal Church as I do for all Christian churches: that our leadership can follow the Holy Spirit even into modernity, and that our leadership can bless the fullness of God in the world.

The Very Rev. Sam Candler is dean of St. Philip's Cathedral in Atlanta. His sermons and reflections can be found at his blog, “Good Faith and the Common Good”.

Guns and choices

by Olivia Kuser

I grew up with guns. My father taught me how to shoot a .22 when I was nine years old up at my grandparents place. He was a hunter, a fisherman and an outdoorsman, like most of the men I knew. Weekends, he went pheasant hunting or sometimes duck hunting, on either his parents' place, Strawberry Hill, the highest point in Mercer County, or at their friend's places. These affairs usually finished with a giant `hunt breakfast', since most of the shooting took place in the early morning. When he came home, he'd sit at the foot of the stairs, unlace his hunting boots and clean his shotgun with a little piece of torn up flannel nightgown soaked in gun oil, wired to a long, slender rod. To this day, I love the smell of gun oil, although now, I haven't smelled it for many years. He took me with him to visit the gunsmith-reputed to be `the best in the county'- who lived near Washington's Crossing, close by the Delaware River in a little house, down a steep hill. The gunsmith's was where he bought his shotgun shells, which were beautiful, with brass embossed heads and different, brightly colored shells. We had a room in our house called the gunroom, with a locked glass fronted display cabinet for all the shotguns and fishing rods. Most were just regular shotguns, with a couple of small light weight .22s for my mother, but he had inherited a lovely old shotgun from the early nineteenth century from his grandfather. That one had beautiful carving in the metal and we were allowed to hold it and look at it. The shotgun shells were kept separately from the guns, in square, heavy boxes, down below the gun cabinet. My grandparents house had a gun cabinet too, as did my great uncle's farm, further south along the river. My father never had a hunting dog, as his parents and cousins did, who had big places with lots of room. We lived in the suburbs, with only a single acre of land and to his chagrin, my mother bought us a poodle.

At camp, I took Riflery. First we had a long class on gun safety with a written test. You weren't allowed to use a gun until you had passed this test. Then we lay on our stomachs in a hut and fired at targets that were set up against the bluff in the hillside. The whole range was in a steep small valley, so that random gunshots wouldn't get out of the range. I was terrible at it. I kept hitting other people's targets accidentally. The kickback wasn't nearly as bad lying down as it had been when my father taught me at Strawberry Hill, shooting at cans set on a stone wall, but it was noisy and unpleasant and I wasn't any good at it.

About four years before my father died he was hospitalized after a very public fall down a flight of stairs at a theater, where he was with my youngest sister and her son. This was the event that alerted us all to his deteriorating neurological condition, the one that eventually killed him. He had had some falls before this, but he had brushed them off, blaming things like his sneakers being too old and not having good traction any more. We, who didn't want to acknowledge his decline any more than he did, accepted these excuses. But the fall at McCarter changed all that. It was clear something serious was wrong and we all had to face it. Although his doctors could not give us a diagnosis their first piece of advice was that he not drive for at least six weeks while they ran some tests after his release from the hospital. This not being allowed to drive crushed something in my father. When I visited him, he was very depressed and spoke more bleakly than I had ever heard him speak. He defined himself by his physicality- that he ran every day, that he did all his own yardwork whereas our neighbors all had lawnservices and golfed on the weekends. My father snorted at golf. He fished, he hunted, he canoed, he chopped all our firewood. He took down whole trees with a chainsaw. An accolade from my father was "He cuts his own grass".

After my third visit to him in the hospital when he kept suggesting that he would be better off dead I drove home and removed every gun from the house. We no longer kept the guns in the gun cabinet in the gunroom- we had converted the gun cabinet to bookshelves sometime in the late seventies, now they were scattered in the attic and in the basement, so it wasn't obvious immediately that the guns were gone. I hadn't touched a gun since those long ago summers at camp. I took as many shells as I could find as well. I never told my father what I had done and he never mentioned it to me, though he must have noticed their absence.

I'm not against guns. I'm not against hunting. I'm not against target shooting or skeet shooting. But I didn't want my father to commit a permanent and irrevocable act in a moment of temporary despair. If he had really wanted to kill himself, I'm sure he could have found a way. I just wasn't going to let that choice be easy for him. That's all I think gun control offers us. A pause, an interruption between the thought and the act. Make it hard, make it time consuming, make it irritatingly bureaucratic to get a gun. I removed the guns from the house because I loved my father. Let us love one another.

Olivia Kuser is a lifelong Episcopalian who now worships at St. Gregory of Nyssa in San Francisco. She is a landscape painter.

The Feast of the Unclean

by Sara Miles

By ancient tradition, June is the month of Gay Pride. My people celebrate it as the Feast of the Unclean: the feast of the unnatural and unlawful, of foreigners and whores, lepers, sissies, faggots, drag queens, bulldykes, trannies, leather daddies, butch girls, queer boys, intersexed teenagers, lesbian mothers, gay bishops and all the rest of us whose bodies and desires have long been despised as disordered, or hidden away as contaminating. It’s the thrilling festival of the unspeakable, now spoken and embodied. It’s the transforming Passover of the scary, freeing things that happen whenever God’s truth is proclaimed aloud.

But the whole idea of gay pride still makes my skin crawl. I’ve got a problem with gay pride.

Because pride is what sustains me in sin. It sustains me in the ways I distance myself from God by separating myself from others, thinking I’m better than my neighbors: those disgusting sexual perverts or those stupid fundamentalist Mormons or that obtuse Archbishop. Pride is my insistence on a private, special self. It’s my faith in my own ability to save that self. Pride is what keeps me in bondage.

Freedom springs from a completely different understanding. Back in the day, before our parades were sponsored by banks and beer companies and pandered to by politicians, nobody called it “gay pride.” It was simply “gay freedom” or “gay liberation.” Gay liberation: when you realize that love is more powerful than law. Gay liberation: when you realize that the oddest, most shamed, most stigmatized children of God are beautiful and beloved. Gay liberation: when you watch all kinds of unlikely strangers become a family, without boundaries. Gay liberation: when you understand that whoever you are, you belong to a larger body.

That sounds pretty Gospel to me. I believe it is the liberation of Christ Jesus.
And so I believe queer people, too, have a gift to offer to the Church. Unsurprisingly, it turns out to be the gift of scandal; the gift of the cross.

And this gift is not about making queer people and our allies feel better. It’s not about making the Church fair and liberal and modern. It's so that the whole Church may truly embody the folly and the scandal of Jesus, in witness to the world.

Scandal, Jesus teaches, shows us how to see. If we look only upon what seems right, correct, familiar and lawful, we see the tiniest part of God’s handiwork. We must gaze, as Jesus gazed––foolishly and with love––upon every person who seems sick or wrong or just plain outlandish. And when we actually dare to touch that person, then a little more of God’s enormous, disturbing mission is revealed. We see how God is always at work restoring creation to wholeness. “Whoever welcomes you,” says Jesus, “welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”

By welcoming the scandalous we can begin to glimpse that our ways are not God’s ways. And by willingly submitting ourselves, gay and straight, to be the scandal, and to bear it without rancor or blame, we can discover what it’s like to live in freedom, outside the law––in the liberation of the cross.

Which obligates queer people, as we become cleansed in the eyes of the world and of religious authorities, not to fall into the sin of pride; it obligates us to give up our sense of specialness and self-aggrandizing victimhood. It requires the progressive straight people who support us to stop feeling superior to their conservative brothers and sisters; to actually talk and eat with their enemies. And it requires us all to continue holding the doors of the Church open to strangers, to other people we don’t approve of or like, so that the Church can be blessed by more and more of the dirty; the foreigners and sinners and unbelievers God sends us.

A discourse about “rights” misses this point. Of course gay people, like straight people, remember how we were slaves and foreigners in Egypt. Many of us are still slaves and foreigners. And so whenever the Church talks to Pharaoh, we must always fiercely work for and demand justice, especially on behalf of the weakest among us.

But the mission of the people of God is not to claim “rights” as dispensed by the state, or by our own religious laws. We cannot give or get from any human being the “right” to receive communion, the “right” to be baptized, the “right” to accept suffering on a cross. These are not rights but free gifts from God, through the love of Christ Jesus.

And that love reveals, if we’re not too proud to see it, the Gospel. How your salvation is inextricably bound up with that of an angry, foul-mouthed atheist drag queen. How my salvation’s irreversibly connected with that of a mean-sprited Nigerian bishop or an Indiana housewife who believes gays are going to hell.

“In his flesh,” says St. Paul––who might, after all, be the patron saint of gay liberation–– “he has broken down the dividing wall between us, that he might create in himself one new humanity, through the cross.”

Our mission is to give thanks. Because liberation doesn’t depend on our individual goodness or pride. It doesn’t depend on our rights or status in the world. It comes from Christ Jesus, who restores us all into his one body: gay and straight, Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female.

This body suffers scandalously. It loves foolishly. And it frees us, eternally.

Sara Miles is the author of Take This Bread: A Radical and Jesus Freak: Feeding Healing Raising the Dead. She is Director of Ministry at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco.

May we not lose even one of these little ones.

by Richard E. Helmer

My wife and I followed our Monday (my day off) routine early this Thanksgiving week and went out late morning, tucking our newborn daughter into her car seat. My wife and our son had earlier spied a nativity set at Macy's, and we wanted to take advantage of a 50% off sale. We drove to the mall, and as we walked into Macy's, I had the unexpectedly unnerving experience of walking into an alien landscape – what felt to me a spiritual desert of commercialism and materialism all dressed up for Christmas.

When a side mission became finding me a new pair of sunglasses (which I am notoriously good at losing) the lady behind the counter apologized that she couldn't tell us where they were – it was her first day on the job, she said. Scrooge-like, my wife and I quietly but rather righteously groused that in a state where unemployment still is near 12% the clerk didn't then have the gumption to get out from behind her little counter and walk with us to help us find what we were looking for.

The sunglasses turned out to be only feet away, but they were all designer pairs ranging from $60 on up. Suffering sticker shock, and knowing my penchant for leaving a trail of lost items behind me, I decided to get new sunglasses at Rite Aid instead. When we picked up the nativity scene with Jesus packed in bubble wrap and glowing Macy's cardboard that implicitly said owning this set would make us a more faithful something (I'm not entirely sure what), my wife mentioned that our son wanted a star for the tree this year.

The two available tree stars started at $50, and one glowed various colors but had no suitable mount to attach it to the tree. We fussed at the packaging for a few moments to double-check the design in the midst of artificial greenery and oversize ornaments not really suited for our little two-bedroom, over-stuffed and -populated rental condo.

"Do we need it?" my wife finally asked.

"No," I said flatly, she agreed, and we went to lunch.

One of my two undergraduate Western Civilization teachers remarked that shopping malls are today's equivalent of the Medieval cathedral. I think he meant they are the Meccas of our society's values and aspirations. I was spooked by wanting none of it for the first time I can ever remember. Whether it was the sparkling gold watch or the airbrushed photos of the scantily-clad and unnaturally shaped women, it all felt for the first time as though it had nothing to do with me. I could only see visions of the abused earth and the struggling working poor, and it all made me feel a bit sick. But then, here I am typing away on my iPad in a coffee shop. So I'm not off the Western capitalist hook just yet.

As I began this reflection on a day in which a congressional super committee confirmed only our government's embarrassing dysfunction, I stumbled across a Los Angeles Times article that simply took my breath away. There was the familiar visage of Newt Gingrich, supposed champion of laissez-faire capitalism, the old "moral majority," and the political right. With his rise now in the Republican primary race, he was espousing the idea that a new way to address poverty in this country was to put the children to work as janitors of their own schools.

Children are there to work, not learn, after all, right? It struck me that we apparently haven't gutted the public school system enough. Why not then take the next step and put the children in charge of the classrooms and the school office? It was a bitter moment to wonder if then we might then use the salary savings to further reduce taxes on the wealthy. But surely Newt didn't mean it to go this far. Or did he?

I found myself tumbling into deep memories of reading Upton Sinclair's The Jungle in high school and reflecting on a classic scene in Dickens' A Christmas Carol, in which the Ghost of Christmas Present reveals to Scrooge two emaciated children, a boy named Ignorance and a girl named Want.

He says to Scrooge, "Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased."

When Scrooge asks if the two children have "no refuge, no resource," the ghost quotes Scrooge's own cold words back to him, "Are there no prisons, no workhouses?"

As our huge capitalist enterprise enters its high season and a serious, purportedly Christian-aligned politician is espousing potentially turning our schools into workhouses, where is the Gospel?

I am reminded of a reading recently in the Daily Office, where Jesus, not unlike the Ghost of Christmas Present, points to a child as an example. In these days of political madness, widespread struggle, commercial frenzy, and holiday stress, his words are for me like balm to an open wound in our common body:

Calling to him a child, Jesus put him in the midst of the disciples, and said, “Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven. What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost." (Matthew 18 NRSV)

My newborn daughter slept through much of whole adventure of Macy's, lunch, Gingrich, and her Dad's head-splitting political-spiritual excursion. As Jesus' says elsewhere in the Gospels, hers was the better part.

May we not lose even one of these little ones.

The Rev. Br. Richard E. Helmer is rector of Church of Our Saviour, Mill Valley, Calif., and a novice in the Brotherhood of Saint Gregory. His sermons and reflections have been published widely online, and he blogs at Caught by the Light.

We are the 100%

by Dan Joslyn-Siemiatkoski

We are living in times of crisis.

Now, I could stand here and direct our attention to the crisis in the seminaries or the crisis in the shrinking numbers of Episcopalians.

But I want to speak tonight about the crisis beyond our walls.

I count myself among those who have felt that since the financial meltdown of 2008 that this country has gone in a perilous direction.

There has been a growing sense that something has gone wrong but nothing was being done to fix it.

I am speaking about the sense that our systems, our policies, and our government have failed the average citizen.

I am speaking about the sense that the privileged and connected profited while others fell between the cracks has simmered for years.

All this came to a boil this fall with the blossoming of the Occupy movement.

Starting first with Occupy Wall Street in mid-September, the movement has grown nationally and internationally so that small towns and metropolises are witnessing citizens giving voice to the brokenness of our common life.

It might be rightly said that the movement as a whole does not have a clear voice or its message is too amorphous.

But it has provided a way for people to speak into the whirlwind of this crisis.

The cry “We are the 99%” is the cry of those who feel swept up in the whirlwind of greed, corruption and power wielded by the 1%.

And this whirlwind has come to our own doorstep at CDSP.

The Tuesday of reading week, I was riveted to my computer.

Sitting comfortably in my home I was reading Twitter reports of protestors being tear gassed.

I heard of rubber bullets being fired.

I watched video shot from helicopters of humans being scattered by riot police.

The crisis had come home.

The crisis came home to me in a way that compelled me to look more closely at it.

And so yesterday I marched peacefully with other members of this community as part of the General Strike in Oakland.

And the crisis came home again in a new way.

While thousands marched and demonstrated peacefully, not all were committed to the path of nonviolent protest.

It angers me that a small group of people sought out conflict with police and willfully engaged in vandalism yesterday.

Just as the Occupy movement is speaking in a time of crisis, it itself has reached a crisis point – will it stay unified around non-violent protest or will it be fractured by a splinter group that pays no heed to the common good?

“Yet . . . we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are perishing.” (1 Cor 2:6)

How can the demand for economic and social justice that I saw yesterday at the Occupy movement and the problem of the violence around its edges be understood in light of the wisdom of God revealed to us in Christ?

I think it is appropriate to meditate on the meeting of the Church with the meeting of the Occupy movement on this day when we commemorate Richard Hooker.

It is important because Anglicans in the United States and England have been drawn into the Occupy movement.

In New York City, Providence, and Boston, Episcopal clergy and parishes have been actively ministering to those encamped.

We read reports of clergy going into Occupy encampments to be confronted with the question: “What took you so long to get here? “

The poor are being fed and the sick cared for while the Church sits on the sidelines.

In London, protesters at the London Stock Exchange have pitched their tents in front of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

In turn, the leadership of St. Paul’s at first sought to evict the protestors and now have reversed themselves.

Where is the church in this crisis?

It is appropriate to meditate on this meeting between the Church and the Occupy Movement on this day because Hooker was not someone removed from the events of his time.

On the contrary, Hooker himself lived like us – in a time of crisis.

The end of the Elizabethan reign when Hooker wrote his Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity was a period of crisis in which the future of the Church of England was up for grabs.

Indeed, the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity is a response to crisis between promoters of the Church of England and Puritans who sought to fundamentally remake it into the image of Calvin’s Geneva.

Hooker wrote passionately and polemically.

He took a stand and staked his claim.

Hooker spoke against the drive advocated by Puritans to create stark differences between a pure church and heretical churches.

For Puritans there were the winners and losers, those who possessed God’s truth and those whom Puritans sought to dispossess of a share in that truth.

But Hooker emphasized a unified vision in which all creation shared in God’s truth.

As in Psalm 19, Hooker understood that all creation is revelatory of God as creator and the ordering of the cosmos itself revealed God’s eternal truth.

For the people of Israel and for Christians, God’s ongoing revelation in creation is heightened and deepened in God’s unique revelation in the Scriptures.

It is out of this revelation that Christians can say with Paul, “we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory” (2 Cor 2:7).

This revelation culminates in the Christian’s participation in Christ, and thus in the very life of God (John 17:21b).

According to Hooker, it is by the Christian’s participation in the life of God, particularly through the sacraments, that we can again say with Paul that “we have the mind of Christ” (2 Cor 2:16).

All Christians in all churches, whether rooted in Canterbury, or Rome, or Geneva, or Wittenberg, or Lagos, or Singapore, or New York, then participate in God’s work in the world.

For Hooker, the church exists specifically for the ordering of the common good of the society in which it finds itself.

The Church exists not to sustain itself but to minister to all people.

And here we have come back to how we as church can speak to, be with, witness among, the Occupy movement and those who gather at their General Assemblies, their strikes, their days of action.

Now keep in mind, although Hooker speaks of the importance of the common good, he is no democrat.

As a good Anglican of his time, he was a staunch monarchist and no fan of lay control of the life of the church.

Nonetheless, his vision of the unity of all creation leading to the fullness of participation in God through Christ Jesus lays at the center of Anglican thought and from it emanates the intertwined paths of our theology and social teachings.

It is here that we encounter the truth for the collect of this day – that we are to pursue “comprehension for truth, not compromise for peace.”

That is, if we have indeed put on the mind of Christ and are driven to seek the common good of all for the sake of God’s vision of the unity of all creation, what are we to do in the face of the crisis before us?

When we are faced with massive income inequality, when we are faced with profiteering, when we are faced with a corporate and political culture that is increasingly callous towards the poor and working families, what are we to do?

When people of their own accord organize to declare themselves as the 99%, as the voiceless themselves who will no longer stand for the greed and depredations of the 1%, what will we do?

And if some among the 99% themselves act violently and refuse to uphold the common good, what will we do?

If we really want to honor the memory of Hooker and honor the best of our theology and social teachings, I say we should be Church and wade into the midst of those who occupy.

And then we will be honest.

We will be honest in the way that Tripp Hudgins, a doctoral student in liturgy here at the GTU who has become part of our community, has been honest in a recent essay for Sojourners in which he declared that we all are the 100%.

I would put it this way.

If we are honest, we will say:

We are the 99%.

We are the 99% -- we have within us those who have lost much,
those who have lost homes,
those who have lost jobs,
those who were born on the margins and struggle from there,
those who live from paycheck to paycheck,
those burdened by debts that might never be repaid,
those who feel powerless,
those whose voice is discounted by the powerful,
those whose thirst for God’s justice has not yet been quenched.

If we are honest, we will say:

We are the 1% --
we have among us those who have profited from the global economy,
turning a blind eye to the economic exploitation,
environmental destruction,
and greed that service our companies’ balance sheets and our retirement accounts.

We have among us those who live in privilege and do not see it.

Those who cling to their privilege mightily and will not acknowledge it lest is slip away.

We are a church that mourns for its lost position of privilege while being dragged by the Spirit into the mission of God.

And if we have the mind of Christ, we will say:

We are the 100% --
We are rich and poor.
We are sinful and righteous.
We yearn for justice and we look out for ourselves alone.
We seek to bring in all the brokenness, all the truth, all the anger, all the healing.

We seek the good and the true which ultimately rest in God alone.

We will say this if we have the mind of Christ – to be Church is to be the 100% -- to contain both the 99 and the 1.

And to have the mind of Christ, to seek the unity of God’s creation, means sometimes to stand as the 100% for the 99%.

To stand for those who have been victimized and exploited and to require justice from the 1% among us who will not surrender their privilege.

It is right o stand amid the 99% and witness to the way of Jesus, past revenge to the way that shows God’s desire to reconcile all people.

It is right to call the 1% to repentance for the sake of the 99% so we may be the 100%.

And so I end by saying that if Hooker is right,
if Scripture is true,
if God desires the unity of all creation in the Word that pitched its tent among us,
then we will go beyond these walls to the tents pitched in our midst
and be Church among them for the sake of the 100%.

Richard Hooker and the 100%
Preached for the Commemoration of Richard Hooker
November 3, 2011
All Saints Chapel
Church Divinity School of the Pacific
Prof. Dan Joslyn-Siemiatkoski

Sirach 44:10-15
Psalm 19:1-11
1 Corinthians 2:6-10, 13-16
John 17:18-23

“Their sound has gone out into all lands, and their message to the ends of the world.” (Psalm 19:4)

Money, might and the name of God

How many Christians know what the opening of the Lord's Prayer--Hallowed be your name--really means? It's a prayer that owns up to a crisis, getting right into God's face. No wonder the early church devised the introduction "as our Savior Christ has commanded and taught us, we are bold to say," admitting that the prayer is so blatantly frank that we need reminding who gave us the right to pray it.

The crisis is that God's name, God's honor, reputation, integrity, has been disgraced by the infidelity of his own people. We have made God irrelevant, incredible or disgusting to millions of our fellow beings whose image of God has been deformed by our spiritual impotence and stupidities. Our dilute 'updated' version of Christianity has reduced God to a benign figure of fixed smiles, who doesn't do much except refrain from anything 'judgmental' that would interfere with our project of maintaining self-esteem. Or our vehement religiosity has projected a God who behaves amorally, or sanctions violence and displays favoritism. But what has most drastically stripped God's name of its holiness is our habit of taking the authority that belongs to the Creator alone and investing it in mere human institutions, the 'word of human hands'; the perennial sin of idolatry.

To cry, "Father, hallowed be your name" is a confession brought on by the crisis we have created through idolatry, and an urgent pledge to desacralize the institutions we have been falsely treating as sacred, and let God alone be holy. A lot of the current malaise in our own country and in the world today is a consequence of being forced to recognize that institutions we have been falsely treating as sacred are in fact only provisional, fallible human fabrications. I was struck the other day listening to one of the daily radio programs on economic affairs. A pundit high up in the affairs of the multi-national corporations used the word 'sacred' about 20 times in just a few minutes to describe the instruments and machinery of global capitalism. We have gotten to the point where questioning the ultimate validity of the transnational capitalist system and the authority of its secretive priesthood is the equivalent of blasphemy.

Now when the system is imploding here, and exploding there, there is frantic activity to shore up our faith in this 'divine' dispensation ruled by the corporate angels. It's too late to prevent us from seeing the idol has feet of clay, but the powers that be cannot allow doubts to spread about how much more of it is made of fragile base materials that could give way and bring everything crashing down. But only God is divine, only God's name is holy. Supposing capitalism as we know it today is only provisional, no more eternal than feudalism was, and that God's urgent will is for something better, something more just.

Then there is the crisis of American self-confidence, which may be a salutary crisis, very suited to give a fresh impetus to the Lord's prayer. Think how Americans have invested our own nationhood with a sacred character stolen from the name of God. We see how popular in some quarters is the delusion that the Constitution itself is a sacred, eternal revelation, rather than a great achievement of the 18th century, but one that has poten- tial flaws that are beginning to open up. The horror roiling the political scene shows the difficulty of admitting that this 'sacred revelation' can't guarantee that government won't lead us into a blind alley of prolonged political deadlock and impotence.

And if we 'hallow the name' of our own military might, sacrificing more of our resources on its altar than all the rest of the world spends on arms, if we depend on the myth that American might must be right this time, what happens when we simply don't know how to make up endings for our war stories any more? War is justified by made-up stories. It is not a divine mandate at all. What if we don't know how to end the stories spun by our costly prolonged foreign interventions?

To pray, 'hallowed be your name' is to appeal to God to help us restore to his name all the worship we have invested in, and the authority we have falsely attributed to fallible schemes of our own devising. Believers have been here before; Jesus in teaching us this prayer was reviving the words of the great prophet Ezekiel who trusted that God would re-sanctify his own name, which we have weakened and debased. "I will sanctify my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them; and the nations will know that I am the Lord, says the Lord God, when through you I display my holiness before your eyes." (36:23)

Martin L. Smith is a well-known spiri- tual writer and priest. He is the senior associate rector at St. Columba's, D.C.

The spiritual aftermath of 9/11

By George Clifford

This year marked the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Christians believe that God brings good things out of bad. In reflecting on 9/11, I see three God moving in three ways.

First, Jesus calls his followers to live in truth, not in a world of illusion. The biblical story of the exodus, from which we have heard successive installments in each of the first readings at the Sunday Eucharist the last few weeks, depicts Egypt as an eleventh century BC analogue of the twenty-first century United States. Egypt was prosperous and powerful, their world’s only superpower. Then came their 9/11: God, according to the narrative, destroyed their illusions of invulnerability and control with seven plagues.
Similarly, the 9/11 attacks in the U.S. killed almost 3000 people, destroyed billions of dollars of property, and emotionally scarred countless thousands. As huge as those consequences were, 9/11’s major impact was spiritual. The attacks fractured, or even shattered, widely held illusions of invulnerability and control. Both illusions are false and profoundly unchristian. Human finitude means that we are vulnerable and not in control. Interpersonally, genuine relationships require vulnerable self-disclosure and healthy bonding that enables misuse or abuse. Physically, healthy living can diminish but not eliminate vulnerability. Cells develop cancer; diseases attack. Communally, even the United States’ unprecedented wealth and military power cannot insulate us from terrorist attacks, mass murders, economic downturns, and other problems.

Living in truth leads those who seek to walk the Jesus path not only to acknowledge but also to appreciate life’s risks and vulnerabilities. My awareness that this is perhaps my last hour of health, or even of life, helps me to cherish this moment and these relationships more fully.

Second, Jesus calls us to envision a future shaped in his image. The Christian future is communal, a dimension of the gospel often downplayed or ignored in our highly individualistic culture. Moses returned to Egypt to lead God's people out of slavery. Paul established communities of believers, not individual converts. Jesus chose and formed a group of twelve disciples, not twelve individuals.

In the aftermath of 9/11, we as a nation recalibrated our thinking in unhelpful, ungodly ways. Fear pushed aside courage, pessimism replaced optimism, and present conflict pushed aside our vision of God's plan for the future. Theologically, we began living and thinking as if the gospel ended with the crucifixion rather than the resurrection.
However, the passengers of United Airlines Flight 93 acted differently. They refused to accede to terror, said no to evil, and lived into a vision of the future shaped in Jesus’ image. We should follow their example and do the same.

In the Exodus narrative, Egypt responded to its 9/11, as did the United States to its 9/11, by waging war. The reading assigned for a Sunday earlier this month described the annihilation of Egypt’s army and that war’s ugly ending. Biblical scholars and historians thankfully shed some light on the disparity between the narrative and actual history. At most, only a handful of slaves revolted and fled Egypt. A mistranslation of the Hebrew in the text sets events at the Red Sea rather than the Sea of Reeds. Great artists like Cecile B. DeMille bring this scene to life with powerful but inaccurate imagery of water cascading down upon and drowning the Egyptian army. More likely, the small band of escapees eluded their pursuers by safely fleeing through marshes impenetrable by soldiers in chariots and on horseback.

As a military retiree, I am thankful that the U.S. military has not suffered annihilation in Afghanistan or Iraq. Sadly, however, both of the wars launched in response to the 9/11 attacks seem destined to have ugly endings. After ten years of U.S. occupation, Afghanistan remains largely ungovernable and has one of the world’s most corrupt governments. Iraq, after eight years of occupation and in spite of a lull in violence produced primarily by putting tens of thousands of Iraqis on the American payroll, remains riven by sectarianism and tribalism. Violence among Iraqis is escalating as the U.S. withdrawal proceeds. And in spite of some notable successes against al Qaeda, national security experts warn that the world is not greatly safer or more peaceful today than on 9/12.

War, in the twenty-first century as in the eleventh century, is occasionally necessary to stop a great evil like the Nazis, but war stymies the demonic rather than moving us along the path toward peace. What then shall we do? This is the third lesson to learn from 9/11 and its aftermath. Jesus calls us to begin transforming the present into the future, incarnating the image of Jesus in our lives and our relationships.

One central transformative practice is to develop a lifestyle that loves and values others as self, emulating Jesus. The heroic actions of first responders on 9/11, including many Episcopal clergy, exemplify this costly love for others. The first two National Guard pilots sent aloft to bring down United Airlines Flight 93 scrambled in planes without live ordnance. Arming the planes, already prepped for a routine training mission, would have taken too long. Between them, the two pilots had decided that one would aim for Flight 93’s cockpit, the other for the tail. Both are grateful for heroic passengers whose bold action precluded the necessity of trying to time a mid-air collision and ejection.

In the last decade, we in the Episcopal Church have emphasized God's love for all regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. We rightly expand that emphasis on God's inclusive love to include people of all religions. Building peace entails practicing radical hospitality for people of all faiths and no faith. We value Muslims because they, like us, are God's children.

One of my favorite paintings is Edward Hicks’ “Peaceable Kingdom,” which is actually a series of paintings by the nineteenth century American Quaker depicting various animals – predators and prey – gathered in peace. Unlike our present world filled with danger, Hicks paints the future, first envisioned by Isaiah (11:6) and echoed throughout the New Testament, in which God rules and humans dwell in peace with one another.

We cannot erase the tragedy of 9/11, turn back time, or redeem the suffering the attacks caused by attempting to preserve illusions of security, invulnerability, and control. Instead, we best honor and remember the dead by embracing our vulnerability, focusing on God's vision for the future, and walking the Jesus path to live into that future.

George Clifford is an ethicist and Priest Associate at the Church of the Nativity, Raleigh, NC. He retired from the Navy after serving as a chaplain for twenty-four years and now blogs at Ethical Musings (

Freedom Fries: Remembering 9/11

By Leo Frade

Freedom Fries--do you remember them? It was only eight years ago when two “patriotic” representatives from Ohio and North Carolina declared that all references to the French fries and French toast on the menus of the restaurants and snack bars run by the Hose of Representatives would remove any reference to the French.

This action by Congressman Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio), who was in charge of oversight restaurant operations for the chamber, and Robert B. Jones (R-North Carolina), never came up for a vote in Congress, but received plenty of publicity. It was intended to express displeasure with France’s “continued refusal to stand with the U.S. allies”--in other words, for refusing to go to war against Iraq due to doubts about the validity of claims of weapons of mass destruction.

The French Embassy in Washington, D.C, made no comment beyond pointing out that what we call “French fries” come from Belgium. Nathalie Loisau, an embassy spokeswoman said: “We are at a very serious moment dealing with very serious issues, and we are not focusing on the name you give to potatoes.”

As we come to the end of a decade since September 11, 2001, I want to remind everyone to take a moment to consider first the sacrifice of our Armed Forces around the world in responding to the treachery of the fanatical attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.

It didn’t take long to realize that Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban were in cahoots with each other in Afghanistan, so we proceeded to respond to their destructive challenge. Unfortunately for us, we lost our focus and decided to look elsewhere for nonexistent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and before we knew it, we were involved in war there, weakening our efforts in Afghanistan. The end result we now know: There were no weapons of mass destruction, and the cost of our Iraq intervention was thousands of lives lost, as well as the expansion of the influence of Iran in that area, to the detriment of our security and that of all the moderate regimes of the Middle East.

In May 2005 Rep. Jones, having arrived at the belief that the United States went to war “with no justification,” said of the “Freedom Fries” episode, “I wish it had never happened.” By July 2006, the House of Representatives had quietly changed the name of the two foods in all of its restaurants back to “French fries” and “French toast.”

Unfortunately the backlash of hate after September 11, 2001 went much further than changing the names of a couple of our favorite foods. There were victims who didn’t die due to the hatred of the terrorists, but due to the hatred of so-called “patriotic Americans.” No attention, no funding and no public support has been given to these victims, who were killed because they were either Arab or Muslim or simply looked like “Middle Eastern types. “

One of them was Baldir Singh Soldin, a Sikh from India who was gunned down on Sept. 15, 2001 in Mesa, Ariz.--the same state that is passing anti-immigrant laws that could persecute minorities.

The Arizona killer of the “turban-wearing Sikh” killed him outside his gas station. His killer spent hours before the murder in a bar, bragging of his intention to “kill the ragheads” responsible for September 11, 2001.

Waqar Hasan of Dallas, Texas, was also killed the same day. He was a 46 year old from Pakistan, murdered in the convenience store he owned by a fellow Texan named Mark Stroman. Stroman was also convicted of murdering another “Arab-looking” person in nearby Mesquite, Texas, and admitted to authorities that he had injured a third victim, a Bangladeshi, between the two murders. He bragged that, “I did what every American wanted to do after September 11, but didn’t have the nerve.”

Stroman was executed last month for the murders. It is interesting to note that even on the day of the execution the only surviving victim, Rais Bhuiyan, who was blinded in one eye by Stroman’s attack on him, continued to plead for his attacker’s life to be spared, saying that his Muslim faith required him to forgive.

Then we have Adel Karas, 48, a grocer from Egypt who happened to be a Coptic Christian, killed on September 15 in San Gabriel, California.

I could go on and on with these sad and violent examples of our hate and overreaction against those who are our neighbors--often our fellow citizens of this country--but simply don’t look exactly like us. Suffice it to say that according to the Human Rights Watch, assault and vandalism against Arab Muslim and Christian Americans have increased by 1,700 percent in the past ten years.

How will you respond as we approach the tenth anniversary of that fateful and murderous day, September 11, 2001?

I call you first of all to pray for our troops around the world who risk and sacrifice to defend our freedom against those who would destroy us. But I also call on you to remember that our freedom is equally threatened when we forget that this nation was founded with the astonishing provision that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”—that from the beginning we intended to be different from regimes past and present that dictate to their citizens what to believe and how to pray.

Perhaps it seems unfair to us that Muslims can have in this country the freedom to practice their faith that we, as Christians, would not be allowed in Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia or the newly formed nation of North Sudan; but we are called as Americans to preserve our commitment to a freedom that includes the right to worship and pray to God as we understand the Deity to be, to practice any religion—or none.

We dishonor both this commitment to liberty and our call as Christians to love our neighbor when we fan the flames of hatred and fear with asinine ideas like banning mosques from our communities, or outlawing the practice of the Muslim code of Sharia law.

As a Christian I rejoice to proclaim the Good News that our Lord Christ loves and cares for all humanity, and that he will indeed draw the whole world to himself. But as an American I am also proud to say that America belongs to all who swear allegiance “to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God Indivisible with Liberty and Justice for all.”

This unity, my dearly beloved—this welcome for all who love liberty--is our weapon of mass destruction against all hatred and dictatorships that may threaten our country and “this fragile earth, our island home.”

The Rt. Rev. Leo Frade is Bishop of the Diocese of Southeast Florida.

Recovering the Commons II: Countering Selfishism

We are persons because of other persons.
– Archbishop Desmond Tutu

By W. Christopher Evans

Almighty God, who hast so linked our lives one with another
that all we do affecteth, for good or ill, all other lives:
So guide us in all the work we do, that we may do it not for self along,
but for the common good; and as we seek a proper return for our own labor,
make us mindful of the rightful aspirations of other workers,
and arouse our concern for those who are out of work;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

--Collect for Labor Day, Book of Common Prayer, 210

In much recent U.S. American political rhetoric, socialism and anything resembling a concern for shared efforts, the social welfare, the common good, or the commons is mocked, upbraided, and cast out as demonic. To be concerned with others’ welfare is to be labeled that most feared opprobrium, un-American. And now, perhaps, even treasonous.

To be concerned that others’ have clean water, nourishing food, safe shelter, meaningful work, and necessary care is anathema, is the spectre of government control in our lives. Yet ironically, as required affirmation, the same people who employ this rhetoric are quite interested in governmentally regulating fully others’ welfare in our most intimate pair bondings and the most difficult decisions of our lives in ways that brook neither shades of gray, nor rainbow gradations.

At the heart of this rhetoric are incompatible tenets. Government is the problem. Government is the solution. This should not surprise us, for this rhetoric contains within itself very seeds of dictatorial communalism it decries. On the one hand eschewing any rules of life for the national economy, and on the other hand demanding imposition of a very narrow rule of life on every household economy.

This moves well beyond differences in economic theory and application in a time of recession, of whether or not taxes should be lowered or spending raised. It has moved into the bizarre realm of only me and mine. Many commentators of late note the influence of Ayn Rand and her objectivist philosolipsistic writings on much of this rhetoric, a rhetoric that is neither conservative, nor social. It is selfishism, the championing of the self-contained, self-serving self (and those considered extensions of my existence).

Such influence is not conservative because it reaches for an utopian—some would say dystopian, notion that fails to acknowledge our finitude, limitedness, and proclivity to be only for ourselves to the destruction of others.

In this regard, selfishism is the very antithesis of a mature conservatism steeped in the best of Augustinian influences on our general societal and cultural worldview. This reactionary right uptopian thinking is every bit as naïve as revolutionary left utopian thinking. At their extremes, both eschew governance and government at all because they embrace an overly optimistic view of the human condition that results in a form of enthusiasm, of unmediated immediacy on the level of human relations often mirrored in an understanding of relation to the divine. In both cases, where such extremes have taken hold coupled with dictatorial aftermaths that promise to pull it all together again, much must be torn down that holds us together as a single thread woven into a great fabric, and it is rarely clear if what is left or resewn is of better quality, nevermind, of finer beauty.

Such influence is not social because by its very definition it reaches for an absolutizing of the self over and against, and indeed, without any need of one another or the Other.

In this regard, selfishism, enamoured with our finitude, enthralled to the fact that we die, seeks to overcome these by swallowing in itself claims no creature can rightly make and remain sane, right-thinking and right-praising: Infinite, unlimited, self-centered and self-absorbed. But to have a self-not-by-with-and-for-others is finally to have no self at all, for the very nature of a created self is to be by-with-and-for others, an image of One Who Is Persons Three. To be left without a self is to be left open to the sway of those who would play to our basest temptations. In this regard, extremes of communalism are coterminous with extremes of selfishism.

Adam Smith himself would not recognize this absolute mantra of the self and the market divorced from care for the good and the commons. Smith after all notably insisted that those with much should have a larger portion of their wealth devoted to the common good. To absolutize the self-contained, self-serving self alongside the mythically self-regulating market divorces the good, the good for the person and a few and the good for the many persons in community. To absolutize the first over or without the second is to create a monster every bit as all-consuming and dangerous as the monster of dictatorial communism and other communalisms such as facism. The monster may have different ways of operating, but the ends come eerily close to the same conclusion: We are but producers and consumers.

While the extremes of various socialisms, the dictatorships of communism and facism, mark out a communalism that denies self (at least for the many). The extremes of late market capitalism deny society (at least for the few).

The truth is that no distribution system will be perfect until God is all in all. To make such a claim is conservative in the best of the Augustinian tradition. The truth is also, however, that any distribution system is meant to serve the needs of each and all, and this too, is an Augustinian claim.

And these needs not only include jobs, but meaningful work; not only rivets, but masterpieces of engineering (I think of the Golden Gate Bridge); not only the sounds of industry, but the sounds of the symphony. The socially conservative Augustinian tradition radically embraces that we need not only the necessities of survival, but beauty.

We find ourselves in a paradoxical or rather eschatological tension. We live in a mixed economy not only on the level of goods and services and common life, but in the tensions of God’s Kingdom now and not yet, God’s Kingdom given in Christ fully once-for-all and received-and-lived-out by us ever-imperfectly. To deny this tension will lead to claims of self or society as the fulfillment of all things.

Just as with self, a society not engaged in the often-frustrated, ever-concern for the good of each and all is a society that requires the Church to proclaim the Gospel in His fullness. And by this, I do mean the Gospel that does not divorce the self-gift of God in Christ Jesus from the tangible graces of daily need we each require to live. In the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu:

“I don't preach a social gospel; I preach the Gospel, period. The gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is concerned for the whole person. When people were hungry, Jesus didn't say, "Now is that political or social?" He said, "I feed you." Because the good news to a hungry person is bread.”

To claim that government has no part in this, to claim that individual or even corporate charity alone will suffice is to cut off a portion of government responsibility. In this regard, former President Ronald Reagan was wrong. Government is neither the problem, nor the solution. (And ironically, in my lifetime, I have seen positive claims of both justify imperial actions, that is, actions that inflate God and God’s Kingdom with the state.) Government is an imperfect necessity in a world yet to be perfected.

Government is a necessary limitation on utopian frenzies with their overly optimistic fantasies about the human condition, left and right. These limitations can and should take both the form of rules for national economic and household life, that is, laws and regulations intended to maintain a society that cares for each and all while being ever-mindful that these laws and regulations are always contestable in the light of new learning and God’s Kingdom. (And for Anglicans, this contestability reaches as much to the government of the sojourning Church.) Government is necessary; good governance is hard work. The call for good government, for better government, is the responsibility of every person.

No, the greatest danger to America today is not socialism, it is selfishism. Selfishism, that absolutizing of the self as a singularly-self-contained, self-serving existence unrelated to other human beings, much less to other living beings and the whole of creation. As F.D. Maurice reminds us again and again, at the heart of the God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ is precisely that in this same Jesus Christ we are related to all of creation, to every living being, to one another, to God Who In Godself Is One In Three Persons, Who Is A Society.

The greatest danger to the Church is that we will imbibe this poisoned mixtum, selfishism, denying who by baptism we are—Christ’s Society, Christ’s very Body, a sojourning sign of, a waiting witness to, and a broken-open vessel offering God’s call and hope and promise to general society and the whole of creation that finally all shall be image, indeed, all shall be icon of God who shall be all in all, and all manner of thing shall be well. Until then, we sojourn, struggle, and proclaim.

But today, the increasing marriage of selfishism and Christianity in the socio-cultural-political sphere signals a turn that I dare to name heretical, a choosing for one’s self, indeed a choosing of one’s self to the exclusion of everyone else, to the extreme of nullity, of a way of thinking and praising that is at odds with Christological-Trinitarian thinking and praise. Selfishism by its very own claims eschews the very heart of Christian claims: being-in-relationship, self-by-with-and-for-others, persons-in-community, and most importantly, subjection to and praise of an Other Who is all of these on the level of the uncreated, beyond our imaginings, in Godself, and in Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit for us, all living beings, and the whole of creation to the Father. And at the same time, it conflates the self and God’s Kingdom, creating in the words of Lutheran theologian, Carol Jacobson, an eschaton collapse. The human being can somehow be complete and perfected and unlimited and infinite unto self without God and God’s Consummation. Such a claim is the very denial of the created self. Selfishism and Christianity are incompatible.

Maurice, an early Anglican recoverer of the social aspects of Christological-Trinitarian thinking, often defines sin as selfishness. Selfishness is no small thing. It is, in the words of the anonymous Medieval mystic of the Theologica Germanica and her or his popularizer, Martin Luther, the self curved in upon the self. It is to utterly turn away from the very and only One Who gives us life at all. Selfishness is death! To be primarily and singularly for-ones-self is to be at odds with God’s intent and hope for us personally and socially and cosmically. To be utterly unto self is to become nothing, having closed off the only One Who gives us everything, our very existence as pure gift out of infinite Love. To uphold the self formed to covetousness, greed, and exploitation without reserve or regulation or limit is to uphold a way of being utterly opposed to the Divine Life and God’s call, hope, and promise to general society and the whole of creation. I cannot help but think of the corrupt, cruel, self-absorbed Walaran Bigod in the screen adaptation of Ken Follet’s The Pillars of the Earth, finally letting himself fall from the cathedral height rather than accept the help of another. To not name this sin is to give up a part of Christian witness.

Christological-Trinitarian response to selfishism turns us to the One Who Are Other Than Ourselves: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, reminding us that we receive our self as pure gift of the Creator to be a self-by-with-and-for-others, to go out of our self for all of creation, to live in ecstasy—the term the Cappadocian Fathers and after them St Maximos the Great and St. John of Damascus use to describe this going out of self not only in God’s inner uncreated life and God’s life toward us and all of creation, but also in turn to describe in Christ, our own created life toward creation, one another, and God. At the heart of our response is profession of faith as praise:

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the + resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Recovering the Commons

By W. Christopher Evans

A key marker of Anglican christology is our emphasis on the social. Christ’s own Person contains within himself a social Body meant to witness to all the world of God’s abundant care for all. And that sociality extends into, influences, and interacts with general society where too the Word is at work though hidden, unacknowledged, unknown, and sometimes, even despised. A Word that at times works through general society to bring the Body to Christ again, eschewing naïve notions of a Church that has all the answers, being incapable of rebuke from “the world”.

Anglican christology therefore is greatly concerned for the common and the commons, a Body, in which for Thomas Cranmer’s time was intertwined in daily life. A commons in which those with much were turned to those with less, and all are called to question covetousness, greed, and exploitation. St. Paul’s injunctions in his first letter to the Church of Corinth come to mind.

As I read about the riots in England this week, I was reminded that riots in England and across the Isles are not a new phenomenon. Unjust and widening gaps of distribution of necessities and means for a good life have more than once stimulated uprisings. Faith played a part in these. The uprisings of the mid-16th century nearly unseated Henry VIII.

The factors are complex in the recent riots. An unarmed black man shot to death by police—a common occurrence in my own country where the latest situation of this sort in our area happened just up the road in San Francisco. High unemployment in the inner cities and among young people ages 18-25, also common here, especially among young men of color. A seriously widening gap between the extremely wealthy and everyone else, again, as much an American disease as British. The lowest social mobility in among developed nations. A failure to care for the dignity of all, including the dignity of good and meaningful work, again, here where jobs is the mantra without concern for liveable wage or decent treatment of the employed. A failure to respect one’s own dignity in the face of indignity and injustice, even to the point of harming others. Factors, I might add, that may serve the interests of the wealthy in the short-term, but could signal their own long-term troubles. It is frankly not in the purely self-interest of those who have much to have no concern for those who have little or nothing. Even Adam Smith understood that. As Church, we understand more. Covetousness, greed, and exploitation have no truck in Christ’s own Body, a Body that is meant to signal God’s hope for all.

Those who act out of covetousness, greed, and exploitation should not be surprised to find that those with little react in kind, even with covetousness, greed, and exploitation.

Cranmer, who upbraids nearly everyone and who for all of his failure to question the crown or its slaughter as response to the Western Rebellion, does attempt to recover the commons at a time when the up and coming were using enclosures to cut off the peasantry from access to the commons.

And I wonder, where is the voice of the Churches today? Where is a rebuke to those who would hoard wealth out of covetousness and greed and exploit those with less or nothing for more gain? These who cry socialism for funding a school or supporting the aged without means, but who receive all sorts of government handouts in the form of tax breaks, loopholes, and incentives for themselves? Where is a rebuke as strong as this from Canterbury or 815 rather than a justification of one’s status because of a seat in the Lords or a comfortable place at the heart of governmental power symbolized by a National Cathedral? From his quite socially conservative “A Sermon Concerning the Time of Rebellion”:

And surely nothing more hath caused great and puissant armies, realms, and empires to be overthrown, than hath done the insatiable covetousness of worldly goods. For hereby, as by a most strong poison, whole realms many times have come to ruin, which seemed else to have endured for ever: sundry commonwealths, which before were conserved in unity, have by incurable disorder been divided and separated into many parts….they also, which through covetousness of joining land to land, and inclosures to inclosures, have wronged and oppressed a great multitude of the king’s faithful subjects![1]

And although here I seem only to speak against these unlawful assemblers, yet I cannot allow those, but I must needs threaten everlasting damnation unto them, whether they be gentlemen or whatsoever they be, which never cease to purchase and join house to house, and land to land, as though they alone ought to possess and inhabit the earth. For to such Esay the prophet threateneth everlasting woe and the curse of God, except they repent and amend their lives in time.[2]

But peradventure some will say: The gentlemen have done the commons great wrong, and things must needs be redressed. But is this the way, I pray you to reform that is amiss, to redress one injury with another? Is it the office of subjects, to take upon them the reformation of the commonwealth, without the commandment of common authority? To whom hath God given the ordering and reformation of realms? To kings or to subjects? Hearken, and fear the saying of Christ: “He that taketh the sword shall perish with the sword.” To take the sword, is to draw the sword without authority of the prince. For God in his scripture expressly forbiddeth all private revenging, and hath made this order in commonweals, that there should be kings and governors, to whom he hath willed all men to be subject and obedient. Those he hath ordained to be common revengers, correctors, and reformers of all common and private things that be amiss.[3]

All the holy scripture exhorteth to pity and compassion upon the poor, and to help them; but such poor as be oppressed with children or other necessary charges, or by fire, water, or other chance, come to poverty, or for age, sickness, or other causes, be not able to labour….They speak much against Achab, that took from Naboth his vineyard; but they follow not the example of Naboth, who would rather lose his vineyard, than he would make any commotion or tumult among the people.[4]

Dr. Christopher Evans recently completed a Ph.D. in Liturgical Studies and Church History at the Graduate Theological Union. He offers occasional musings on the Rule of St. Benedict, liturgical questions, and life as a Benedictine oblate at Contemplative Vernacular

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“Christian” faith and politics: having the conversation

By Kathy Staudt

Annie Dillard describes a visit she made once to a neighbor near her home in rural Virginia. Trained by Evangelical preacher Jerry Falwell to greet any stranger with a faith-challenge, the neighbor asks Dillard, “Do you believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour?” Dillard, a Roman Catholic, writer and mystic, relates, “She was stunned that I knew the Lord, and clearly uncertain whether we were referring to the same third party.”

I’ve thought of that encounter as I’ve heard the word “Christian” used in the media lately, especially reading about the rally led recently by Texas governor Rick Perry, strongly supported by the American Family Association and other “Christian” groups. Are we all talking about the same party when we say we are followers of Jesus, the Christ? Is it possible even to have that conversation? Absent any agreed- on source of authority, we are left with Christians of different political stripes hurling accusations at each other, saying, “Well, these people are not real Christians” (reminiscent of Muslims after 9/11 who insisted with deep plausibility, “This is not Islam). I’ve done this myself.

Particularly distressing to me is seeing the practice of prayer co-opted as a political tool, by any side of the spectrum. Tilden Edwards, writing about Contemplative Prayer, warns against what he calls the “God and me” approach to faith, widespread in our culture, which sees God as “out there” and assumes that we can somehow direct or control God’s actions through prayer, to support our agendas. He connects this to what Parker Palmer names as the “functional Atheism” of our society -- the belief that really we control everything, and we invite God in when we choose, to bless or ratify the judgments we’ve already come to, thus claiming the moral high ground.

If we’re honest, we have to admit that all of us do this sometimes. But it is a perilous thing, closing off the living God who desires to heal and transform us. Contemplatives everywhere will tell you that going into prayer begins with letting go of our most firmly held agendas, and being open to a deep and risky conversion of heart. How many Christians really have the courage to embrace a life of prayer that relinquishes our own agendas, and opens us to deep transformation? And what do we believe about the call of Christ in this kind of prayer? I have more questions than answers here, but perhaps the questions are the place to start.

It seems to me our first call as Christians, of whatever stripe, is to open ourselves in prayer to the possibility that our most beloved political agendas may be flawed, and that our political enemies are fellow human beings -- and to be available to the best ideas for meeting the urgent needs of “the least of these.” My own process, looking at our broken world, from a prayerful place, is to ask, what does the Scriptural tradition say about this? (Not a verse here or there but the whole arc of the Scriptural story of God’s call to covenant living). It’s worth asking: how has this tradition seen issues of social justice, the right use of resources, and the needs of the poor? ( It even helps to ask what do other monotheistic faiths -- say about what God desires for the social order? There is remarkable consistency here, across Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, about our obligations to the poor and to the care of creation). And how can a thinking person be guided by the tradition, knowing what we know from our best and most careful observation of social and economic realities? (Scripture-Reason-Tradition -- my Anglican orientation is obvious here).

When I try to turn to Scripture without proof- texting, I remember God’s instructions to Israel to leave food in the fields for the gleaners, to observe a year of Jubilee when debts would be forgiven and slaves set free, to even the playing field and prevent the emergence of the super-rich. And I remember the hug gap fixed between the rich man and Lazarus, and the separation at Judgment day between those who did and did not recognize Christ in “the least of these.” And I am challenged more and more by the parables of Jesus that present a world radically different from the status quo.

This is not the time to surrender the label “Christian” to a particular right-wing or even left wing social agenda. It is a time to reflect openly, with our friends and in our writing and public discourse, on how we connect our politics and our faith, resisting labels and speaking out of a core of faith and prayer, and using whatever forum we have. To do this I think we have to assume, for the sake of connection, that we’re all talking about “the same third party” in our claim of faith in Christ. I ran across a delightfully unexpected example of this the other day in a quote from comedian Stephen Colbert posted on a blog I’ve just discovered called “Dover Beach”, Colbert writes: “If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.”

It’s a start: What Colbert is doing here, in his sharp way, is having the conversation as if we were all talking about the same third party, and without succumbing to either “God and me” or “us and them”, at least not in this moment. This is the challenge for all of us who are speaking and writing publicly, out of our professed Christian faith, in these times of pervasive social and economic suffering and injustice.

Dr. Kathleen Henderson Staudt keeps the blog poetproph, works as a teacher, poet, spiritual director and retreat leader in the Washington DC area. She is the author of two books: At the Turn of a Civilisation: David Jones and Modern Poetics and Annunciations: Poems out of Scripture.

The deficit debate

By George Clifford

As a Christian priest and ethicist, I found the recent U.S. Congressional debates over raising the debt ceiling deeply disturbing for two reasons. First, the deficit debates revealed the disturbingly rapid pace at which self-interest appears to be supplanting concern for the least among us in American churches.

The Christian path that I understand and try to travel encourages disciples to emulate Jesus’ example and teaching by putting others on a par with self, if not ahead of self. This especially connotes caring for the most vulnerable among us.

I’m thankful that I live in a secular, pluralistic nation. However, many of our elected politicians self identify as Christian and a growing number of them try to capitalize upon their personal faith declarations when campaigning for election. Voters reasonably expect these individuals, if elected, to express their Christian values in their speeches and votes – at least some of the time.

Collectively, these politicians failed to stand vocally and firmly against legislative actions that might endanger the well-being of our nation’s most vulnerable residents. Instead, some of them adhered to campaign rhetoric and promises that are contrary to my understanding of Christianity. Others, who had voiced more compatible campaign rhetoric and promises, were publicly silent or attracted little media attention to their defense of the most vulnerable.

A cynic might suggest that the gospel of self-help draws bigger crowds than does emphasizing Matthew 25 and costly love. This perversion of Jesus quite probably represents a greater threat to Christianity’s future than secularism does. The deficit debates are a telling milestone of how far religion in America has moved in that direction.

Second, the deficit debates exposed the fragile and perilous condition of community in America. The tone of public discourse frequently lacked civility. More importantly, during the debates, I heard much dishonesty about important issues at stake, widespread advocacy of fiscal policies that would have had the unintended (or so I want to hope) consequences of further fracturing the foundations of our communal life, and explicit attacks on the integrity and good faith efforts of the vast majority of government employees. Demagoguery commonly masqueraded as reason, evoking too few objections. Individualism was ascendant and community on the wane. Mutual respect and trust yielded to mutual suspicion and animosity. These fault lines, unless healed, bode ill for the communal mutual interdependence to which God calls us and that best enables human flourishing.

Balancing the federal budget without increased revenues would require eliminating 40 cents of every dollar the government now spends. Thankfully, the U.S. government is not corrupt or ineffectual on that scale, even according to its harshest critics. In other words, eliminating the federal deficit without any tax increases will require substantial cuts or wholesale elimination of multiple programs. The Defense Department, Social Security, and three health insurance programs (Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program) each account for approximately 20% of the federal budget. Social safety net programs (14%) and debt interest payments (6%) are another 20% of federal spending. The other 20% funds the remainder of government operations (transportation, education, government retiree benefits, foreign aid, etc.).

One oft-heard sound bite during the debates asked, “Can you or the government do a better job of spending your money?” The speaker left the question unanswered, presuming that everybody agrees she/he can spend her/his money better than the government. I vehemently disagree. The federal government spends my tax dollars much better than I could. With my taxes, I buy, in no particular order of priority:

• One of the best, if not the best, highway systems in the world;
• Most healthcare for everybody in this country over age 65 and much of the healthcare for the poorest Americans;
• Pensions for the elderly;
• The assurance of generally safe food, drugs, consumer goods, air transport, etc.;
• The closest approximation to the rule of law, justice, and civil rights for all in the history of the world (not perfect by any means, but far better than in most countries);
• About 10% of the cost of educating children in the U.S.;
• More defense than I want or need.

You might list other goods and services the federal government provides that you especially value, no matter how imperfect they are. Whatever your list, if it’s honest, is well beyond what you could afford as an individual – unless perhaps you are a billionaire. Even then, I’m willing to bet that you get a decent bargain in return for the taxes you pay.

Can the United States federal government achieve a greater degree of fiscal responsibility? Absolutely. Is some government spending fraudulent, wasteful, or abusive? Without a doubt. Is every government program important for sustaining our communal life? No. We rightly debate those questions. Identifying optimal government policies, programs, and funding priorities – even if all citizens shared common values – is impossible because nobody has a crystal ball with which to predict future outcomes.

However, reductions in government spending will reduce employment when unemployment remains above 9.1% of the workforce and much, much higher for certain segments of the workforce (e.g., young black males). Underemployment remains a significant but unquantifiable problem. Indeed, a recent New York Times/CBS poll showed that voters disapprove of Congress’ job performance at an all-time high, rate job creation more important than deficit reduction, advocate raising taxes to balance the federal budget, and believe politicians must compromise to make government work.

As Christians, we bring to public discourse about public finances a concern for the well-being of the least among us and for the strength of our community. The Eucharistic readings for Laurence, Deacon and Martyr at Rome (August 10, 258), in Holy Women, Holy Men speak to the federal budget battles that will continue in upcoming months and years:
"He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever." (II Corinthians 9:9)
“Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.” (John 12:24-26a)

Before executing Laurence, the prefect demanded that the archdeacon Laurence, responsible for the Church’s welfare programs, reveal where to find the Church’s treasures. According to legend, Laurence responded by assembling the poor and the sick and then telling the prefect, “These are the treasures of the Church.” The prefect then supposedly ordered Laurence roasted alive. The Greek root of the English word “martyr” means witness. The deficit debates make me think that we need a new generation of witnesses, holy women and holy men who will witness to the way of Jesus regardless of the cost to their pocketbooks.

George Clifford is an ethicist and a priest in the Diocese of North Carolina. He retired from the Navy after serving as a chaplain for twenty-four years and now blogs at Ethical Musings (

Atlas shrugs. Jesus weeps.

By Richard E. Helmer

I find my recent ministry haunted by none other than Ayn Rand -- a name I barely knew until a few years ago when she came up in a pastoral conversation. Since then, I've learned she was an inspiration at some point in a number of our parishioners' life journeys. Something about her words captured youthful aspirations towards self-actualization and independence. When I at last started reading more about her, I realized in a profound sense that I did know her, or at least her ideas, from my own youthful ambitions as a concert pianist. Rand's perspectives captured in many ways my hyper self-absorbed, rugged, rationalizing pursuit for success in a competitive world where my own mettle and skill -- even in generating something as moving to the soul as beautiful music -- mattered more to me than anything or anyone else.

While our nation's body politic currently is filled with the stench of half-truths, shocking indifference, bureaucratic paralysis, and bitter hyper-partisanship, Rand, though long deceased, has suddenly appeared very close to the forefront of our discourse. I confess a pit forms in my stomach at the thought of paying to see the recently released movie of her wildly popular book, Atlas Shrugged. I can dine on most theatrical fare, but the idea of wallowing in hours’ worth of Rand's philosophy -- if it can rightly be called that -- gives me enormous pause. Objectivism, the heart of Rand's meandering corpus, eyes the world with a mirthless, cold stare. One of our parishioners, before she became a Christian as an adult, explored, amongst various philosophies and belief systems, Ayn Rand's works. Recently, she reflected to me that she once met a thorough-going objectivist who said there was no such thing as a truly happy objectivist. When material reality and our perception of it is all there is, when reason is without divinity and intuition and inspiration are marginalized, when other human beings and the wider world are means to whatever selfish (and Rand used the word in a technical sense) means we devise for ourselves, when life is a race against time to achieve for me and mine alone, what room is there for old fashioned happiness?

In a recent excoriating commentary in Newsweek , Jonathan Chait notes how the new, smart-as-a-whip congressional budget leader, Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan, openly brings to bear Rand's economic philosophy on his political ideals and budget proposal. It's easy at first to understand why Rand is the resurrected goddess of portions of the neo-conservative, libertarian, and tea party movements. Her strident support for laissez faire capitalism is matched only by the creeping social Darwinism of her attitudes. And her best-known protégé, Alan Greenspan, arguably is the most influential individual on the economic system we have inherited, more so even than any President or congressional leader.

But Donald Luskin in another recent editorial, this one in The Wall Street Journal, reflects how in other respects, Ayn Rand could be considered a liberal's liberal. She was a fiercely independent woman who, by refusing to live in the shadow of any man and by paving her own career path, could be considered among the first wave of mid-century feminists (though she apparently publicly criticized feminism, and her relationship with the movement is conflicted at best). She deplored racism, supported integration of public schools, and staunchly opposed the war in Vietnam. Luskin notes how Atlas Shrugged casts almost as many aspersions on Big Business as it does on the bogey-man of Big Government. Rand, he writes, ultimately offers us a celebration -- though that might not be the right word -- of the innate dignity of the individual.

But for many conservatives and liberals alike, Rand poses considerable moral problems. Her infamously open marriage and her hyper-sexualized characters betray something deeper than simply a political philosophy that fits whatever contemporary agenda we'd like to inflict on her memory, whether governmental spending cuts or individual rights. Ayn Rand was an atheist of a sort that meant that the fiercely individualistic "I" was ultimately self-referential. The element of her conflicted popular philosophy that is mysteriously endearing to the American grassroots psyche is the rugged, no-holds-barred lack of accountability, an amoral construct that is truly all about the individual me. It captures our cultural navel-gazing and our simultaneous fascination with singular supermen and superwomen: our tragic obsession with pseudo-heroic egoism that, if unchecked, risks landing us with a Donald Trump as Commander in Chief, CEO of America, Inc.

The well-heeled intellectual elites of our society have too long dismissively pooh-poohed Rand, much to all our peril. The egoism she promoted, our rampant egoism she reflected in her work, makes for a slavery to self that wreaks havoc on the fabric of our relationships. Integrity, Rand seems to assert, is only internal and individual. But of course it isn't, unless we are prepared to arrogantly chuck out the very heart of thousands of years of moral tradition that has weathered the storms of humanity in multiple cultures and spiritual traditions around the world. The current madness around Rand's legacy is our collective madness, a reflection of our shared humanity wrecked on the rocky shoals of our hyper-protected egos now laid waste by crises too many to number.

The poor, the invalid, the destitute, the homeless: they all threaten our egos by reflecting our interdependence and vulnerability. No wonder we want to shrug them off. But we are not supermen or superwomen, we are frail, yearning creatures capable at times together and individually of awesome works and horrific acts. And sometimes we are plain down and out. We could conceal this messy, fleshy reality from ourselves when times were good. Now they're not, and now we can't anymore.

I am struck, along with many, that ostensibly Christian politicians openly embrace the sometimes ankle-deep and oft-tangled philosophical constructs of someone who once remarked that the Church is little more than "the best kindergarten of communism possible." But I suppose Ayn Rand can be forgiven for this slight. The idea of living to serve others and something far greater than ourselves probably felt far too much like the autocratic threats to essential human dignity of the Soviet regime in her native Russia. And I suppose objectivist eyes cannot see anything but silliness in what I spend a lot of time these days doing: devotion to what a Rand fan I once met somewhat derisively called my "invisible best friend."

The real irony for me is wondering whether or not Rand would welcome the mercy of Christian forgiveness. John Piper, a Baptist pastor in Minneapolis offers a succinct and compelling simultaneous appreciation and critique of Ayn Rand's ideas, concluding that her Godless world view was most critically devoid of mercy: that foundational Christian virtue that understands an imminent and transcendent God loving us and all Creation into being and ultimately -- not because we deserve it but because we need it -- salvation. God shatters Rand's ideal of relationships built on objective transaction, the philosophy of life structured around the quid pro quo. The God of faith, beyond all human logic, needs nothing from us, and yet offers us everything, from our first breath to our last, and beyond.

Our world right now seems littered with odd new juxtapositions. I am caught in this season of Resurrection reflecting on Ayn Rand outside the tomb of Lazarus -- a strange juxtaposition indeed!

Martha notes that our body politic, like the body of her brother, stinks.

In reply, Ayn Rand's Atlas shrugs.

For his part, our Jesus weeps, and then calls forth the dead into life.

The Rev. Richard E. Helmer is rector of Church of Our Saviour, Mill Valley, Calif., and a postulant in the Brotherhood of Saint Gregory. His sermons and reflections have been published widely online, and he blogs at Caught by the Light.

Whatever happened to the common good?

By Donald Schell

Was Jesus a socialist? Is there a Christian position on taxation? How about this – how can Christians renew a vision of the Common Good? If we can’t live up to the Sermon on the Mount, might we at least take Adam Smith seriously: “To feel much for others and little for ourselves, to restrain our selfishness and exercise our benevolent affections, constitute the perfection of human nature.”

Consider the erosion of California public school system. When I started kindergarten in 1952, we were living in a small house in a not particularly prosperous neighborhood. Nonetheless our class was small. That was true through elementary and middle school. In my high school most of our teachers were very, very good. We had art and shop and music classes; sophisticated teaching of high school math extended all the way through calculus; we were offered up to five years study of French, German, and Spanish, learning conversationally with satisfying class discussions of current events and great literature, and well-designed, effective language labs helped our aural learning and accent development; physical education and arts learning encouraged broad participation in well-funded theater and sports programs.

Looking back, I understand now that before California’s Proposition 13 began a wave of ‘tax-payer revolt,’ we had the best-funded public schools in the country. When I left home and went out of state to a challenging private college and got my first taste of classes with peers from East Coast prep schools, I had no sense whatever that they’d gotten a better education than we had.

In 1978, Proposition 13’s tax protest rhetoric was that it ‘wasn’t fair’ for seniors to pay property taxes to support schools when they didn’t have children in school. The proposition passed by a 65% majority and within five years, half of the fifty states had passed similar limits on property taxes.

Today California leads the nation in another way. Factoring in a cost of living correction, California schools today are among the nation’s worst funded and it’s projected to get worse as the state faces severe budget cuts from the state legislators attempts shrink a $25.4 billion budget deficit without raising taxes. Again California’s chapter is getting retold across the country, and school cuts were and are just the beginning.

We’ve seen the same reversal nationally on health care. Our mid-century health outcomes (measured by low infant mortality and long life expectancy) were with the best in the developed world. Now U.S. health care outcomes are the worst in the developed world – where we’re decisively behind Japan, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland, Denmark, Germany, Spain, Canada, France, Ireland, Italy, Australia, Greece, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, places with higher taxes than ours and one form or another of “socialized medicine.”

Politicians (both parties) who tell us we just haven’t got the money for a social welfare, ‘nanny government,’ and that we’ve got to balance the budget simply won’t talk about the cost of social inequality in a stagnating economy, massive unemployment of our youth (including college graduates), and collapse of our educational base for industrial innovation and human growth in the arts. Our politicians (both parties) clamber to claim a high ground of fiscal responsibility (claiming moral justification for cutting programs) without challenging our exaggerated investment in prisons and war, both of which are vastly greater (proportionately and absolutely) than any developed country’s.

What’s this got to do with church? How about this - no one seems willing to talk about rendering the Caesar the things that are Caesar’s (paying appropriate taxes for a complex, developed society). What’s going on?

Tony Judt’s Ill Fares the Land and a Saturday walk put numbers and suffering human faces to this. Judt’s book puts statistics and historical context on our thirty-year national drift toward me-ism. Judt offers numerical comparisons, those I’ve summarized above and more, concluding with the startling observation that in the last thirty years, we’ve seen the wealth disparity in the U.S. (how few hold what percent of capital and receive what percent of income) grow and grow until the 1% of our population that controls 25% of the nation’s wealth is a disparity greater than any in the developed world – and matches that of China.

The last thirty years, as Judt describes them reversed a hundred and thirty years progress from de Toqueville’s grim 1835 observation of money’s importance in the American character: “As one digs deeper into the national character of the Americans, one sees that they have sought the value of everything in this world only in the answer to this single question: how much money will it bring in?”

Particularly with Roosevelt’s response to the depression and the ways we shaped recovery after World War II, with Johnson’s Civil Rights Act and War on Poverty, we were beginning to tax ourselves in ways that made it possible to educate, organize, inoculate, and guide us by services and programs away from inequity. It was a bumpy road but it was working. And the church - mainstream Protestantism, public progressive Catholicism, and yes, we should beyond the church, progressive Judaism - was a committed participant in that change. As a young adult, a college student and at the end of that era as a seminarian, I remember the church’s vocal and bodily presence in demonstrations for Civil Rights, actions to end the War in Vietnam. Our seminary student body and faculty marched together on Wall Street in protest of the bombing of Cambodia. Our seminary chaplain presided in the hall of the Pentagon at a mass protesting the war.

But a shift was beginning in 1970’s after 60’s activism broke our comfortable 1950’s religious consensus apart. Clearly it was a shift toward a more secular society. Some of us welcomed that. With a number of clergy colleagues, I quit wearing a collar, rejecting it as a symbol of the church’s habitual deference to clergy privilege and an implicit assertion of the religious or spiritual special status for clergy.
While we were struggling through Prayer Book change, and struggling to accept women and LGBT folk into ministry (and give them explicit voice in our whole life together), almost without noticing it we were also stumbling into a society in which our church’s voice, the recent mainstream consensus for justice was quiet. It began quietly enough that we hardly noticed it. Time and Newsweek closed down their Religion sections. Newspapers didn’t replace their religion writers. When National Public Radio asked for the ‘Christian response’ to heavily conflicted issues like abortion, right to die, and increasingly to LGBT rights and eventually marriage, even NPR gave this defining voice of ‘Christianity’ to lobbyists and speakers from an individualistic and libertarian religious right. We began to lose our language.

As ‘liberal’ became a dirty word, the self-designated ‘orthodox’ claimed they were the old-time religion (a claim that’s historically pretty shaky). The religious right claimed the word ‘Christian’ for themselves and routinely explained why many who claimed they were Christian actually weren’t. As the Religious Right claimed the name, “Christian,” by the 1990’s, I was hearing more and more new, previously un-churched and de-churched participants in our growing mission congregation say that they considered themselves “followers of Jesus,” but preferred not to call themselves “Christian.”

In a weird alliance between religious fundamentalism and social Darwinism, ‘The Market’ became the hand of God that would guide us toward the good. Hardly noticing it had happened, our national discourse fell into the kind of assessment of ‘worthy’ and ‘unworthy’ poor that the church had been party to in the early 19th century. Vigilant pursuers of ‘welfare cheats’ and ‘government waste’ vehemently defended people’s unequivocal right to spend everything they’d received from their work or their social position and inherited wealth. We were making it clear that we’d finally decided our worth was determined by what was in our wallet.

And my Saturday walk?

I’ve been training for a rim-to-rim Grand Canyon hike in May. That means I’m discovering I can walk to familiar destinations in our city, so Saturday morning, I was walking down the steep hill from our house, across the Mission District and up the long, steep hill to Diamond Heights on my way to an early morning diocesan meeting at St. Aidan’s, San Francisco’s highest (by altitude) Episcopal Church.

It was early morning and at age 63, I wasn’t surprised that I needed a restroom before I’d reached my destination.

Like most American cities, San Francisco has almost no public restrooms. Those we have are downtown and in the areas tourists frequent. I was forty minutes into an hour walk, beginning my climb to Diamond Heights, and worrying about the distance I still had to go, when I passed a Whole Foods grocery and remembered the Whole Foods back on our hill had a restroom, so went in to this one and found a neat sign over the locked restroom door - “Ask in cheese department for door code.”

I asked and got the code, as I knew I would because I look like someone who’d be shopping there. I felt grateful for the clean restroom and continued my walk. But as I walked on, I recalled homeless men waking in doorways that I’d passed in the Mission District. The code on the Whole Foods restroom door was to deny men like that access to the restroom. The colorful Latino cafes and new gentrifying coffee and pastry places had all had signs, ‘Restroom for customers only,’

No public restrooms and citations for peeing in an alley make a clear equation: full humanity and ‘membership in society’ demand a credit card in a wallet and the will to use it. When had our society decided citizenship was bought with our purchasing power?

So I’m back to my opening questions: Was Jesus a socialist? Is there a Christian position on taxation? And how can Christians renew a vision of the Common Good?

The Rev. Donald Schell, founder of St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, is President of All Saints Company.

How have we heeded JFK's call to serve?

By Lauren R. Stanley

Today is the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s inauguration, when he sent forth that clarion call to all Americans: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

At the moment he spoke, I was but 10 weeks old, so I do not claim to remember a thing. But I grew up with those words in my household; the call to service to the country resounded throughout my childhood and led me, two and a half decades later, to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya.

Earlier this week, the man who founded that marvelous organization, R. Sargent Shriver Jr., died at the age of 95. I never met the man, but I knew of him – I think every Peace Corps volunteer hears his story, not only of his work in founding Peace Corps, but also of his tireless work on behalf of the poor, his founding of Head Start, his work with his wife, Ethel, to found and run the Special Olympics, and all the other marvelous things Mr. Shriver did in his life.

I’ve been thinking of President Kennedy and Mr. Shriver a lot this week, and feel again that renewed call to serve the people of my country, to help make this nation a better place in which to live, to care for all of the people here.

Then I juxtapose that call with what took place in the House of Representatives Wednesday, the vote to repeal Health Care Reform, and I have to wonder: How does this serve our country?

Yes, the Republicans made a promise to their constituents that they would hold this vote. Yes, there are many who believe that Health Care Reform is wrong (and possibly evil, if you listen to some of the out-of-control rants on radio, TV and social networks).

But how does repealing that which will give Americans decent health care serve those same Americans? How does it answer President Kennedy’s call to serve each other?
I suppose, if you broke down President Kennedy’s challenge, you could make the argument that mandating health care for all is too much of the country doing for you, and not enough of you doing for the country.

I suppose it is possible to claim that government has no business in health care.
But if you were to make either of those arguments, you also would have to concede that Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are wrong as well. And surely you would have to concede that government – which exists to provide for the security of its people – has no business providing that security. And if you concede those points, then wouldn’t you have to give up your Medicare, your Medicaid, your Social Security?

Now there is speculation that Senate Republicans will try to force a vote on repealing health care, not necessarily because they believe it is the right thing to do, but because they want to score political points. Republican Leader Mitch McConnell assures Americans that he will force such a vote, possibly employing delaying tactics on other bills, possibly by offering a motion to suspend the rules, which is an attempt to shut down the Senate.

What concerns me most is that the effort to repeal Health Care Reform is a repudiation of all that is good in and about this country. Repealing it would say, in clear terms, “We don’t care about the least of our brothers and sisters. If you can’t make it on your own, go away.”

And in a week in which we mourn the loss of one great man, and celebrate anew the words of another, it seems petty and cruel to try to take away health care from those who really need it.

Somehow, I don’t believe either President Kennedy or Sargent Shriver would approve of that.

The Rev. Lauren R. Stanley is a priest of the Diocese of Virginia who served for five years as an overseas missionary.

A post-election prayer

On 8 November 2010, the Downtown Atlanta Rotary Club featured Cynthia Tucker and Ralph Reed as a panel reviewing the previous week’s election results. To open the meeting, The Very Rev. Samuel G. Candler delivered this invocation:

O God, in the days following elections, some are exultant, others despondent. Some are wary, some are triumphant. Some will forge forward, or back, depending upon the issue. Some will gather, harvesting fruit whose seeds were planted long ago. Some will seek to sow new seeds, into soil now plowed, turned up and over, but also fertile and expectant.

The political life is a rough and tumble life. It is for those who inspire fresh vision, but who also know how to scrap and scrape. It attracts the wise and savvy, and also the naïve and boisterous. It lifts up the lowly, and it humbles the exalted.

And so we remember the words of the Preacher of old. “For everything there is a season. A time to be born, and a time to die. A time to plant, and a time to pluck up. A time to break down, and a time to build up. A time to weep, and a time to laugh. A time to mourn, and a time to dance. A time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together. A time to seek, and a time to lose. A time to keep silence, and a time to speak.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). Or, as the Singer sang, “To everything there is a season. Turn, turn, turn.”

The United States of America, at our best, turns gracefully. We engage the dance of politics every two years, or every four years, or every six years, with some trepidation and some missed steps. Some of us stumble, or step on each others’ feet, or even knock down our partners. But some of us twirl splendidly, knowing exactly when to grasp and when to let go. Some of us leap to heights which we have never before ascended.

Then, after two, or four, or six, or sixteen, years, our dance ends. We tire, or watch a new troupe come forward, with new moves and routines – or maybe it is an old routine with some fresh twists. We turn, turn, turn.

Gracious God, we thank you for those who offer themselves for public service; we thank you for those who participated in last week’s elections. Teach all of us us to turn gracefully. Teach us to win gracefully. Teach us to lose gracefully. In grace, we realize that you, O God, have created us all. We are, together, citizens of a greater community than our fenced-off political pastures. And you, O God, have loved us all – winners and losers, the exalted and the humbled.

Wherever our political loyalties lie, O God, show us grace in our relationships and deliberations in the days to come. Show us love of God, and love of neighbor. AMEN.

The Very Rev. Sam Candler is dean of St. Philip's Cathedral in Atlanta. He chaired the House of Deputies' Committee on Prayerbook, Liturgy and Church Music at the General Convention. His sermons and reflections on “Good Faith and Common Good” can be found on the Cathedral web site.

A Christian's responsibility to public schools, Part II

This is the second of a two-part article.

Summer hours continue. Daily Episcopalian will return on the Tuesday after Labor Day.

By George Clifford

When U.S. parents opt to send their children to private schools or to home school their children, I invariably wonder why. Half of the students at the college from I which graduated matriculated from private prep schools. Generally, their parents had enrolled their children in prep school to provide a better education than the one they believed their children could obtain in the public schools. Ironically, after overcoming my initial sense of inadequacy, I discovered that my public school education was roughly comparable to my peers’ private school education. Public education is not inherently inferior.

During my high school and college years, white flight into private schools and home schooling dominated the educational scene in parts of the country, Raleigh included. The allegedly racially separate but educationally equal schools of the Jim Crow south were in truth far from educationally equal. These segregated public schools failed at the enculturation of most minority children into valued citizens of our democratic society, deprived many of the prosperity that education frequently produces, and denied all the equal opportunity expressive of God's equal love for everyone, regardless of race.

During the five years I lived in Hawaii, I observed a public school system that largely enrolled children of parents unable or unwilling to afford private schools, i.e., mostly parents from lower socio-economic strata. The unofficial, pervasive public school ethos included strong elements of racial prejudice and violence. Funding and political support for the public schools was low, a result of elites and the even modestly affluent paying private school tuition and therefore having little interest or incentive in paying the higher taxes necessary to fund the public schools adequately. From a Christian perspective, Hawaiian public schools, like public schools in the Jim Crow south, had failed; lack of interest and greed rather than racism caused the failure.

Ministry as a military chaplain brought me into conversation with hundreds of families who had opted to home school their children or to send their children to “Christian” schools. Typically, these parents both wanted their children to acquire values and ideas that cohered with the parents’ evangelical Christian vision and were willing to pay the price to achieve that goal. This is not a new phenomenon. Immigrant Christians (and others) in prior generations sometimes established parochial schools for similar reasons. Economics have since forced the closing of many of these schools; many of the schools that remain open have joined the ranks of secular private schools whose mission, formally or informally, is to educate the children of one or more socio-economic elites. Others have established themselves as helpful options for children who fail to thrive in the public schools.

In some significant respects, the curriculum of most self-identified “Christian” schools and homeschoolers bears more resemblance to Islamic madrasas than to any U.S. public school curriculum. Both types of religious schools emphasize the primacy of a narrow religious perspective that instills religious and gender bigotry, distorts history, and demeans science (the “Christians” interpret scientific data through their religious lens; the Islamists ignore science). Neither provides an adequate foundation for their graduates to contribute to a democratic society, achieve economic prosperity, or genuinely value equal opportunity.

In Christ, there is neither black nor white, red nor brown, rich nor poor. God does not love or judge people based on net worth, income, or skin color. So why do Wake County residential patterns, like the patterns across America, broadly reflect an unchristian homogeneity, the nation’s affluent majority living in one set of neighborhoods, middle income people in another set of neighborhoods, and poor minorities in yet a third set? This pattern tragically alienates poor and affluent children alike from those who are different, sinfully perpetuating racially and economically determined patterns of friendship, employment, and opportunity. The Episcopal Church at General Convention 2009 adopted Resolution C049, endorsing equal opportunity for all.

Only when indiscriminate love for neighbor replaces self-centered economics and racial prejudice as the driver in determining residential patterns will Wake County (or any area) more fully incarnate the gospel. One essential long-term step toward achieving that goal is municipalities adopting development and zoning policies that promote real economic diversity in all neighborhoods. Another important long-term step is creating numerous small parks, designed for the young children who live in those neighborhoods. Young children rarely care about race or family income; they enjoy playing with any friendly peer. Some of the friendships spawned in those parks will surely endure into the teens and even adulthood. Day care programs with diverse populations can achieve the same result. Finally, parents (and others) instead of relying on public school alternatives should strive through political action, adequate funding, and civic support, to provide public schools with diverse student bodies that offer quality education to all children.

Collectively, those changes will help to tear down the sinful racial and economic barriers that presently stratify people in unchristian ways and leave too many children unprepared for a global community shaped by the gospel. I’m certain that other public policy ukases can also aid in attaining that goal. Christians, called by God to incarnate the gospel vision on earth, can usefully articulate and then wholeheartedly support such policies.

However, the Church’s most important and probably unique contribution is to motivate energetic Christian community support for achieving quality and diverse public schools. In a branch of the Church that today can easily appear myopically focused on internal issues and politics, the needs of some of the most vulnerable and least amongst us – children who are victims of racial, economic, and social injustice – deserve our focused and prioritized commitment. Indeed, by boldly working to transform public school systems in Wake County and elsewhere into instruments of social justice, we will live more fully into the gospel mandate, experience individual healing, and organizational renewal. Alternatively, if we ignore the children, we, like prior generations, will inflict our sins on today’s children and future generations.

The Rev. Dr. George Clifford, Diocese of North Carolina, ministered as a Navy chaplain for twenty-four years. He serves as priest in charge at the Church of the Nativity in Raleigh, is a visiting professor of ethics at the Naval Postgraduate School, and blogs at Ethical Musings.

A Christian's responsibility to public schools, Part I

This is the first of a two-part article.

Summer hours continue. Daily Episcopalian will publish every other day this week.

By George Clifford

Scripture presumes that education consists of more than the three Rs and that sagacious instruction offers hope for building a future that is better than the present, e.g., Proverbs 22:6 reads, “Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray” (NRSV). One essential skill for children in our increasingly global society is learning to live as brothers and sisters with people who do not look, act, or think as they do.

The responsibility for educating children belongs to every Christian. Remember, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Regardless of how you feel about Hillary Clinton, who helped to popularize that saying, the basic concept is profoundly Christian. In the liturgy for Holy Baptism, the celebrant inquires of those present, “Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support these persons in their life in Christ?” Educating children truly and rightly is every Christian’s responsibility.

Controversy over the policies used to assign students to schools currently roils the Wake County Public School System, the nation’s 18th largest system with more than 137,000 students. Since 2000, the Wake School Board has assigned students to schools to achieve the worth goal of socio-economic diversity, a proxy, for various legal reasons, for trying to ensure racial diversity in the public schools.

The current conflict has generated sufficient heat and animosity to attract national media attention. Battles over the public schools are a major front in the religious culture wars that in large measure contribute to the increasing polarization of U.S. society. The details of the Wake County controversy vividly illustrate this.

Wake County is approximately 70% Caucasian, 30% minorities. Socio-economic status in Wake County, as in most areas of the United States, roughly mirrors race. For example, the zip code for my suburban Raleigh parish is 85% Caucasian with an average 2009 household income of $85,600. An urban Raleigh zip code has an 87% minority population and an average 2009 household income of $28,600. Busing for diversity has achieved a substantial measure of socio-economic (and therefore racial) diversity in the public schools. Research suggests that the diversity policy has improved the standardized test scores of Wake County students, especially those from lower socio-economic strata.

The assignment policy has spawned a large number of critics with some valid grievances. Some children now spend over two hours per school day riding a bus to and from school. Wake County’s rapid population growth in conjunction with the current recession has led to frequent reassignment of students from one school to another and converting approximately one-third of its schools from a traditional nine-month calendar to a year-round calendar to accommodate more students in the same building without increasing class size. Those changes disrupt education and extracurricular participation, student friendships, parental involvement in schools, pre- and after-school care plans, and sometimes mean that children in the same family attend schools with different calendars.

Critics and grievances coalesced this summer in a hard-fought, highly emotional election that produced a new School Board majority, a majority opposed to busing for diversity. The new Board members quickly seized control and, among other actions, ended the policy of assigning students to schools to achieve socio-economic diversity. The NAACP and religious leaders, including the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina, immediately responded with vociferous protests.

The Wake County School Board has yet to announce a new student assignment policy. One option, intriguing to both sides in the present dispute, would create about a dozen assignment zones. Parents in a zone could request that a child attend any school within the zone. Lotteries would select the students to attend any school for which the number of requests exceeds the number of available seats. Depending upon who one asks, the Board might or might not draw the zones to promote socio-economic diversity.

Good practical theology requires careful analysis, not only theologically but also sociologically and psychologically. Three dynamics are important. First, white flight remains an ugly, often ignored reality. In a county 70% Caucasian, the public school system is only 51.8% Caucasian. We Christians, the preponderant majority in Wake County, have failed in our moral responsibility to provide a quality, attractive public education for many children in Wake County.

The legacy of prior generations’ sins – slavery and segregation – too often manifest itself as socio-economic discrimination, thus perpetuating racial prejudices and exacerbating greed. Children born to poor and lower income parents generally have fewer and lower quality educational opportunities than do children born to affluent parents, as evident in the Wake County school system and the choices parents make to send their children to private schools or to home school their children. In biblical terms, this inequality afflicts the sin of earlier generations on this generation.

Second, the recently ended policy of assigning children to create socio-economic diversity only partially succeeded in achieving its broader goals. Although the policy seems to have improved standardized test scores, consistent anecdotal evidence suggests that the policy has broadly failed to nurture student friendships that bridge racial and socio-economic divides. Proximity by itself is insufficient to create relational diversity. Instead, the policy has had the unintended, tragic consequence of creating a backlash among lower and middle-class whites, as well as others, against policies designed to promote a healthy and vital diversity.

Third, school assignment policies by themselves are insufficient to bolster democracy, foster prosperity, and promote equal opportunity for all, goals profoundly consonant with the gospel’s vision of a just society. A half-century after the Supreme Court supposedly ended racially separate but equal schools, growing numbers of minorities believe themselves politically disenfranchised, without viable economic opportunity, and victims of racial and economic discrimination. In most parts of the United States, voting patterns, incarceration demographics, and employment statistics support that assessment.

The Rev. Dr. George Clifford, Diocese of North Carolina, ministered as a Navy chaplain for twenty-four years. He serves as priest in charge at the Church of the Nativity in Raleigh, is a visiting professor of ethics at the Naval Postgraduate School, and blogs at Ethical Musings /a>.

Cheap morality in the Prop 8 debate

Summer hours continue. Daily Episcopalian will publish every other day this week.

By Richard E. Helmer

Thousands of articles and commentaries have been written this week on the Federal Court’s ruling to strike down Proposition 8 in California. While not a legal scholar by any stretch of the imagination, I enjoyed reading the full length of the decision and its comprehensive treatment of the questions that reside at the heart of one of our era’s most pressing civil rights struggles. But what stuck most in my heart and mind in Chief U. S. District Judge Vaughn Walker’s decision, and in the furor of commentary that has erupted since, is the use of the word “morality.” In his decision, morality was largely classified in terms of privacy and religion.

Likewise, on the other side, concerns are expressed by supporters of Proposition 8 that their morality around marriage is increasingly marginalized from the public, secular arena of debate. Morality on both sides is clearly viewed as somehow sacred. On one side, its religious sanctity leaves it beyond the realm of legal consideration. On the other, its sanctity must be protected and even enforced upon others in wider society. But there is a dichotomy about morality created in this debate that to me is artificial, and perhaps even dangerous to our understanding of morality and how it ought to be evaluated and applied both for us as people of faith, and in the wider society.

The past few days have seen cries of further moral decay evidenced by this decision, that “Christian” values are somehow disappearing from American society, and Judge Walker’s decision is only the most recent, glaring example of secularism’s whole-hearted attack on good old-fashioned religious principles. There are deep-seated fears that the morality of our ancestors is somehow being trampled underfoot by an increasingly secular world of “activist judges” and “amoral legislatures.”

But morality in the Judeo-Christian tradition means more than just sticking to longstanding traditions and principles. It’s a testable enterprise in real living, and as people of faith, we are called to ask that it be accountable to reason, experience, and fairness. A few weeks ago, we read about Abraham in dialogue with God about the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:20-32). Ironically, these two cities are all too often epitomized as the primordial examples of sexual decadence; but their real crimes, as witnessed by references made to them by the prophets and even Jesus Christ in Scripture, were wanton violence and inhospitality towards the stranger – in contrast, for instance, to Abraham’s gracious hospitality to the wayfarer. But more to the point on the question of morality, Abraham deigns to ask if God will spare the two cities from divine wrath if even a few righteous inhabitants are found within them. Will he condemn the righteous with the unrighteous? In a memorable conversation that still provokes chuckles when read to this day, God patiently answers Abraham each time as our spiritual ancestor whittles the numbers of the hypothetical righteous down to a mere handful. Abraham insists that God’s morality be just, be reasonable, be fair in his eyes. And God accepts and even agrees with Abraham’s pleading. This kind of divine morality from the very heart of the Judeo-Christian record is not capricious or arbitrary, but accessible to human understanding, and it yields to our honest, faithful questioning. Even the morality of divine actions must be ultimately comprehensible to our human experience, as limited as we all are. This is one of the messages of the grace we have received.

American culture likes to paint the religious and secular spheres as enemies. Leaders of the Roman Catholic and Mormon Churches who led the expensive and often cynical charge to pass Proposition 8 in California seem to readily fall in line with this thinking as well. But the real test for them is not whether religion should be argued in the secular sphere, but whether or not their understanding of morality can be viewed as reasonable and rooted in reality by outsiders, by the strangers to their faith.

Jesus’ moral arguments in the gospels are squarely rooted in reality. He offers parables to address life’s difficult questions in practical terms. He talks about the spread of the Gospel and its values using language of farming: sowing, plowing, harvesting. When asked about the lawful morality of paying taxes to the Emperor, he holds up the visage of a Roman coin. When he talks about marriage, it is because authorities have brought before him a practical question about the lawfulness of divorce in a society where single women are vulnerable to harsh realities like economic destitution and prostitution. When Jesus teaches generosity, it is as antidote to a consumptive life of grasping scarcity. When Jesus teaches the hard work of love – even loving one’s enemies – it is as balm to the destructive hatreds and divisions that are common to all our human experience. He criticizes the private, self-righteous morality and condemnatory moralizing of the Pharisees. His morality is public, practically applicable, and life-giving. These are not mere divine fiats, arbitrary moral codes issued by a distant God through his inaccessibly perfect Son. They are made relevant to the listener by a God who has come among us as one of us. They can be argued. They can be demonstrated in human, tangible, relational terms.

Moreover, the fact that people from beyond Jesus’ own Jewish tradition, from Samaritans to Romans to Canaanites, respond positively to his teaching speaks for itself. If Christian morality is to be truly argued successfully in contemporary American society, if it is to survive the marketplace of ideas, it must be salient to the experience of everyday people, even to the experience of those outside of Christian community. The saddest thing of all, from this Christian’s standpoint at least, is that much of the talk of “Christian” morality to defend destructive legal bias against same-sex couples is made up largely of self-referential tautologies. Put another way, Christian moralizing in a rational vacuum is nonsense, and there’s too much of that going around these days.

The really hard edge for Proposition 8 supporters and all committed opponents of same-sex marriage on Christian principle is the growing experience of facts on the ground, of real life. Covenanted same-sex couples are increasingly visible in just about every segment of American society. Overwhelming first-hand and empirical evidence is that these relationships can be just as healthy and life-giving as mixed-sex marriages. Some of these couples are raising happy, well-adjusted children to adulthood. Their households contribute to the well-being of the greater fabric of our communities. In The Episcopal Church, we can demonstrate how their families and ministries are contributing to the well-being of our parishes and dioceses and to the witness of the Gospel in the wider community. It is at first somehow strange that Judge Walker cited similar arguments to merit a legal case. Although I agree with him, I think these arguments also make the best moral case, in a Christian sense. Christian morality is public in the end, after all, not private. We measure this morality by its public, relational effects, not by how it measures up to proof-texts.

True morality subsumes the religious and secular spheres, for is not God ultimately in charge of both? The real problem for Proposition 8 supporters is that an enforced arbitrary definition of marriage (being allowable only between a man and a woman), while clearly rooted in the habits of Christian history and tradition, is a sort of morality that increasingly appears to be not only woefully lacking in its basic reasoning but clearly destructive to the fundamental human dignity of some of our brothers and sisters. This kind of morality is not sacred. It is rather, in one word, cheap. And the fact that this cheap morality is, under close examination, being rejected by secular courts as legally binding is not a sign of moral decay in our wider culture, but a sign of health and justice spreading in our midst – the goal of any truly sound Christian morality.
Thanks be to God.

The Rev. Richard E. Helmer is rector of Church of Our Saviour, Mill Valley, Calif. His sermons and reflections have been published widely online, and he blogs about spirituality, ministry, Anglicanism, church politics, music, and the misadventures of young parenthood at Caught by the Light.

American slavery justified

Daily Episcopalian will publish every other day this week.

By Samuel Seabury
[Grandson of the first American Episcopal bishop]

The evil of sectional agitation, foreshadowed by the Father of this country, is upon us; and the North and the South are arrayed the one against the other.

One of the sources of our dissensions (in my judgment the original and chief source) is the opinion that has been extensively propagated, that slavery is a moral and social evil; that is (though the words are not generally used in their full significance), that it is wrong in morals and disgraceful in Christian and civilized society.

The fact that the Constitution of the United States covers Slave States as well as Free, is reason enough, in my opinion, why every man that lives under it should assume slavery to be neither morally wrong nor socially disreputable. Slavery is no more forbidden by Scripture than by the Constitution, but is permitted by both; and I can not but think that modesty and good sense should have taught all citizens and all Christians who could not see the reason of the permission, to take it on the authority of the Constitution of their country and the Rule of their Faith, without an appeal to a higher law.

It is clearly repugnant to the genius of our government to mix up questions of morality, religion, and social life. with our national politics; and, as slavery, in some of its bearings, is a legitimate and often necessary object of municipal legislation, it is the more to be regretted that it should be complicated with questions of morality, religion, and social reputation. Nevertheless, this has been done; and the natural consequences have followed;—rancor, and hatred, and deeply rooted alienations, such as no merely political discussions could engender.

My aim is to help to withdraw from this vexed controversy, if it be possible, its moral, religious, and social element; that thus slavery, when it is made an object of national legislation, may he discussed and disposed of on merely economical and political grounds.

But to do any thing effectively in this way, it is necessary to take decided ground. The political differences on this subject may be accommodated by mutual concession and compromise, consistently with self-respect. But it is not so with the moral and social question. No bridge of compromise can be thrown over the chasm that separates truth, justice, and honor, from falsehood, injustice, and shame. The relation of master and slave, and the claim of property involved in it, are either just and honorable, or unjust and base; and hence I see no other way to adjust the differences that exist in reference to this phase of the subject than to induce men to examine and decide, on rational grounds, the right or wrong of the question, before they attempt to heal the exacerbations that grow out of it.


In this country we have come very naturally to appropriate the word slavery to that form of servitude which exists among ourselves. To know what the word slavery means in our use of it we must first inquire what this form of servitude is; not what it is vaguely and in its accidents and abuses. but what it is precisely and in its essence. And the definition must be in accordance with facts; that is, it must express, not what slavery has been in other times and places, nor what it may be or might have been, but what it actually is in our own country and at the present time.

I have defined a slave to be a person who is related to society through another person--a master--to whom he owes reasonable service for life and from whom he is entitled to receive support and protection. This definition I believe to be in accordance with facts; in other words, I believe that those persons called slaves in our Southern States are persons born on the soil and under such circumstances (circumstances not of our choosing but of God's ordering) that a debt of service is the very condition of their life. For we are not a nation of pirates and freebooters; we do not fit out vessels against an ignorant and unoffending people to seize them and import them into our country, and reduce them to bondage. We have never done this; our mother country has never done it; no nation in modern Europe has done it. The work has been done by combinations of lawless men. And although Great Britain may have been remiss and tardy in restraining such violence, yet we. in this respect, have no ground of self-reproach. For, from the very beginning of our Confederacy, we took means to arrest this evil, and. as soon as practicable, enacted stringent laws, with a view to its suppression. More than fifty years—nearly two generations—have passed since these laws were in force. However much, therefore, we may lament and condemn the way in which slavery originated in our country, or the accessions (comparatively very small) which have since been made to it in the same way, yet we are not responsible for either; we gave no sanction to the former, and have done all that we could do to prevent the latter. We are, therefore, entitled to throw out of the account both the origin of slavery, and the few and accidental accessions it may receive from acts of violence which our laws prohibit; and to declare the slaves of our country to be, what in truth and fact they are, a class of persons born and grown on our soil, under an obligation of service which the laws of God and man require them to fulfill.


In bringing the question to the arbitrament of Scripture, it is proper to distinguish that form of slavery for which we hold ourselves responsible, as, from all other forms, so, particularly, from that unjust deprivation of liberty which is effected by lawless violence.

When St. Paul enjoins servants to obey their masters in all things, he uses a word for servants (doulos), which comprises several sorts of persons restrained of liberty, and his precept is, consequently, to be taken in a sense suited to the condition of that class of servants to which it may be applied. On prisoners and captives held by lawless violence. or subject to absolute power, he enjoins obedience as an alleviation of their unhappy lot, which would be aggravated by resistance, and rendered more tolerable by patience and submission. On those who are bound to service, either for a term of time or for life, the precept must be understood to enjoin obedience according to the nature and condition of the service to which they are bound. To slaves of the former class, i. e. to prisoners or captives who have been forcibly and unjustly seized and compelled to labor, at the oar for example, or in the mines. he would say: Obey your masters in all things, as becomes your sad condition, and make your chains as easy as you can, by your compliance and submission. To slaves of the latter class, i. e., to persons who are justly bound to service, either for a term of time or for life, he would be understood to say: Obey your masters in all things according to the contract, express or implied, by which you are bound: or to use Bishop Fleetwood's paraphrase: "Behave yourselves to your masters as diligently and faithfully as you have promised them to do; or by the custom of the place (in which you live) are presumed to have promised them."*

Now, if the slavery which exists in our country were upheld in violation of right and justice, although we might, after the example of the Apostles, inculcate on the slave the duty of patience and submission, yet we should be constrained to confess that the relation in which he stood was unnatural, and that the authority to which he was subjected was a usurpation. But, as I offer no apology for this kind of slavery, and have no need to press into my support those precepts which require of the slave what, indeed, is required of every man, patience and submission to the hardships of his lot, so I am not solicitous to repel the inferences which may be drawn from these precepts, in this sense of them, to show the injustice and impiety of slavery and slaveholders.

In appealing to the Scriptures, therefore, the question on which I would insist is, whether that form of slavery which I have defined. and which is known to exist in our country, be, or be not forbidden in the Scriptures? If it be, then all our reasonings in its defense are delusive, and must go for nothing: if it be not, then we are at liberty to uphold it; to regard the relation of master and slave, as it exists among us, as a lawful relation; and to consider it as fairly coming under those apostolical precepts which enjoin masters to be gentle and forbearing, and which enjoin servants to "obey their masters in all things," not in that sense which requires of them patience and submission under usurped authority, but in the other sense, which requires them to be diligent and faithful in a service which they are bound to perform.


Now, it is readily admitted that the form of slavery for which the American people are (a large portion of them directly) responsible, contains some features that are exceedingly repulsive to those who are accustomed to no other restraints of personal liberty than such as are imposed by the municipal law of the country in which they live. It gives the master, not indeed an absolute, but a large discretionary power over his servants; vests him with a right to their labor for life, and allows him to transfer this right to others; to invest any purchaser he may please with the same power over the bodies of his servants which he possesses himself. This certainly is a power liable to fearful abuses. It may seem to us antecedently probable that our blessed Lord, who came to reform the world, would never allow His followers to be clothed with such power: would forbid them, under all circumstances, to hold, or claim to hold a right to the service or labor of other men for life, and to the use of their natural liberty; or at least, if He suffered them to claim and hold this right, that He would not permit them to transfer it to a stranger for money. But we are in no sort judges beforehand of what it was fit for our Lord to do. It may, for aught we know, have seemed good to Him that some of His followers should be entrusted with this large power for their more effectual probation; for the development, possibly, of virtues which could not otherwise be manifested, and for a demonstration to the world of the efficacy of His gospel in restraining and regulating an authority which, before His time, had been abused beyond measure, and almost beyond belief. We are totally incompetent to judge beforehand what regulations it was proper for Him to make on this subject. Our inquiry is, or ought to be, simply into the facts of the case. Has our Lord in fact interdicted this sort of power and authority to His followers? Have His apostles done so? Did His Church do so in the age succeeding the apostles, when their infractions were remembered, and best understood?
Now, the fact is, that we have no prohibition of this sort, either from our Lord, or from His apostles, or from the ancient Church. Certainly there was no want of occasion or opportunity for such prohibition. The purchase and sale of the right to the use of men's labor and liberty, or property in men, as it is commonly, though vaguely called, had been permitted among the Hebrews, and was a matter of every day practice among the Greeks and Romans; it could not possibly have escaped the observation of our Lord and his apostles, nor could its fearful abuses have been unknown to them. And yet the fact is, that there is nothing in the Scriptures of the New Testament which either expressly, or by implication, forbids it.

But the prohibition, though neither expressed or implied in the letter of the New Testament, is found by some in its spirit. There were evils, it is said, which Christ, for wise reasons, did not specifically and directly forbid, but left to be gradually restrained, and finally abolished by the silent and indirect influence of His gospel, or of those general principles which He has enunciated in His gospel. Such evils were polygamy, war, and slavery.

I shall not stop to question the legitimacy of the theory here implied. I shall admit, for argument's sake, that our Blessed Lord, while proclaiming all needful truth of a general nature, reserved some doctrine, of a more specific kind, which the world was not then in a temper to receive, and entrusted it to His apostles and their successors to be afterwards unfolded and applied, in the shape of positive or negative precept, as men would be able to bear it. To be sure, this is commonly thought to be a very Papistical tenet; but the odium attached to the avowal of it will be considerably lightened when it is shared in common with Protestants of the Independent persuasion. But I must be permitted to question the applicability of the theory to the case in hand. I do not believe that our Lord reserved any doctrine to be authoritatively developed by Protestants in Women"s Rights, Moral Reform, Temperance, or Anti-Slavery Societies. Whatever I may think of the developments of Rome and Trent (and they are not here in question), I must be allowed to distrust those that come from Providence, Rhode Island, or from Oberlin, in whatever State or Territory Oberlin may be.


The upshot of the matter is, as it seems to me, that Christianity neither enjoins nor forbids slavery, but leaves men entirely free, so that they restrain themselves within the bounds of justice and rectitude, either to discourage and abolish it, or to establish and uphold it as the public good may require.

The plan of my work does not require me to do more than establish this negative conclusion. A strong affirmative argument, indeed, might easily be made to show that the Scriptures, both of the Old and New Testament, expressly recognize and sanction slavery: but this argument has been so often and so luminously stated, and, indeed, the fact is so apparent on the very face of the Scriptures, that I deem it quite superfluous to swell my pages with references and quotations designed to establish it.** Besides, the aim of my argument has been to show that that form of servitude which exists under the laws of some of our States, and under the Constitution of the United States, is consistent with natural justice; and if the argument is sound, slavery must stand unless the Scriptures forbid it. That "the New Testament contains no precept prohibitory of slavery" is expressly affirmed by the ablest of the New England abolitionists; and what they insist on is that the prohibition, though not given in any precept, is yet contained in the principles of the New Testament, of course as developed and applied by themselves. Their arguments are misty and confused, and it is about as hard to seize and explain them, as it would be to bottle and analyze the dense fog that sometimes hangs over their coast. But, as far as I could catch their meaning, I have given and answered it; and the result is, I think, that the gospel, neither directly nor indirectly, neither by its precepts nor principles, makes slavery a sin; in short, that it contains not a seed or germ to serve them for their new Protestant "development of Christian doctrine."

The Rev. Samuel Seabury, D.D. of New York was appointed to the faculty of General Theological Seminary in 1862. This essay is an abridgment of his book American Slavery, Distinguished from the Slavery of English Theorists, and Justified by the Law of Nature (New York, 1861).

Abridged by John B. Chilton. Chilton is a member of the Race Relations Committee of the Diocese of Virginia.

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Seeking the mind of Christ on capital punishment

By Martin L. Smith

Writing is a demanding trade, and I am one of those who has to do a lot of talking and preaching in order to ply it. Sometimes I recite to myself a naughty line memorized from a biography of the novelist Stendahl: “Like all good authors, he must have snared ideas as he talked. This hardly promotes silence, or even discretion. No evening out is wasted if one can say to oneself on returning home, ‘I wasn’t bored; I talked the whole time. And I always find something to learn from what I say.’” I do a lot of teaching and preaching without notes, and I love the challenge of giving spontaneous answers to questions in the conversations that I build into workshops. And I always find something to learn from what I find myself saying! Perhaps this is a regular form of spiritual experience for religious communicators. We experience grace in the moment as we respond to surprise. Often what we ‘find ourselves saying’ turns out to be richer than the stuff we carefully work out in advance. Where did that come from? we ask ourselves, and find that the Holy Spirit seems to be the proper answer.

In a recent workshop I was leading, a participant was moved to express his support for the death penalty. I had referred in passing to the official opposition to the death penalty in the Episcopal Church voiced for more than 50 years, and the almost total condemnation of it in contemporary Roman Catholic teaching. (Pope John Paul II insisted in his 1995 encyclical, The Gospel of Life, that cases where the state is justified in killing the offender are “very rare, if not practically non-existent”).

Perhaps it was because the man didn’t sound at all defensive that I didn’t fall into the trap of countering his view directly with a rational case for abolishing the death penalty. Instead I found myself making a proposal to him. Simply this: Would you be prepared over the course of several months, to keep on asking Jesus in prayer this question:“Lord, you yourself were executed by the state. What do you think of capital punishment today?”

A strange quietness came over the room. Everyone seemed taken aback, including myself. We needed time to process the implications of the proposal.

No wonder. There is a lot to consider in this approach to such a controversial topic. First, it makes a difference to directly connect the crucifixion, the cross in the experience of Jesus Christ, to capital punishment. Jesus stood trial, and the state executed him in exactly the same way it regularly executed hundreds of criminals perceived to pose a danger to public welfare. He was one of three identical victims that day. For the executioners it was a routine day in their killing field called Golgotha. Jesus was, and—because God raised him from the dead—still is and always will be, the victim of regular capital punishment.

We tend to discuss the death penalty as a political issue, a matter of social policy, a bone of contention between liberals and conservatives. To reframe the issue in terms of Jesus’ own experience is to surrender a great deal of our sense of control over how the divisive issue might be resolved, about who wins the argument. Suppose we as Christians were to reframe the question in terms of what the mind of Christ is. Suppose he has a mind on the topic, that his mind is made up in the light of his own experience as a victim!

I suppose the second rather shocking thing about the proposal is this insistence that we take our questioning straight to Jesus as the one with the direct experience. Many Episcopalians don’t even pray to Jesus, claiming we should only pray to the Father. Yet the earliest Christian prayer is to Jesus—Marana tha! Our Lord, come! The liturgy invites us to connect directly to him as we pray, “O Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us! Grant us your peace!” By taking our questions directly to Jesus, instead of talking around him, we open ourselves to being influenced and enlightened by what Paul calls simply, “the mind of Christ.” Not instructions to obey but a mindset to adopt, a whole way of looking at the world through this eyes. In this case, what does death row look like today through the eyes of the living Christ, who has been on it himself?

I did suggest repeating this daring prayer for some months. It is rare to receive access to the mind of Christ in a flash. Prayer might be more like a gradual dawning. Or a wrestling match of many rounds, as the tenacious grip of conventional thinking is gradually loosened and something radically new emerges through conscious contact with the living person of Christ.

Martin L. Smith is a well-known spiritual writer and priest. He is the senior associate rector at St. Columba’s in Washington, D.C.

Health care: if you can't save everyone, who do you save?

By Marshall Scott

It will surprise no one that I pay attention to news about health care. And these days there is certainly enough news to pay attention to. There’s the ongoing work in Washington that we hope will result in universal access to health care for all in America (and I say “we” deliberately in that the General Convention has called for universal access for a generation and more). There have been two reports, one on breast cancer and one on uterine cancer, each suggesting that screenings commonly accepted for some time aren’t as helpful as we thought. Finally, all of these have led to discussions of what we might and might not be able to offer and include in health care for all.

The conversations on all these topics have been heated. That’s because, I think, the topics have been in one way or another about limitation, and sometimes explicitly about how limitation might apply to each of us personally. We’re not comfortable talking about limitations, really; but we get even more disturbed, and even frightened, when we realize we might have to face limitations ourselves.

For me, though, this has focused my attention on a very personal question: what is my life worth? Actually, for me the question has been less abstract and more comparative: why is my life worth more than someone else’s?

In a way, that’s a difficult question to face. That’s because the applications of such a question are very specific. They’re also very critical.

Let me give some examples. According to current statistics there are more than 100,000 persons who might benefit from donation of an organ. However, in all of 2008 less than 28,000 organs were transplanted. That’s not the number of donors; it’s the number of organs. The number of persons who die who become donors are perhaps 6,000. Now, if my heart or my liver begins to fail, I might indeed benefit from a transplant, but I would be only one of thousands. If I accept a donor organ, I can be sure another person will die. So, why is my life worth more than someone else’s?

We don’t have to choose an issue as blunt as organ transplant. Consider the announcement from the U. S. Preventive Services Task Force changing the recommendations regarding screening for breast cancer. One way of understanding the findings of the Task Force is to consider that 1,904 women between the ages of 39 and 49 would need to be invited for screening to have one breast cancer death prevented. Many women, and many physicians, have been very critical. They worry that, based on the recommendation, insurance companies will deny payment for screenings for women younger than 50, whether for those with circumstances that might indicate an exception or for those who simply want the screening. They point to women who have benefited from mammograms, and ask why 1903 unnecessary mammograms aren’t worth the saving of the 1904th – especially when we can’t really know which woman in the 1904 is the one who will actually benefit.

However, that sounds like a choice between spending resources for mammograms or not. That’s not really the situation. How we use resources (including but not limited to money) is important because they’re limited, and as I said above, resources used in one place aren’t available for another. So, where might we use these resources? According to the CDC in 2005 more than 40,000 women died of breast cancer. However, in the same year almost 330,000 women – eight times as many – died of heart disease. So, if we committed the same resources of those 1900 plus mammograms to heart disease screening instead? Would we save eight women instead of one? Why is the one woman’s life more important than the eight women’s?

We have known for some time that achieving universal access to health care is really a matter of political will. We can do it, but we can’t do everything. I remember from my youth that wonderful poster, “What if we had all the money we needed for schools and the military had to have a bake sale to buy a bomber?” So, perhaps one thing that gets us closer to universal access is cancellation of the F-22 fighter program.

The same thing is true within health care. Just how great our resources for care will be is largely a matter of political will (and no, I don’t think the market will be more effective in meeting our needs in the future than it has been in the past), but they will certainly not be infinite. We will be able to do much, but we won’t be able to do anything. We can give that a negative focus and speak of “rationing,” or we can give it a positive focus and speak of “comparative effectiveness;” but we won’t be able to do everything, and we will have to set priorities.

And as we participate in setting those priorities, I think this is a relevant if difficult question: “Why is my life more important than someone else’s?” I think it’s especially apt for Christians. We are the community of him who laid down his life for us. We remember in light of his sacrifice that he said, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” So, this question is particularly important for us.

Now, I don’t want to claim any particular nobility here. This question may be easy or hard to ask in the abstract, but I have no illusion that it has to be hard to ask in the particular. If the person at the center of the discussion were my wife or one of my children, I don’t know that I could maintain a sense of altruism.

Still, it seems to me the critical question. Whatever our hopes for health care reform, we know we won’t be able to do everything for every person, any more than we are able to now. Within those limitations we are required to set priorities, and in those priorities there will be some who won’t get what they want, or will only get it at great difficulty and expense. We can hold those decisions at arms length, and let politicians and policy makers take the heat and the blame. Or, we can consider what we would forego as individuals, and call on those politicians and policy makers to use wisely the resources we decline. As a people gathered around one who let go of his life that we might have ours, we have a special responsibility for this very question. Why is my life more important than anyone else’s? And, how will I act on the answer I discern?

The Rev. Marshall Scott is a chaplain in the Saint Luke’s Health System, a ministry of the Diocese of West Missouri. A past president of the Assembly of Episcopal Healthcare Chaplains, and an associate of the Order of the Holy Cross, he keeps the blog Episcopal Chaplain at the Bedside.

Supporting the Employment Non-Discrimination Act

By Bill Carroll

I recently wrote to my local paper in support of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which will most likely be up for a vote in the U.S. House soon. The text of my letter is found at the conclusion of this article. Please remember to write your Representatives in Congress, as well as your local newspaper, in your own words. They particularly need to hear from Christians who support an end to workplace discrimination against LGBT persons. As the letter notes, some conservative Christians will try to frame ENDA as an assault on religious liberty, as they attempted to do with regard to the hate crimes bill. This false witness makes a mockery of our Lord’s invitation to simple truth telling and keeps the Church in bondage to the violence of the fallen powers. Our advocacy for full civil equality for LGBT persons is at least as important as our attempts to become a Church that extends an equal welcome to all.

I am convinced that working to prevent violence and discrimination forms an integral part of the Church’s evangelical witness. So too do our efforts to repent of our sins against LGBT persons and to give public testimony to God’s equal love for all. This is crucial if we are to reach coming generations for Christ. I noted with interest the recent report from the strategic planning committee for the Episcopal Church, which listed “reaching youth and young adults” as our top strategic goal. To quote Bishop Tom Breidenthal’s address at our recent diocesan convention in Southern Ohio, which resonates with my own experience working with young adults:

As for college students, every indication is that Generation Next values the older generation, and seeks its guidance. But, as recent graduates of our own diocesan youth program have repeatedly told me, they want a voice at the table and the real opportunity to make a difference rather than just “fitting in.” Again, they have a deep reverence for the past, but they are choosy in this regard. They want the best past, not the worst. They want the ancient liturgy of the church and the sacraments and the creeds. But they don’t want lingering racism, opposition to the ordination of women, and the ongoing questioning of gay and lesbian communicants as proper Christians.

Here is my letter. Again, please don’t forget to write one of your own.

November 13, 2009

To the editor:

The House of Representatives will soon consider H. R. 3017, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. This bill would prohibit workplace discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered persons.

Opponents will likely play to fears about losing religious liberty. Such fears are baseless. The bill will ensure fair treatment under the law for people who face discrimination in our society. Questions of doctrine will be left for religious communities to sort out for themselves.

I am a priest serving as the rector of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens. As a whole, the Episcopal Church is moving forward to welcome all people equally. In Southern Ohio, our bishop has confirmed this direction by ordaining partnered clergy and permitting same sex unions. Not all Episcopalians agree with this emerging consensus, including some members of our parish. Nevertheless, Good Shepherd gladly embraces these developments and has done so for decades.

We should distinguish between the practices of a given community and the liberties that government ought to secure for all. Since 1976, the Episcopal Church has advocated for “equal protection of the laws” for LGBT people. This stance could be affirmed independently from our commitment to equality within the Church. I hope that other citizens, whatever their own beliefs, will support equality under the law for their LGBT neighbors. Please join me in asking Representatives Wilson and Space to oppose discrimination and vote “yes” on H.R. 3017.

The Rev. Bill Carroll

The Rev. Dr. R. William Carroll is rector of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens, Ohio. He received his Ph.D. in Christian theology from the University of Chicago Divinity School. His sermons appear on his parish blog. He also blogs at Living the Gospel. He is a member of the Third Order of the Society of Saint Francis.

On Civility

By Bill Carroll

O God, you have bound us together in a common life. Help us in the midst of our struggles for justice and truth, to confront one another without hatred or bitterness, and to work together with mutual forbearance and respect; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

“In Times of Conflict,” Book of Common Prayer, p. 824.

For a couple of months now, I have been praying out loud during the Prayers of the People for “civility in our national life.” I am terrified, frankly, by the prospect of political violence in this country. This is fueled in part by talk radio and cable news, but these are really the contemporary media for an old and ugly message. More fundamentally, what we are seeing is driven by ancient malignancies at the very foundations of American life. Populist paranoia about government is nothing new. Nor is the appeal to violence to subvert the democratic process and thereby preserve privilege based on race and class.

I have been following the debate about whether and to what extent the unrest is fueled by racism. In one online conversation here in Athens, Ohio, I made the following points:

I think it's obvious that racism plays a role. Certainly in the level of vitriol and implicit and explicit threats against the President and his family. Also in the fantasies that Obama's rather moderate policies are somehow radical. But more fundamentally in the way in which some opposition movements…center around fears of lost white privilege. Sadly, this kind of visceral argument still has traction among many Americans. Wait till we get to immigration reform. Bob Dylan had it right. The poor white person is "only a pawn in their game."

I don't believe that focusing on racism as a property of individuals is much help. Far more helpful to focus on racism as a property of systems, in which we all participate, from which some of us benefit more than others, and which we are all responsible for fighting. (Guilt is another matter and rests squarely with those who benefit.) Ultimately, I believe, only a very small minority truly benefits from racism and other interlocking oppressions.

That said, it is also obvious that not everyone who opposes this or that policy of the President is doing so out of racism. Obama himself invited a vigorous public debate. Nevertheless, the very real threat of political violence to undermine the policies of the first black president is thoroughly racist and truly frightening. Members of both parties and of neither need to insist on civility and on moving the focus away from ad hominem attacks that have nothing to do with reality and on to the issues, many of which call for fundamental changes in our economy and our society.

The only qualification that I would make to these remarks is the following: in the end, no one truly benefits from oppression. Oppression of any kind involves spiritual death, even for those on whom it confers wealth and worldly power. As Dr. King liked to point out, it harms the oppressed, first and foremost, but also the oppressor.

It is no secret that the Episcopal Church has struggled with our own forms of polarization, some of them driven by the same dynamics that are present in secular politicsw. At our best, however, we have been able to come together as a single Body around the Lord’s Table, even when we disagree. Our Church’s bold stand for universal health care, which favors a single payer system and pragmatic steps toward such a system, should make it clear that our commitment to civility and encouragement of conscientious dissent should not be confused with being wishy-washy or failing to take a stand.

As important as it is to take such a stand in the present debate, however, we have another witness to make. Because we believe in Jesus, because we share a distinctive history as Anglican Christians, and because we have been shaped by the Gospel story and the particular practices defined by our baptismal vows, we know how to stay connected with those with whom we disagree. We can “confront one another without hatred or bitterness,” whether as members of Christ’s Body or as members of the body politic.

Both in the Church and in society, we need people who passionately advocate for a vision of the common good without losing sight of the humanity of our opponents. As Christians committed to a Catholic vision of comprehensiveness, we know that our salvation is closely bound up with that of our neighbors. The Reign of God that Jesus brings is at bottom a social reality. The Church is a highly imperfect but real anticipation and sacramental sign of that Kingdom. In Christ, we are being saved together—or not at all. Because our visions of the common good conflict, we can and must confront our neighbor. But because he or she is our neighbor, we can lay aside the spirit of fear and violence, as we seek peace and justice for the earthly city:

O God, you manifest in your servants the signs of your presence: Send forth upon us the Spirit of love, that in companionship with one another your abounding grace may increase among us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Rev. Dr. R. William Carroll is rector of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens, Ohio. He received his Ph.D. in Christian theology from the University of Chicago Divinity School. His sermons appear on his parish blog. He also blogs at Living the Gospel. He is a member of the Third Order of the Society of Saint Francis.

The necessity of outrage

By Marshall Scott

I was one who had waited with great excitement to see the President speak on health care. I will admit to a certain personal stake in what he would say; I am, after all, a chaplain. I am also an Episcopalian, whose General Convention has affirmed again and again, and as recently as this past summer, the Episcopal Church’s support for universal access to safe and affordable health care.

I don’t think anyone will be surprised that I was largely pleased by what I heard. I was also interested in the political theater of the event. There was a carefully choreographed dance of expression and gesture. The supportive Democrats stood and applauded. In those few times when the President explicitly reached out to the Republicans they smiled, if a bit grimly; and they applauded, if half-heartedly. And between those few references they sat, mute, and unresponsive.

All, that is, except Congressman Joe Wilson. The President came to a part of the speech when he debunked false claims that had been made broadly about the various bills being pieced together. And as the President stated that there was no provision in the bills being pieced together for these benefits to extend to illegal immigrants, Congressman Wilson lost control and cried out, “You lie!” I was shocked at the disrespect, both for the moment and for the Office of the President. Those present were shocked and disapproving, in both parties. Perhaps the person who appeared least shocked was President Obama himself. As he has done so often he simply held his calm and returned to his point.

There was certainly outrage at the incident, and under pressure from House and Senate leadership in both parties Congressman Wilson apologized to the President. The outrage even lingered for a while. It was, of course, a perfect television moment, and it was replayed again and again to feed the needs of the 24-hour news cycle.

I was certainly outraged at the event. We have fallen far if anyone, but especially an elected Representative, should show such disrespect for the Office of the President, whoever currently occupies that office. But quickly I was outraged at something else: I was outraged at the opposition to making provision to provide care for illegal immigrants.

In fact we need to make provision for providing health care for illegal immigrants. The most important reason is simply one of public health; and as we face this fall not only our seasonal flu but also H1N1 flu, we should be acutely aware of it. Those populations that don’t get care provide reservoirs, opportunities for viruses and other diseases to flourish and adapt, and perhaps become more problematic. This is not, of course, because the victims are illegal, for citizens and legal residents will suffer in much greater numbers. It is because they are not identified and treated in a timely manner if at all. We have certainly seen this issue in AIDS and in the return of tuberculosis: populations that fear seeking treatment, whether out of shame or fear of legal consequences or simple lack of resources, create reservoirs of disease that put the rest of us at continued risk.

There is also the economic reason to make such provisions. In some numbers we will be providing care in any case. We will not send them away; indeed, we cannot. The laws that have made it illegal to “dump” patients, sending them from one ER to another based on ability to pay, make no distinction between patients who are insured or uninsured, legal or illegal. We make the case often enough that lack of primary care brings patients to ER doors only when the illness become in some way debilitating. Thus, they arrive at the place where care is most expensive, and at the time when their illnesses are more advanced, more problematic, and more expensive. And we cannot turn them away. Of course, we don’t want to turn them away. Certainly, Episcopal and other faith-based hospitals see their missions as providing care to all to the best of their ability, including those who can’t pay. But, there is also the law; and under the law we have to provide assessment, stabilization,
and care as appropriate and as we are able.

So, we will be paying for them. Those who simply wish they would go away seem sometimes to hope we could somehow not pay; as if our not providing health care would somehow encourage them to leave. So, they want no provision; and with no provision, it becomes another reason that providers have to “cost-shift.” We don’t end up paying through a program, so we end up paying through higher expenses elsewhere.

But for us as Christians, the most important reason to provide for illegal immigrants is moral. These are still our brothers and sisters in Christ. They are among “the least of these” in Jesus’ family, and Jesus himself has called us to provide care and support. They are neighbors; and if they are neighbors who make us uncomfortable, with whom some don’t wish to associate, well, neither was the Good Samaritan. We are called to care for them simply because they have need, and because it is the Christian thing to do.

We are also called because it is just. These neighbors are among us, most of them working and working hard, and they should no more be “muzzled” than the ox that treads the grain. Do they take jobs away from others? That’s debatable; but it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be treated justly for the jobs they do. They participate in our economy, working and paying local taxes and often income taxes, including Medicare and Social Security – taxes from which they can never hope to benefit. At the same time, we benefit, those of us who expect to receive Social Security and Medicare benefits some day. They participate in this economy, and receiving benefits of this economy is just.

But what have faith-based arguments to do, some will ask, with a government program? Is there not separation between Church and State? Well, in fact in health care there isn’t much. Faith-based institutions receive the same Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements that other institutions do. They have the same requirements to meet as employers and providers. They are accountable for the National Patient Safety Goals and for infectious disease reporting in the same way.

And to turn the argument around, the diseases don’t distinguish between people of faith and those who aren’t. Some have suggested that the burden of providing care for illegal immigrants, or of providing universal access at all, should fall to those charitable organizations who include it in their mission. But, all our health is “public.” Illness, like the rain, “falls on the just and the unjust.” We have long said we all benefit when certain risks are shared as widely as possible. We have long structured our insurance that way, including especially our health insurance. And there is no wider base for the risk than all who share in the economy – all residents, all providers, all of us. There is also no wider distribution of responsibility, no wider sharing of sacrifice. Thus, in the face of illnesses that do not discriminate, it is unjust for us to discriminate. And as we would affirm here, justice is a Gospel value.

Congressman Wilson wanted to claim a place among those calling not only for an end of illegal immigration, but for isolation and estrangement of those who are already here. Apparently, obnoxious as it might seem, he has succeeded. His outburst has become the central issue of his reelection campaign, used by both his campaign and his opponent’s to raise funds. And yet, as powerfully as I disagree with his position, I will agree that he has raised an important issue. No, President Obama didn’t lie when he said that no legislation proposed so far allows the benefits of health care and health insurance to illegal immigrants. At the same time, we all understand the truth that they will need health care, and somehow we will provide it. Congressman Wilson is outraged that some how we might provide care to illegal immigrants. I think we should be outraged at Congressman Wilson and his compatriots, because I think we must.

The Rev. Marshall Scott is a chaplain in the Saint Luke’s Health System, a ministry of the Diocese of West Missouri. A past president of the Assembly of Episcopal Healthcare Chaplains, and an associate of the Order of the Holy Cross, he keeps the blog Episcopal Chaplain at the Bedside.

Health care reform as Christian imperative

By Bill Carroll

An Open Letter to My Congressman on Health Care Reform

I sent the following letter to my Congressman, the Hon. Charles Wilson, (Ohio, 6th District). I wrote similar letters to Ohio’s two Senators, George Voinovich and Sherrod Brown. In light of our Church’s clear teaching on universal access to health care, moving in the direction of a single payer, public system, I would urge all brothers and sisters to do likewise. In the letter, the colleague that I quote is the Rev. Ed Bacon of All Saints, Pasadena.

August 19, 2009

Dear Congressman Wilson:

I am writing to you as a constituent and the pastor of a church in your district. I am also writing you as a father and husband, and the son of aging parents. With these responsibilities in mind, I beg you to do all in your power to pass substantive health care reform. Please don’t listen to the hysterical voices that try to sidetrack us from this crucial debate. For every one of them, there are hundreds of Americans who struggle daily under the current system and want change.

Take our family, for example. Our eight-year-old son Daniel has significant developmental disabilities, and, like many Americans, we live in fear of losing our insurance. He is a walking “preexisting condition,” and the Down Syndrome that affects every system in his body renders him vulnerable to several costly and potentially life threatening illnesses.

We are lucky that the church I serve provides health insurance for our family. This is a huge financial burden for a small congregation. It costs us about $1700/month, a sizeable proportion of my monthly salary. I can only imagine how such expenses affect businesses, large and small, and hamper economic growth.

Even more importantly, however, health care affects real people. Some members of my congregation are not so fortunate as we are. I am writing this letter on their behalf, as well as that of underinsured and uninsured persons throughout Athens County. Many of these folks have turned to me for help when they could not pay for a doctor’s visit or fill a prescription. Others have needs too large for private charity to meet. The people we both serve need justice, not charity.

Our congregation and our diocese, the Diocese of Southern Ohio (82 congregations numbering nearly 30,000 people), have both endorsed universal access to care as the minimum morally acceptable standard. In fact, our church board voted unanimously to endorse these principles. Our denomination also supports universal access, with our eventual goal a publicly funded system. We are Republicans, Democrats, and Independents, from a wide variety of backgrounds, united by our faith, which teaches us to love our neighbor and serve the common good. I am convinced that a public option has to be part of meaningful reform, which really moves us in the direction of healthcare as a public good rather than a private privilege. As a colleague of mine recently observed, “Jesus told his followers to heal the sick. When we turn our back to the sick, we are turning our back to God.”

I wish you well as you return to Washington, and hope that you will be fighting for all of us. I understand that politics is the “art of the possible,” and that compromises will inevitably be made. I want you to know that more may be possible than we think, if we listen to our hopes rather than our fears. I am praying for you and your colleagues as you engage this important debate.

Yours sincerely,

The Rev. R. William Carroll

The Rev. Dr. R. William Carroll is rector of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens, Ohio. He received his Ph.D. in Christian theology from the University of Chicago Divinity School. His sermons appear on his parish blog. He also blogs at Living the Gospel. He is a member of the Third Order of the Society of Saint Francis.

Building the American wall between church and state

By Thomas Penfield Jackson

As we celebrate this, the 233rd anniversary of the events that brought about the union of England’s 13 North American colonies to form the nation now called the United States of America, we Marylanders especially also commemorate the 375th anniversary of the founding of the first of those colonies to vouchsafe civil liberty of conscience to its citizens. Would that the rest of country would give us our due!

In the year 1534, Henry VIII, a 43-year-old monarch who had been king of England for 25 years, wrested control of the English national church from the See of Rome. Exactly 100 years later, 28-year-old Cecil Calvert, who had been the second Lord Baltimore for only two years, attempted to do much the same thing in his tiny proprietary colony of Maryland. Without fully knowing the significance of what he was doing, he sought to separate control of civil government from the grasp of religion altogether. The notion was, to the minds of most Englishmen at the time, both heresy and treason. The English believed that religious conformity and the safety of the nation were indispensable to one another.

Cecil Calvert was not the first Englishman to conceive of the idea of church-state separation. His father, George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore, originated it but died before he could put it into practice. True men of their times, George and Cecil Calvert witnessed throughout their lives, even if they did not personally experience it, the misery inflicted by English religious persecution; first, in the name of the security of the realm, and later for the salvation of misguided souls. Both were convinced that neither reason was valid, and for almost a half century Cecil Calvert repulsed multiple efforts to take his colony from him and force him to concede his error. But when Cecil Calvert died in 1675 at the age of 69, Maryland had been prosperous and finally at peace for the last 15 years under the secular government he had designed for it at the beginning.

Baltimore’s “Maryland Designe” was a plan of governance that called for his colony to be officially non-religious. The governing elite happened to be Catholics, but derived no benefit from it. No public worship of any kind was permitted. No religious structures could be erected. No faith received governmental support or preference. No tithes were collected. Clergy and laity were indistinguishable from one another, and no proselytizing (except for Indians) was allowed. The only oath required to vote or hold office was an oath of fealty to the Lord Proprietor.

By the beginning of the 18th century, however, Maryland had been confiscated from Cecil Calvert’s son and successor, Charles. Maryland was governed by an Anglican royal governor. The right to hold public office and to vote required an oath of allegiance to the Church of England which had been firmly established as the official and only sanctioned religion of Maryland. Baltimore’s own faith was once more an object of persecution. Catholics were forbidden to purchase or inherit land. Catholic worship was proscribed by law, and Catholic priests could be imprisoned for life. The Jesuits’ beautiful chapel at St. Mary’s had been dismantled. The law even commanded that children of deceased Protestant fathers be taken from surviving Catholic mothers. As one historian has derisively put it: “So ended Maryland’s experiment in religious toleration.”

Scientists tell us that experiments that disprove a hypothesis can be as important, and as valuable, as those that confirm one. Historians and political scientists may have pronounced Cecil Calvert’s experiment in secular civil government a failure, but in fact it proved the opposite. Baltimore’s “Maryland Designe” simply could not survive in the midst of England’s own bitter strife over the nation’s religious identity. In England one could not be politically correct without being religiously correct as well. Which religion was the correct one was an issue that had divided and bloodied the country since the time of Henry VIII. Anglicans and Catholics, Puritans and Presbyterians, Quakers and Baptists, had fought with one another for over a century for political dominion. Cecil Calvert had tried to prove the quarrel unnecessary, but he was ahead of his time. Too few heeded the lesson he offered. Maryland succumbed to the Anglican tide that had overwhelmed a monarch who had favored the wrong religion.

Throughout most of the 18th century Maryland remained officially Anglican. Marylanders paid tithes to the government to support the Anglican clergy. They attended Anglican services, were cited by Anglican church wardens for moral transgressions, were tried by Anglican vestries, and punished by Anglican magistrates if they failed to amend their conduct. Even Protestants of other sects could not vote or hold public office.

And so it was until almost the eve of the American Revolution. Maryland, along with Virginia, was the most Anglican of the original North American colonies. Ironically, the English government never sought to subject the others to the national church to a similar extent. New England continued to be ruled by Congregationalists and Pennsylvania by Quakers. Rhode Island was allowed to go her own way, much as Baltimore had intended for Maryland.

Notwithstanding its monopoly on political power, however, it cannot be said that the Church of England thrived in 18th century Maryland. We must remember that the 18th century was the Age of Enlightenment. All religions were being subjected to rational inquiry. To an ever-increasing extent learned people were becoming convinced that one must reason his or her way to a personal religious faith. If reason did not comport with dogma, it did not support religious belief, and reason did not support many articles of Anglican faith, such as the divinity of Christ or the concept of the Holy Trinity. By the time of the Revolution many nominal Anglicans paid lip service to such matters, but no longer accepted them on faith.

Moreover, the Church of England did not always persuade dissenters to abandon their own beliefs. They supported the Church financially and obeyed its stricture because the government made them do so, but Catholics remained Catholics and Quakers remained Quakers in their hearts and minds, and resented the officious dominion of the Anglicans.

Finally, the fourth Baron of Baltimore, Benedict Leonard Calvert, who spent his entire life in England and never set foot in Maryland, converted to the Church of England in 1715. His reward was a restoration of some of his prerogatives as Lord Proprietor under the original charter of 1632, one of which was the appointment of Anglican clergy to benefices in the colony, a perquisite never used by any of his predecessors. He and his successors did so more as a matter of patronage rather than merit, and the quality of the Anglican priests sent to serve in the parishes of Maryland reflected the fact. Most were worthy men, but some did no credit to the Church of England. For political reasons the Bishop of London retained oversight over the Anglican clergy in Maryland. Maryland never got a resident presiding bishop, and clerical discipline suffered accordingly.

Nevertheless as the Revolution drew nigh, religion, and particularly its diversity throughout the colonies, was much on the minds of the leaders of all the colonies who would take them to war with England and, if successful, meld them into a new nation. Religion was still very much a part of the fabric of national life on both sides of the Atlantic.

In 1689, having been unable to settle upon which was the One True Religion through civil war and alternating tyrannies for 150 years, England had enacted its own grudging Act of Toleration. Non-conforming Protestants who took the Oaths of Allegiance and Supremacy could worship as they chose. Non-Trinitarians, Catholics and Quakers did not qualify—less generous, to be sure, than Baltimore’s Maryland Act Concerning Religion of 40 years earlier, but progress nonetheless.

Moreover, the concept of “toleration” of disparate religious beliefs had been rising in esteem in both North America and England since 1689, and was evolving into a widely-acknowledged fundamental human right of “free exercise.” Non-conforming religious practices were no longer regarded as a matter of privilege, to be permitted or prohibited at the whim of government. To follow the “dictates of conscience, unrestrained and unpunished by the magistrate,” as John Locke put it, was achieving recognition as an inalienable “natural and absolute right,” a component of the liberty the Founding Fathers expected to follow upon independence. As the Continental Congress met in Philadelphia in the summer of 1776, religious freedom was being written into the Virginia Declaration of Rights by George Mason and James Madison. By November Maryland had adopted its own version. The Marylanders who drafted it were all practicing Anglicans but one, who was a Catholic.

After the War, as the Constitutional Convention met again in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787, religion was once more a subject of debate. The consensus they reached was to confer no powers at all concerning religion upon the new federal government. Regulation and support of religion, if needed, would be left to the state governments. Thus, the only mention of religion to be found anywhere in the original draft Constitution as it emanated from Philadelphia is Article VI, clause 3, which provides that no religious test shall ever be required to hold any office or public trust under the authority of the United States.

Some new states ratified the Constitution as written. Others insisted a Bill of Rights was needed, and when it appeared that ratification might fail unless amendments were added, the newly created Congress of the United States drafted the Bill of Rights as we know it today—the first ten amendments. Because the original Constitution set forth expressly what the federal government could do, but was silent on what it could not do, proponents of a bill of rights sought to make explicit those subjects that should be forbidden for all time to the new central government. First and foremost, as we know, was the establishment of a national church and interference with the free exercise of religion throughout the land.

None of the Founding Fathers was hostile to religion. They were all men of faith, believed in a Supreme Being, and in an afterlife in Heaven. But they had come to a realization that religion and civil government, like oil and water, did not mix. Ben Franklin said it best. “When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself, and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it, so that its professors are obliged to call for help of the civil powers, ‘tis a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.”

Disestablishment of the Church of England, however, had begun in the colonies even before the Revolution. For Anglican priests the Declaration of Independence presented a unique problem. They had sworn an oath of allegiance to the English monarch and his national church, something that no other denomination required. Not only did disestablishment deprive them of their public support, they were now required to break the oath under which they had been ordained. It is reported that only 16 of the 54 Anglican priests in Maryland were willing to do so. The others evaded in various ways—by retirement or a return to England—and by 1780 only 15 remained in the state. Fewer than half of the parishes had incumbent rectors, and it fell to the vestries in each parish to provide support for their priests.

In November 1780 the Anglican clergy and laymen of Maryland convened at Chestertown, Maryland, the first such convention to be held in what would in a few years become the United States of America. It formally adopted the name of the Protestant Episcopal Church for what had been the Church of England. Conventions followed in the other states to the same effect, and the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States was born.

The most troublesome issue for Americans over the years since Independence has not been the proliferation of sects as a threat to national allegiance, as had been the case in England before the Revolution. Most Americans could be counted as loyal citizens, whatever church they attended. The problem, committed by the First Amendment to the several states to solve, was identifying a surrogate source of the moral and practical education necessary to good citizenship. If there were no public support for the churches, how were young people to learn to be honest, law-abiding citizens?

The answer for many years was for the state government to support those religious entities that had for centuries been looked to for the primary education of the young. The clergy of all faiths were the teachers of children as well as ministers of the Gospel. Along with reading and writing and arithmetic, children were expected to learn the Golden Rule and all that went with it.

The wisest of the Founding Fathers, however, saw the implications of using government money to finance the education of the young through public support of the churches—any church. Which faiths would be deemed worthy of support? What would prevent the insidious growth of a favored church into an official religion? A consensus slowly emerged that the best answer, as we know, is universal public education without religious involvement. Public education sans religious instruction is now offered throughout the United States, although sectarian educational institutions still carry some of the burden, ostensibly without governmental support.

Not until adoption of the 14th Amendment following the Civil War, however, were the worst of iniquities allowed to the states but denied to the national government by the Constitution prohibited to the states as well. And it was not until 1947 that the Supreme Court was to hold that the 14th Amendment took away the powers of the states to support or regulate religion to the same extent as it had been withheld from Congress, in a case, not surprisingly, involving public support for parochial schools Progress in divorcing church and state has been exceedingly slow.

Yet for such progress as we may have made since Lord Baltimore’s experiment, we have not yet been able to find the precise proper location at which to place our Wall between Church and State, and we probably never will. Politics and theology remain commingled in numerous contexts today. We cannot agree on matters of abortion, or gay marriage, or stem cell research. We cannot even agree on what our children should be taught about how the world began, or how the human race came to be. Yet we must concede that such issues have a predominantly religious dimension to them. Proponents and opponents alike on all sides—intelligent and well-meaning people—clamor for civil governments to use their powers to aid their side; quite simply, to enact their religious convictions into the law of the land.

The lesson Baltimore’s experiment imperfectly tried to teach us nearly 400 years ago, however, remains largely unlearned in much of the rest of the world. In recent memory we have seen a Balkan nation torn apart by religious-driven warfare over the right to rule it. Iraq has been unable to form a functional civil government as religious factions contend for political dominion. In Iran today a proud and progressive citizenry is tyrannized, and the rest of us terrified, by a theocratic dictatorship determined to arm itself with the weapons of Armageddon and to exterminate another despised religion.

We do not have to go back to the beginning, to Cecil Calvert’s time, but perhaps we would all do well to remember the first principle of all religions everywhere, and nowhere better expressed than in the words of that earliest and greatest of all the great figures of 17th century England. As William Shakespeare has Hamlet say to his friend Horatio, “There’s a Divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will.” In other words, God will have the final say in how well we live (or have lived) our lives, no matter how we—Christians, Muslims, and Jews— order our earthly civic affairs.


Thomas Penfield Jackson was a United States District Court Judge for the District of Columbia. A former president of the District of Columbia Bar Association, he is currently an attorney with the law firm of Jackson and Campbell, P.C. He preached this sermon last month at the Church of the Ascension in Lexington Park, Md.

Iran and the hour of decision

By R. William Carroll

Brothers and sisters, we are likely too close to the history unfolding before our eyes in Iran to understand it in all its complexity. I for one do not assume that Moussavi will live up to the high hopes many have for him. Of course, he may not live at all. But, even if he does live, he may well disappoint. Perhaps Moussavi will not turn out to be the leader the Iranians in the streets long for him to be—at least not in every respect. At the same time, the first person testimony of the protestors who have taken to the streets is undeniable. Listen to these urgent and heartfelt words from an anonymous college student, blogging in Farsi:

I will participate in the demonstrations tomorrow. Maybe they will turn violent. Maybe I will be one of the people who is going to get killed. I’m listening to all my favorite music. I even want to dance to a few songs. I always wanted to have very narrow eyebrows. Yes, maybe I will go to the salon before I go tomorrow! There are a few great movie scenes that I also have to see. I should drop by the library, too...All family pictures have to be reviewed, too. I have to call my friends as well to say goodbye. All I have are two bookshelves which I told my family who should receive them. I’m two units away from getting my bachelor’s degree but who cares about that. My mind is very chaotic. I wrote these random sentences for the next generation so they know we were not just emotional and under peer pressure. So they know that we did everything we could to create a better future for them…This note is dedicated to tomorrow’s children…

Who, my friends, could remain unmoved by such words as these? They reveal a self-sacrificing attitude. This young person clearly enjoys life to the fullest and yet is willing to lay all that down—conscious of the cost—to secure a better future for generations to come.

Add to this the following comments from President Obama, which are at once grave and inspiring:

The Iranian government must understand that the world is watching. We mourn each and every innocent life that is lost. We call on the Iranian government to stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people. The universal rights to assembly and free speech must be respected, and the United States stands with all who seek to exercise those rights.
Obama too may not be everything some of us hoped he’d be, but we should be glad that he is calling the world to these high ideals, enshrined in our own Bill of Rights and aspirations as freedom-loving people.

We live in a moment filled with possibilities yet fraught with risk. In such moments, the actions of small people and big people alike have the chance to make a difference for tomorrow’s children. Much depends on our faithfulness in such an “hour of decision.” It would be overwhelming if everything depended on us. Fortunately, it does not. Ultimately, our future lies in God’s hands. We shape that future and mould it by our free decisions. But God directs and perfects it, bringing our history to fulfillment in the Kingdom of God.

Despite our failures of nerve—despite many refusals and denials—God is patiently working out God’s purpose for us. As followers of Christ, we know that more than the world is watching. GOD is watching. And God will not be mocked. It may not seem like it for a time. Evil may indeed triumph for a season. But in the end, all things will be brought to their perfection in Christ. In his remarks, Obama goes on to quote Martin Luther King: “The arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Last Saturday, I participated in the ordination of four new priests, including Fr. Steve Domienik, who will begin serving alongside me and the people of our parish this summer. In the ordination liturgy, the bishop prays a powerful prayer that speaks both to the events unfolding in Iran and to the very real challenges we ourselves face in this country today. We offer the same prayer in the liturgy of Good Friday. In it, we pray:

O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Now maybe providence, which concerns God’s guidance of the world, its history, and everyone in it, is an idea that’s hard to grasp. Some Christians think about it in ways that are magical and superstitious and fail to give sufficient weight to the role of human freedom.

And yet, trust in God instills quiet confidence when all around us swirls in chaos. As we struggle along on the ground, things may seem hopeless. But with God, we can face the future calmly, because the whole of history is under the Lordship of Jesus Christ—who is both Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. In Christ, God has already brought life from death. And so, God is able to overcome; no matter what obstacles we present to the Kingdom.

When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we do so trusting that God’s Kingdom will come. For we know that, in Jesus, the Kingdom has already drawn near. In Jesus, God has drawn near in mercy, judgment and love. In his ministry, we see God’s Kingdom breaking out among us with sovereign power. And so, no matter how far the arc of the universe bends—no matter how far tyranny distorts it—no matter how far our ways may be from God’s, we keep on trusting in God’s grace—right here and right now—and we know God will prevail.

In Sunday's Epistle, Paul reminds the Corinthians of his sufferings as an apostle. They are for him means of participating in Christ’s resurrection victory. In Paul, we see an icon of our own journeys of faith. The closer we draw to Christ, the nearer we come to the little ones. The closer we draw to Christ, the more we find rejection and defeat in the sight of the world. And yet, we do not lose heart. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and behold we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

The Christian life is about the kind of trust that lays it all on the line. In light of the Gospel, the values that so often drive us become matters of indifference. We set aside reputation, honor, riches, happiness, and even life itself in order to gain the great pearl of the Kingdom.

As Christians, we believe the last days have come upon us in the Lord Jesus. Behold, says Paul, “Now is the acceptable time; now is the hour of salvation.” Even now, things that are cast down are being raised up. Even now, things that have grown old are being made new.

My brothers and sisters, I ask you: Given the nearness, newness, and now-ness of God’s Kingdom, how will we let it change our lives?

The Rev. Dr. R. William Carroll is rector of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens, Ohio. He received his Ph.D. in Christian theology from the University of Chicago Divinity School. His sermons appear on his parish blog. He also blogs at Living the Gospel. He is a member of the Third Order of the Society of Saint Francis.

There is no individual salvation, in this world or the next

By Jennifer McKenzie

In a column last week, Paul Krugman of The New York Times, decried the actions of Ronald Reagan as the precursor to our current national economic woes. I agree with his assessment and remember clearly the warnings that my Democratic Aunt and Uncle and Mother and Father doled at that time: “This is NOT good for America. This is NOT good for Americans.” But I’d like to take an even bigger picture look at these economic woes from a religious perspective.

The whole gamut of conservative attitudes on government that I believe have gotten us into this (and other) messes seems to verge on one very dangerous premise – one that is surprising in that it runs contrary to the collective conservative religious views. The premise is, “I know best what I need; therefore, let me decided for myself.“ Now, on the surface that seems to fit the religious viewpoint well: Individual choice, individual decision, individual salvation. But a superficial-only look will not do. At the root of this attitude is a different decision, a choice to ignore the belief that in Judeo-Christian tradition there is no individual salvation. And shame on those conservatives who still buy into a political viewpoint that upends their church- and synagogue-going natures. Community is the nexus for all decision and choice, both rational and emotional. I cannot make any decision without creating an impact on others. The community in which we live, move, and have our being is first our local community and state, then our nation, then the world. And all of those levels of community are governed in their contexts by…wait for it…a government. Just like we need our churches to be strong so that we have both nurture and accountability in our spiritual lives, we also need government to be strong and, yes, accountable.

But beyond that, the real curiosity inherent in D v. R politics is this: The conservatives who tend as a group to be more overtly religious are the very ones who seem to be denying the fact of sin. In other words, if we operate on the premise, “I know best what I need; therefore let me decide for myself” (i.e. small government) then we are eradicating the understanding of and belief in our tendency toward sin – failing to always do what is right where the other (my ‘neighbor’) is concerned; ignoring that every single human being is a beloved child of God; putting ‘me’ first and turning a blind eye to the plight of the poor, outcast, marginalized. Why is it, for example, that the most politically and by assumed extension religiously conservative counties in Virginia are the very ones who oppose again and again to care for Christ (ref. Matthew 25) by denying financial resources to the last and the least: homeless children and adults; mentally ill adults; resident aliens (ref. Leviticus 19:33-34)? Does anyone else find it ironic that the liberals are the ones who seem to operate more concretely under the premise that the individual cannot and therefore should not fully be trusted and that the accountability and therefore shared responsibility lies in the collective?

The clear corollary is that the sinful “me first-ness” has found a way into the political landscape surprisingly under the guise of conservative “family values” doctrine. And so, the rich cows of Bashan get richer, the poor marginalized get poorer, the economy goes sideways and no one wants to take responsibility because there appears to be no collective conscience from which to do so.

The Rev. Jennifer McKenzie has served at St. David's Church, Washington, D. C., and Christ Church, Alexandria, Va. She keeps the blog, The Reverend Mother.

What the court did and what it left undone

By L. Zoe Cole

What in the heck did the California Supreme Court do with Proposition 8? It looks suspiciously like they implicitly denounced California’s system for changing the state constitution. Many proponents of Proposition 8 believe they won, because the Court did not find that the measure itself was invalid. Some proponents of marriage equality fear they lost because the court did not find the measure invalid. Others wonder how a proposition that limits fundamental constitutional rights in any way is simply an “amendment” permitted by a simple popular majority vote, rather than an “alteration” requiring a two thirds vote of the legislature. And still others think the opinion represents illogical fence-sitting.

The decision may be illogical (even Oliver Wendell Holmes acknowledged that the "law does not always keep step with logic"), but it’s about as far from fence-sitting as a secular court can get. Contrary to popular slurs about "activist judges," courts don't make law, much less public policy (as pointed out in a quote from the majority opinion in the New York Times On-line article about the decision), they answer the questions litigants bring. Legal maxims rigorously maintained by most courts also require that an appellate court’s opinion be as narrowly tailored as possible to answer only the questions brought to it and those that cannot be avoided in answering the primary questions. I believe the Court could have gone farther than they did, but Courts are also inherently conservative (again, despite the popular lambasting they often receive). Within the confines of the actual legal situation they were asked to decide, the decision does make sense, even as it leaves room for additional litigation to work out its implications.

Supporters of marriage equality feared that, if upheld, Proposition 8 would invalidate the same-gender marriages that took place between the California Supreme Court’s ruling in The Marriage Cases, (2008) 43 Cal.4th 757, and the effective date of Proposition 8. An "ex post facto" law – which is prohibited by the U.S. Constitution, is one that makes something illegal, after the fact, so the parallel isn't exact here (because this is a civil case dealing with civil rights, rather than a criminal case), but it is close. As the court points out in its ruling, principles of legal construction require that taking away “vested rights” be clearly intended and not simply an accidental by-product. Because the language of Proposition 8 didn’t specify that it would invalidate previously legal same-gender marriages, it could prevent future same-gender marriages, but not undo existing marriages. If, as has been suggested elsewhere (see, for example the May 26, entry at, the California Supreme Court intended to give only what it could not legally avoid, then it makes absolute sense that the court would find a way to maintain the legality of these same-gender marriages.

Two things are hopeful for me in the Court’s ruling: 1) the Court’s insistence that its decision does not overturn The Marriage Cases, and 2) their insistence on the right of same-gender couples to establish the same legal relationship that opposite-gender couples do when they marry – just without the same name. "Civil unions" have all the same rights as "marriage," according to the Court, but civil unions are for same-gender couples while marriages are for opposite-gender couples. Emphasis on the similarity of the two paradoxically sets up an eventual challenge on the same grounds the U.S. Supreme Court overturned segregation in Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education: separate is not equal. If the civil unions and domestic partnerships are legally indistinguishable from marriage, then the logic of Brown and its progeny will require that either a single term is used or that the terms may be used interchangeably by both same-gender and opposite-gender couples.

The California Supreme Court was not asked in this case to make a decision based on equal protection considerations. They already decided the equal protection questions in The Marriage Cases and have gone to great lengths to preserve their answer. The limited legal issue in this case was whether Proposition 8 was an "amendment to" or a "revision of" the state constitution. The Court answered that the measure was indeed merely an “amendment,” and thus did not require a 2/3 majority vote by the legislature to put it on the ballot, but carefully preserved their previous finding about marriage equality. They didn't have to do that, but they did. The Court also, whether intentionally or not, seems to have created a ruling that will encourage further litigation that will eventually undermine even the narrow limitation on the right of some couples to designate their relationship as a “marriage.”

Other events, such as an overhaul of the constitution as a whole (something also being called for because of the state’s unique economic crisis) or a subsequent ballot measure in favor of same-gender marriage, may obviate the need to overturn the decision the Court has made today. In the meantime, however, the court has raised more questions than it has answered. The more state Supreme Courts hold that civil unions and domestic partnerships involve the same legal rights and responsibilities; and the more opposite-gender couples who chose to create these relationships, although they have the legal right to use the “designation” “marriage” for their relationship, the less justification there is in maintaining a legal distinction among them. If opposite-gender couples can choose “marriage” or “civil union” for their “officially recognized family union,” what legal precedent can prevent same-gender couples from making the same choice between “marriage” and “civil union”? As more states officially recognize same-gender relationships – whether marriage or something like marriage – pressure to reconsider the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) will also grow, as will the sophistication of the legal arguments against DOMA, and in our very mobile society, the need for states to recognize the valid same-gender marriages of those married elsewhere as well as the rights of the children of such relationships.

While it is certainly frustrating to be given only half a loaf, I suspect this will turn out to be a very important decision on the road to marriage equality for all. Although it is difficult to wait for the next case to form itself and then work its way through the right court with the right facts and the right law to be challenged, this may very well be the same-gender marriage equivalent of the US Supreme Court case Griswold v. Connecticut, which set the stage for Roe v. Wade. In anticipation of the California Supreme Court’s decision on Proposition 8, the news seems to be full of evidence that attitudes toward marriage equality are changing. All the news is good. We are moving toward secular legal marriage equality. Within our lifetimes, our children and our grandchildren will look back and wonder why in the world people ever thought marriage needed to be limited to opposite-gender couples.

The law is not perfect. It does not actually effect social change. Movement in the law merely reflects social change. Brown is a 1954 decision, and yet, miscegenation laws weren't finally struck down until Loving v. Virginia in 1972. Bowers v. Hardwick, upholding Georgia's sodomy law, was decided in 1986, and not overturned until 2003 in Lawrence v. Texas. As early as 1993, the Hawaii Supreme Court found, in Baehr v. Lewin, that limiting marriage to opposite-gender couples violated the “state” equal protection clause. However, same-gender marriage did not become legal in any state until the Massachusetts Supreme Court’s 2003 decision in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, refusing to tolerate persistent, irrational prejudices against lesbigays. California made essentially the same finding last year in The Marriage Cases. Earlier this year, Vermont – the first state to legalize civil unions – became the first state to legalize same-gender marriage by vote of the legislature.

The court is definitely not fence-sitting here, merely splitting legal hairs in a time-honored manner. In fact, the legal system is moving as decisively as it is capable of toward marriage equality and inexorably toward implementing the changes the culture as a whole is making in its attitude toward lesbigays. Really, it is quite exciting!

L. Zoe Cole is a lay member of St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Denver, CO and active in the Diocese of Colorado. Currently, she is a part-time municipal court judge and a full-time writer for, producer of web-based ethical decision making tools and training materials.

Redistribution of wealth: It's in the Bible!

By Daniel J. Webster

Tax day has come and gone. News video of tax protests is still being shown. There were images of President Obama wearing a Mao hat with the Chinese Communist red star. There were images of makeshift American flags with a hammer and sickle replacing the stars. One news photo showed a woman holding a sign that read, "My God, My Money, My Guns."

My God and my money, indeed.

This Sunday millions of American Christians who attend churches that follow the Revised Common Lectionary will hear a reading from the Acts of the Apostles. It's a short reading. In just four verses those who hear Acts 4:32-35 may be a little surprised about how the early followers of Jesus handled their money and possessions.

They will hear " one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common." The story tells us followers sold their homes and property, gave the proceeds to the apostles who distributed the funds so that there "was not a needy person among them."

I'm going out on a limb here and suspect that, like the woman holding the sign about God, money and guns, most of those protesting on April 15 really and truly believe the United States is a Christian nation. Many of them truly believe the economic stimulus actions by the federal government amount to socialism. That's what they've been told by their favorite radio talk show hosts or cable news antagonist anchors.

The brief reading for Sunday is actually just the beginning of a longer section of Acts that details those who redistribute and those who refuse to share their wealth. St. Barnabas is singled out as one who does right in selling his land and giving the money to the apostles.

But Ananais and his wife Sapphira don't fare as well. They hold on to some of their possessions. Peter calls them agents of Satan. And the consequence for withholding wealth for yourself in this story is death. Both Ananais and Sapphira drop dead when told of their inaction. They might as well have been holding the sign, "My God, My Money, My Guns."

This is one of those uncomfortable readings that are dismissed by millions of modern Christians who believe capitalism is God's will. Don't get me wrong. Capitalism is not evil if it has a conscience. But when capitalism is perverted to create a society that proclaims loudly, "I've got mine. You get yours," then we have a system that promotes death among the least among us.

There have been other images on TV and in the news. A recent "60 Minutes" report on CBS profiled uninsured patients at a Nevada hospital who had their cancer treatments canceled when state tax dollars were withdrawn because of the economic downturn. One patient said it amounted to a death sentence.

In that same story a doctor was shown treating some of those patients for whatever they could pay. He and other physicians were donating, or redistributing their wealth, to take care of those who were needy. They were acting today in the spirit of Barnabas and those early followers of Jesus.

Living in that spirit will really make us a Christian nation for all Americans whether they be Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist or those of no faith. President Obama, the man vilified as communist or socialist at the TEA Parties, often refers to the multi-religious golden rule when he discusses tax increases for the wealthy. Maybe he should refer to Acts 4:32-35 in the future for those who believe in "My God, My Money, My Guns."

The Rev. Canon Daniel J. Webster is canon for congregational development in the Diocese of New York and Vicar of St. Francis of Assisi Church in Montgomery, New York.

Lincoln's faith

By John Graham

From Isaiah, chapter 55:

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it."

With only a few exceptions (his children, possibly a few fellow lawyers), Abraham Lincoln loved at a distance. From the time he entered public life, he had an agenda for just about every conversation and every encounter. He saw clearly where people fit into a larger picture, and deployed them, with or without their knowledge and consent, to achieve his goals.

Lincoln's father uprooted the family frequently during Abraham's childhood and youth. And Abraham (following in the footsteps of his Biblical namesake?) uprooted himself from his family as soon as he could. He put lots of time and space between himself and what he thought of as his father's brutish insistence on the primacy of backbreaking manual labor. (Lincoln's allies used the "railsplitter" myth to his advantage, but Lincoln himself had long since found better ways to make a living.) Lincoln made himself a master of self-distancing in the bosom of the family.

Despite all of this, though, we don't remember Lincoln as a master manipulator, or as cold or remote in the manner of, say, George Washington. We think of him as "Father Abraham", kind, tender-hearted, staying up late at night to find reasons to pardon deserters. "With malice toward none, with charity for all" captures his legacy.

We can attribute this to three components of Lincoln's character that came into high relief during the blood and fire of the Civil War. First: his wit. Used earlier in his career to flay his opponents mercilessly, it became almost exclusively self-deprecatory during the nation's great trial. Second: his patience. No one left Lincoln's presence thinking that his mind had been elsewhere during their conversation. He listened with great care, sometimes at great length, when the pressures of time and the demands of schedule must have felt overwhelming. He used almost everything he heard for his own purposes, of course, but no one seemed to mind. Third: his flexibility. Within the boundaries of his core principles, Lincoln had no trouble ceding points he regarded as secondary – and he regarded a very broad range of issues as "secondary". He allowed no "litmus tests" to find their way into his small repertory of primary concerns and principles.

Wit, patience, flexibility: these softened Lincoln's shrewdness, his calculating nature, and bequeathed us the image of a compassionate father we now cherish.

A favorite professor of mine used to say, "If the end doesn't justify the means, what does?" We cut some people a lot of slack in this regard, because we believe their hearts are in the right place. Even if they use us, we don't doubt their love for us. We might even be glad to play a part in a performance they're orchestrating. I've heard musicians of great talent say they think of themselves as empty vessels, through which the genius of a Bach or an Ellington can flow unimpeded. Lincoln's colleagues, looking back, felt like this about him. Being loved at a distance by Lincoln, seen as means to his ends, seemed superior to just about any other human love they had known.

In the last four or five years of his life, I believe, Lincoln came to regard God in the way many regarded Lincoln himself. He always used impersonal terms to speak of God: "the Almighty," "Providence," "Divine Being." I don't recall ever reading of an instance in which the term "Father", or any more intimate invocation, crossed his lips. "The Almighty has His own purposes," he wrote in the Second Inaugural Address. In Lincoln's mind the Almighty loved him and the nation he served from a distance, using both as instruments for the realization of purposes higher than either could fully grasp.

Seen in this way, by an age that craves intimacy with God and isn't sure how to get it, Lincoln' religion seems unsatisfying. Still, we face a vast and baffling universe, and even the currents of economic life, let alone the larger forces of history, seem to have eluded our understanding and careened out of our control. Surely some part of us hopes God is not just with us, but far beyond us; that the Almighty has his own purposes, higher than ours. Love from a distance does not fill the void we all sense in our midst, but it offers its own satisfactions. Lincoln's melancholy may have come from the unfulfilled yearning for an intimacy that neither his father nor God, as he understood God, could offer. But his undoubted serenity surely derived from his conviction that human aspiration could not contain or control the Almighty.

The Rev. John Graham is rector of Grace, Georgetown in Washington, D. C. This article will appear in the March issue of the Washington Window.

Rendering unto God and Caesar at the wedding altar

By Jacob Slichter

In the spring of 2007, as the date of our wedding approached, my then fiancé, Suzanne, and I discussed the political dimensions of marriage. Specifically, we spoke of how two close friends, Joe and Priscilla, had forgone legal marriage altogether because of their objections to the discrimination enacted by marriage laws, bans on same-sex marriage and so forth. In lieu of a wedding, they had a commitment ceremony, a commitzvah as they called it, a label that announced the extra-legal nature of their lifetime union (with a nod to Priscilla’s Jewish roots). “That’ll make Priscilla’s family your out-laws,” one person told Joe. Given my religious belief, I told Suzanne, I wanted to have a wedding and be married, but Priscilla and Joe’s commitzvah raised questions we could not ignore, especially given our support for same-sex marriage.

Our ceremony would take place at Saint Gregory’s Episcopal Church in San Francisco, my old parish, where same-sex couples had been joined for years. The auspices of Saint Gregory’s presented no problem; California’s ban on same-sex marriage did. We considered removing the marriage license signing from the church premises and having a separate legal marriage at city hall, thereby keeping the state out of our ceremony. (As it turns out, this was already Saint Gregory’s practice.) Still, this would leave us partaking of legal rights denied to others, and after further reflection, we decided to adopt a modified form of what Joe and Priscilla had done: forgo legal marriage and instead draw up a slew of documents that would approximate legal marriage. If and when same-sex marriage became legal in New York (where we live) we’d get married. Meanwhile, we’d have a church ceremony and exchange rings and vows in public.

The next question was what to tell our wedding guests. What was the point of doing all of this if no one else knew? We briefly entertained a printed statement or an announcement, but we didn’t want to come off as scolding the married people in attendance. I was already wincing over having invited my predominantly atheist friends and family to a church wedding where they would be asked to say such things as “Amen” and “Hallelujah.” We decided instead to inform family and friends of our extra-legal status in conversation, over time.

Our wedding day arrived. We exchanged vows and rings as those atheists belted out their hallelujahs, and we found ourselves swept along a tide that followed us out of the church and into our new life together. Upon our return to New York, I began the process of exploring what it would take to assemble wills, join our finances, draw up hospital visitation agreements, and all the other arrangements necessary to approximate legal marriage. The lawyers I consulted estimated it would cost us thousands of dollars in fees. Put off by the expense, I bought a CD-ROM of pre-made legal documents, but quickly found myself overwhelmed and confused by the number of options. I wondered if there was a simpler, cheaper solution—a civil union in New Jersey? Unavailable to straight couples. We could get married in nearby Massachusetts, where gay marriage was already legal, but New York would not recognize same-sex marriages performed in Massachusetts, so we’d still be partaking in a discriminatory system. The legal steeplechase occasioned discussion with friends and family about our marital status.

“Wait, Jake, are you married or not?”

“We’re married, but not in the legal sense.”

Straight friends puzzled. Gay friends chuckled. “Just get married. I would.” An email exchange on the subject left an old high-school friend bewildered. “Is Suzanne a man?” Frustrated by how our gesture seemed to arouse only laughter and perplexity, I also felt a rising urgency regarding the legal documents, especially a will. I worried about Suzanne’s financial security in the event of my accidental death. The crosswalks of New York City never felt so dangerous.

Finally, last May, our solution presented itself when Governor David Patterson decreed that New York would recognize same-sex marriages performed in states where it was legal. We picked a date, borrowed a car, and drove to Greenfield, Massachusetts where we lunched with my cousins before strolling over to the town hall. After submitting our application to the town clerk, we went to the courthouse to seek a waiver on Massachusetts’ three-day waiting period, assuming this meant waiting in line for a rubber stamp. But after sitting through separate interrogations with a uniformed court officer (who asked each of us if we were marrying of our own free will), we were ushered into a courtroom and found ourselves standing before a judge.

“You two live in New York?”

“That’s correct, Your Honor.”

“And yet you’ve decided to get married in Massachusetts. Why?”

At last, here was the perfect venue to air our thoughts on marriage equality. Perfect, that is, provided the judge didn’t mind the injection of politics into his courtroom, that he wouldn’t be outraged by our views, and that he wouldn’t therefore reject our waiver request. “Your Honor . . . I have cousins in the area. We thought it would be fun to see them.”

Signed waiver in hand, we slunk out of the courthouse, returned to the town hall, and presented the waiver to the clerk, who doubles as a justice of the peace. She led us outside, stood us under a tree, and beamed as she read from her script. “Marriage is a solemn . . . ” I had anticipated a ten-second procedure, not a three-minute mini-wedding that coupled the legal and spiritual realms we had labored to separate. “And now please join your hands.” We exchanged vows, again, the clerk pronounced us husband and wife, and as she handed me the certificate, I felt only the lifting of my recurring anxiety: getting pancaked by a bus and leaving Suzanne penniless.

So ended our adventure in nuptial social action. I began with my eye on principle and concluded by figuring out how to secure inheritance rights for Suzanne on the cheap, an irony that argues more cogently for marriage equality than anything we had said or done.

I realize that what I had really wanted was to emerge with a sense of mastery—to know we had stirred conversations and reflections, to feel the vibrations moving outward, but all of that seems to have eluded us. We take away only a deepened appreciation for what marriage rights entail—a small prize, but one more real than mastery.

Jacob Slichter is the author of So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star, a behind-the-scenes look at the music business. He lives with his wife, Suzanne Wise, in New York City. He has a Web site at

Bishop Gene Robinson:
"Inauguration Day"

Over the holiday weekend, the Daily Episcopalian will be the every-other-Daily Episcopalian.

Excerpted from In the Eye of the Storm: Swept to the Center by God, by Gene Robinson, and used here with permission from Seabury Books.

By Gene Robinson

Every four years, like clockwork, an army of speechwriters squirrel themselves away in an office in Washington, D.C. and write, and re-write, and probably write again, an inaugural address for the new president of the United States. It’s usually brief, sometimes it’s eloquent, and on rare occasions it’s even memorable. And whether you agree with the words or not, that inaugural speech tells you where the president’s heart is as he begins his awesome tasks.

When Jesus began his ministry, he delivered an inaugural address, too, most likely written without a team of consultants. And like those Washington speechwriters, Jesus also squirreled himself away for a while. Jesus always removed himself for a time of prayer before making his move.

After he was baptized by John at the River Jordan and received the mantle of “beloved Son” from his heavenly father, the Spirit drove him into the wilderness to think about what his life would be about. His experience there in the desert isn’t so much a story of Jesus’ external struggle with the devil as it is the story of his own internal struggle with himself – the temptation to use his gifts in wrong ways, to squander his privilege as God’s beloved. Jesus spends forty difficult days in the wilderness, and emerges filled with clarity about his mission, ready to begin his ministry.

First item on the agenda: A trip back to his hometown, where, like a good Jewish boy, he goes to the synagogue in which he’s grown up. To honor his return, the elders of his synagogue call him up front to read from the sacred texts. He chooses a passage from Isaiah, and in this “inaugural” speech, declares what’s on his heart and what his life and ministry will be all about.

He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’
20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ (Luke 4:7–21)

“Do you hear Isaiah’s prophecy?” Jesus asked the people gathered in that small-town synagogue on that Sabbath day. “What you’re seeing now is the beginning of the fulfillment of those prophetic dreams.” Standing before the people he’d known since childhood, Jesus declared that he would preach good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, recover sight for the blind, and set free those who are oppressed. It was a memorable inaugural speech.

The rest of Luke’s gospel confirms that this is indeed what Jesus’ ministry is about – touching lepers, embracing outcasts, honoring women and respecting children in ways unknown in that culture, loving the poor, refusing to stone the adulterous woman, including Gentiles in the Kingdom, and telling stories of Good Samaritans and Prodigal Sons.

Jesus may have delivered that inaugural message a couple of thousand years ago, but the people who claim to be followers of Jesus must share in the ministry he proclaimed that day. Being Christian isn’t about building lovely churches and having beautiful music and a fine education program and youth group. It’s not about right doctrine, and it’s not even about being “good.”

If you want to know what being a follower of Jesus is about, just check out his inaugural speech. It’s about preaching good news to the poor—whether poor economically or in spirit. It’s about releasing prisoners from all kinds of captivity. It’s about restoring sight to people from all kinds of blindnesses. It’s about working to set free those who are oppressed.

What Jesus’ inauguration tells us – indeed, what Jesus tells us about himself – is that if you want to see God, this is where you need to go, this is what you need to do: preach the good news, release the prisoners, restore sight, bring freedom. You need to do these things with those who are most in need, those most desperate to hear of a God who loves them beyond imagining, with those who are most marginalized, most excluded, most irritating, most angry, most reprehensible, most unworthy, least acceptable by the world’s standards.

I don’t know about you, but this doesn’t exactly fit my idea of good news. Frankly, I don’t like hearing this--partly because I’m one of the privileged. I have more money than I need, I’m blessed beyond my wildest dreams, I live in a house ten times the size of most families in the world. I’m more educated than most people in the world, have never known hunger, have seen a good part of the world, and consume more than my fair share of what the poor of the world produce. I like my comfortable circumstances and my mostly predictable life.

And yet in his inaugural speech, Jesus asks me, “How are you going to spend the privilege you’ve been given? You know of God’s love for you, and you draw enormous strength and comfort from that knowledge. But what good are you going to put that to? What risk are you going to take, what bold and daring thing are you going to do because of – and in service to -- the Gospel? Because if you want to follow me, if you want to know me and be in relationship with me, this is where you’ve got to be: with the poor, with the prisoners, with the blind, the captive, the oppressed.”

A church is more than a mutual admiration society. It exists for more than itself. If we are followers of Christ, we need to go where Christ is – which, as the Gospel tells us, is always with the poor, the dispossessed, and the marginalized –in New Hampshire or New York, in Manchester or Belfast, in El Salvador or West Africa. The question that faces every single person who takes the title of Christian is exactly the same question that Jesus faced in the wilderness after his baptism: “How will we spend the privilege that is ours? What risks will we take for the Gospel? What good will come to others from our knowing God’s love for us?”

Will our participation in our own little part of the Body of Christ —our families, our parishes, our circles of friends-- propel us into caring about the kind of ministry Jesus cared about? Or will we be content to stay safely warm and snug within our beautiful, well-cared-for walls? Will our “inreach” to one another be the security blanket we hold onto for comfort, or will our loving community give us the confidence and courage to engage in “outreach” to those who most need to hear that they too are loved by God?

And there are so many who don’t know of God’s love for them. Some live next door to you. Some sleep at night under bridges in our cities and towns. Some struggle with mental illness or addiction or AIDS in hospitals everywhere. Some scratch out a living in the dirt of a sub-Saharan African village. Who are the poor you can reach, and what is the good news they need and long to hear? Besides the obvious ones in your state or county, what kinds of prisons hold people captive, and what would set them free? Who are the blind, and by what are they blinded? What can you and God do to restore their sight? What fight are you willing to join in Jesus’ name to free someone else from their oppression?

If we are to see God, if we are to be doers of the Word and not just hearers only, we have to go where Jesus went. This is the bottom line: We cannot know God or follow Jesus without participating in the “pain of love and the work of justice.” Every time we gather together as the body of Christ, it’s inauguration day for the Church. It’s a time to celebrate the best news there is: that we are loved beyond our wildest imagining by the God of all creation. And it’s an opportunity to ask ourselves this: From this day forward, what will our life and ministry be about? Just like Jesus, we too are the beloved of God, so how will we spend that privilege? What risks will we take because we are secure in that love? By virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection the Spirit of the Lord is upon us just as surely as it was upon Jesus. And like Jesus, we too can – and must – go about the hard and holy work of fulfilling the Scriptures in our own lives.

The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson is Bishop of New Hampshire.

The passion of the Holy Land

By John Bryson Chane

Karen and I recently returned from a 10-day journey to Palestine, Jordan and Israel. This trip was not your usual pilgrimage to the Holy Land but rather an opportunity to spend time with the new Episcopal Bishop of Jerusalem, Suheil Dawani, whose diocese spans Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Syria and Palestine. I can assure you that what I saw, heard and experienced has brought me to a place where I can no longer sit back and assume that in time all will be well in that troubled part of the world.

Looking back for a moment: In 2003 I joined Jim Wallis of Sojourners, two Anglican primates, five Church of England bishops and leaders from four mainline Christian denominations in the U.S. to meet with then-Prime Minister Tony Blair, and urge him not to support the U.S. effort to undertake a pre-emptive military strike against Iraq. We urged patience, the use of soft power and the further support of high level diplomatic talks. We were not successful. But the Prime Minister begged us to return to the U.S. and urge the President to move forward aggressively with the Road Map for Peace, an effort to solve the Israeli Palestinian conflict. All of us agreed that without solving this conflict, the Middle East would forever be a seething caldron of war and discontent and would also be a breeding ground for the growing forces of indiscriminate global terrorism. Upon our return the President refused to meet with this broad, representative religious community to discuss the Road Map and the rest is a history that we are living with today.

We as a nation pride ourselves on being a great democracy, a “city built on a hill.” And we generally focus on several key ingredients that define a democracy: living by the rule of law and respecting and upholding human rights, especially the right to worship as one chooses. The current condition of Palestinian Christians that I observed in the Diocese of Jerusalem makes me question whether we as a nation are holding Israel, our trusted, democratic ally in the Middle East accountable to these standards.

The West Bank, as occupied Palestinian territory, continues to experience the illegal building of Israeli settler housing. Almost 1,000 new units are being built in Maale Adumim, a settlement in the hills just East of Jerusalem. In Giv’at Ze’ev, another one of the settlements that rings Jerusalem, a new 750-unit building project has been approved. Requests are on the table with the Israeli government to build 350 new homes in Beitar Illit very near Jerusalem. Literally hundreds of new homes are being added to existing settlements in the West Bank; all illegal, all on occupied, Palestinian land, and all built while the Israeli Government casts a blind eye. These settler houses are distinguished by their sturdy construction, red-tiled roofs, manicured lawns and suburban feel that resembles a California housing sprawl. As one drives between Jerusalem and Jericho, huge apartment complexes can be seen, rising high on a hill in occupied land, a painful reminder of broken promises. These settler houses and apartment buildings, constructed by Israel on occupied land, are a violation of international law. The 1907 Hague Convention clearly states that an occupying power may expropriate land only for the public use of the occupied population. Taking West Bank land indiscriminately, as Israel has done, is a clear violation of international law. I ask the question: Is this the behavior of a democracy that lives by and cherishes the rule of law?

Karen and I visited the land owned by Daoud Nassar and his family; more than 100 acres that have been in his family since 1916 when purchased by deed from the Ottoman Empire. The Nassar family has legal right and claim to the property located about 6 miles southeast of Bethlehem in Palestinian occupied territory. It is now in the middle of an area that in 1991 was declared by the Israeli Government as state property. A large illegal Israeli settlement less than 1,000 yards away has emboldened Israeli settlers to come onto the Nassars’ property brandishing rifles and shotguns, firing them and threatening the owners with death if they do not move out. Settler bulldozers have plowed a road through a portion of the Nassars’ olive grove, and have blocked the only road that gives entrance to their house and property with huge boulders. And with the support of the Israeli authorities the settlers have prevented the Nassars from being able to drill wells for water, or connect to available electricity. The settlers say the land is theirs because God gave it to them, and not to the Palestinians. Known as The Tent of Nations, the Nassars’ small farm is a now a center where pilgrims gather to support the family in their quest to end Israeli harassment and the daily threat of a land grab. After spending time at the Tent of Nations and hearing the story of abuse and constant harassment over property that is legally owned and deeded, I ask the question: Is this the behavior of a democracy that lives by and cherishes the rule of law?

While visiting Gaza, on an Israeli permit issued to the Bishop of Jerusalem, I was exposed to a Palestinian territory cordoned off like a prison for those who live there. I have visited many countries in Africa and Latin America steeped in poverty. Gaza is equal to them all. Donkey carts now are beginning to outnumber motor vehicles, as gasoline and diesel fuel is rationed by Israel through the Hamas government to 10 liters by permit every two weeks. Our Episcopal Hospital in Gaza is short of medicines because of Israeli prohibitions, and the hospital can only operate on electricity for eight hours a day because of shortages. I celebrated the Eucharist in a church next to the hospital that still has a gaping hole in the roof left by an Israeli rocket that exploded in front of the altar and left the interior strewn with lathing and plaster. In my protest to the Israeli embassy I was informed it was an unfortunate accident of war. There would be no compensation for damages. The hospital administrator informed me that last year eight patients from the hospital waiting to cross from Hamas-controlled Gaza into Israel for emergency medical care died while waiting for clearance to cross the border to Israel for treatment. I ask the question: Is this the behavior of a democracy that lives by upholding and cherishing human rights?

If you are a non-Jerusalemite Palestinian Christian wishing to enter East Jerusalem for religious worship or pilgrimage, you must have a permit and those permits are difficult to get. Because of these prohibitions, 3 million Christian and Muslim Palestinians are being denied rightful access to their holy sites in Jerusalem, even during religious holidays. Because of restrictions and the obscenity of the separation wall which encloses it, Bethlehem has become a ghost town, with shops and businesses shuttering their doors and with religious pilgrims from other countries the majority of those who walk the streets and eat in the restaurants. I ask the question: Is this the behavior of a democracy that lives by protecting and upholding religious freedom and the right to worship as one pleases?

I am appalled that the Palestinian political movements of Fatah and Hamas play off against each other at the expense of the Palestinian people and their welfare. Their power struggle to control so much of so little is shortsighted and certainly not the way to raise up and strengthen political leadership in order for Palestine to be an active player in negotiating a fair, two-state peace settlement with Israel. The fracturing of Palestinian political leadership and the failure of the U.S. to work with Israel in brokering a two state solution, claiming Jerusalem as a shared holy city for Jews, Christians and Muslims and supporting land swaps for the Palestinians in places where illegal settlers have moved is a moral failure.

Jews, Christians and Muslims have the moral obligation to denounce violence as a solution to any and all disputes between Israel and Palestine. No one has the right to take the life of another in the name of God, and no one has the right to take another person’s land in the name of God. Palestine must have the right to be established as an independent state in possession of territory contiguous with Israel. And Israel has the right to exist as a Jewish state contiguous with Palestine. Israel must return to the 1967 borders established by the United Nations with appropriate compensational territory granted to Palestine for land not returned to Palestine in the peace agreement for reasons acceptable to both parties. The holy city of Jerusalem must be a shared holy city for Jews, Christians and Muslims. Anything less violates the ancient traditions of these three Abrahamic faiths and violates their histories as contained in their holy books.

Politicians seeking the highest office in the land who wait on the results of our Nov. 4 presidential election must have the courage not just to speak out in their unequivocal support of Israel, but must also speak out and condemn violations of human rights and religious freedom denied to Palestinian Christians and Muslims.

I support with conviction the right of Israel to exist as a free state, unencumbered by indiscriminant violence and the threat of attack engendered by those who would wish to do her harm. But I am appalled that there has been little or no discussion by presidential candidates about the devastation of the Palestinian economy as a result of Israel’s construction of the security wall. I, as a Christian, am unwilling to remain silent as Palestinians are humiliated, their human rights are violated, their lands are taken from them and they are forced to immigrate to other countries because they feel that they and their children have no future in their ancient homeland. Faithful Jews, Christians and Muslims who do not speak out on these unacceptable circumstances are guilty of the greatest crime of all – the crime of silence! The same is true of our political leaders.

I am reminded of the ominous reflection contained in Jesus’ parable about the landowner and the vineyard. “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the Kingdom. The one who falls on the stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”

The Rt. Rev. John Bryson Chane is the Bishop of Washington.

Sudanese keeping close tabs on US campaign

By Lauren R. Stanley

RENK, Sudan – I voted in the presidential election the other day. Felt pretty darned good about it. I’ve never voted by absentee ballot before, and was quite nervous about whether this would really work. But with a lot of help from a lot of people, I got my ballot in plenty of time and sent it back in almost four weeks before the election.

The whole process was quite interesting to my Sudanese friends and colleagues. They couldn’t believe I could vote while living overseas. And they still can’t quite grasp the fact that America’s presidential election takes place in just one day. But what interests them most is the election itself.

Sudanese are following the election at least as closely as Americans. They are inveterate listeners to the radio, and follow everything that is happening, dissecting it as though they were participating themselves. Southern Sudanese are quite supportive of President Bush, because of his administration’s role in helping to get the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed, ending 21-plus years of civil war. That fact alone tends to make Southern Sudanese rather Republican. It’s not unusual for me to meet someone for the first time here and have that person say, “Yes, George Bush!” I’ve even had Sudanese ask me to give the president their personal greetings when I meet him in the United States. (They are heart-broken to hear that the president and I are not on a first-name basis, and that I do not have a standing appointment at the White House whenever I am in the United States.)

What’s most fascinating to watch here is how Southerners interpret everything they hear about the election campaign. They followed the primaries closely, although they don’t quite understand how they work. They listen to news about debates and the conventions and campaign stops and parse what is happening.

And most of the Southerners I know are convinced that Sen. John McCain is going to win.


Well, first, he’s a Republican, and President Bush is a Republican, so in their minds, that makes them the same, which – again, in their minds – means that McCain automatically will win.

Second, Southerners have great respect for elders, and McCain obviously is an elder. So when they look at McCain, in his 70s, and then at Sen. Barack Obama, to whom they often refer as “that young man,” they see the obvious difference in age and tend to conclude that McCain should win simply because of age.

Third, Southerners here are acutely aware of America’s racist history, and cannot believe that a black man would ever win a national election. Southerners are not shy about bringing up this fact, not only frequently, but with some vehemence.

And finally, Obama’s name and history do not help here. Completely false claims that Obama is a Muslim reverberate in South Sudan. That photo of him dressing up in local attire on a visit to Kenya years ago, and the fact that his grandfather indeed was Muslim, are enough to convince some Southerners that Obama is Muslim as well. The fact that he is a Christian is not listened to or believed by many.

Two decades ago, when I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya (in the same region from which Obama’s father’s family comes), I was very clearly instructed to never discuss politics with Kenyans. Peace Corps volunteers are supposed to steer clear of political discussions much as many family members do at Thanksgiving dinners. So to hear these discussions now – to have Southern Sudanese initiate them and beg to talk about the election – is odd. I’ve never been overseas for a presidential election, and despite my excitement, I was quite prepared to keep very quiet this time around. I simply wanted to get my ballot, vote and send it back in on time.

But that’s not possible here, not this time. This election fascinates my friends, as it does much of the world, and they feel it will have a huge impact on them. Without help from the United States in many and varied forms, South Sudan would be in trouble, and Southerners are acutely aware of that. And with tens of thousands of Southern Sudanese living in the United States, my friends feel a special affinity for the country.

So every day, we talk about the election campaign. We talk about what was said, and what it means, how each candidate sounded on the radio, what’s been reported and what’s been left out. We try to figure out what the next president will do for Sudan. It’s almost like being in the States.

Come Nov. 4, everyone will be glued to their radios, waiting for the results. (I’ve tried to explain both the time differences and the number of time zones to the Sudanese, but many don’t understand the vast size of the United States, and will be disappointed to go to bed on the 4th with the polls still open.) Come Nov. 5, we’ll do what everyone else will do that day: We’ll talk politics.

Washington may be 7,000 miles away, but with all this talk about politics, it’s almost like being back in the States.

The Rev. Lauren R. Stanley is an Appointed Missionary of the Episcopal Church serving in the Diocese of Renk, Sudan. She is a lecturer at the Renk Theological College, teaching Theology, Greek, Old Testament and English, and serves as chaplain for the students.

The Possibility of Conversion

By Rebecca Wilson

Recently, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori told Fresh Air’s Terry Gross that we must stay in communion with those with whom we disagree in order to leave open the possibility of conversion.

Not too long ago, I might have heard that as spiritual pabulum—a polite plea to prevent schism. But my own conversion, a political one, began nearly a year ago, and today I hear the Presiding Bishop’s words with familiar fear and trembling.

I was an unlikely prospect for conversion. I am a lifelong Democrat, and I live in the bellwether state of Ohio, where partisan politics is nasty, brutish, and endless. The wounds of the 2000 and 2004 presidential campaigns still fester here, along with those inflicted by a bloody 2004 fight over a draconian constitutional amendment that limits the rights of gays and lesbians. Two years later, a heated gubernatorial campaign resulting in the election of a Democrat was also divisive and polarizing.

So in 2007, many progressive voters in Ohio were angry and dispirited. We had gotten our governor, but also bore the shame of failing to prevent the current presidential administration and the right-wing sore on our state constitution. I was solidly in that bloc. I was civil when I encountered people with whom I disagreed, but I generally avoided situations where I might encounter Republicans. It was just too hard.

Except at church. My little Episcopal parish, a historic church in a struggling city neighborhood, generally attracts people who vote like I do. We are a community that welcomes everyone, gay and straight, and in a place like Ohio, that alone is often enough to drive Republicans down the road to a more conservative parish. But although Democrats are loath to admit it, the Republican party is not a monolith on this (or any other) issue, and our congregation includes people who are both Republican and progressive about human sexuality.

So although I was bone-weary from assault by Republican values and victories, I couldn’t entirely escape politics at church. One Republican, in particular, kept cropping up. Despite our partisan differences, we were thrown together on the cookie-baking committee, at church socials, and in the back pew.

Because we are Episcopalians, we were polite. We began talking over cookies after the service, about innocuous local events, mostly not looking each other in the eye. Soon we edged into local politics, agreeing in nervous laughter that what happened at coffee hour stayed at coffee hour. Then we took the big step from standing together in the parish hall to sitting together in church. I asked him for some advice on a civic project, which he gave freely and graciously, and we met for lunch once. I considered myself very broadminded indeed.

Apparently, however, this was not good enough for God. When I was asked to lead a Sunday morning seminar on faith and politics, I knew, in one of those fits of clarity that sometimes presages wisdom, that to escape the confines of left-wing dogma, the class needed both a Republican and a Democrat. So I took a deep breath and asked my pewmate to teach with me.

Starting with an issue of Yale Divinity School’s journal Reflections, we spent several months reading and thinking about politics and belief. We used the crutch of email to explore our own differences gingerly, feeling out painful partisan topics in writing before we talked about them in person.

The rumblings in my soul, and my stomach, began then. I became vaguely nauseous when people told jokes about Republicans that I previously would have found uproarious. I stopped conversations with fellow Democrats by offering halting answers to a rhetorical question—“what on earth are those Republicans thinking?” I began to hear the excesses in Democratic rhetoric more critically, imagining how decent, well-intentioned people might feel alienated by words that had once felt to me like a righteous shield.

Kathleen Norris writes that “…we can convert, in its root meaning of turn around, so that we are forced to face ourselves as we really are.” Preparing and teaching our class, I often felt muddled, seeing myself as I now understood many Republicans would—as an angry, narrow-minded, bitter partisan. Facing myself meant that I had to temper dialectical thinking with more complex ways of understanding the public sphere, and learn how to regard social problems without reflexively blaming them on a malevolent, scheming horde of Republicans.

I have also had a lesson in loving my enemy. Perhaps inevitably, my teaching companion and I have discovered that the depths of what we have in common make our political differences mostly incidental and often amusing. It has been frightening to trade partisan disdain for true vulnerability, but we have long since become close friends who rely on one another in ways that would have previously seemed preposterous to both of us.

Even so, conversion is sometimes lonely. In losing my partisan fervor, I have drifted from many acquaintances and some friends who regard my behavior as betrayal. Earlier this year I resigned from a client project in which attacks on Republicans—on my friend, who is active in his party, and his friends—had become so vitriolic that they were acting like poison on me. I have found myself in strange places with people I could not have previously imagined knowing, and I have been unsettled by how much I have liked them and wanted them to like me. And sometimes in a conversation, I sense my old way of thinking about an issue fall away, and I miss the comfort of righteous certainty.

Norris also writes that “some of us have found the worst parts of ourselves converted into something better, our small expectations shattered in the presence of God’s great abundance…” On the eve of this election, I think that I have been converted into something better. I am still a Democrat, and my vote for president will reflect that unequivocally. But my small expectations that politics will save us have been shattered. Whether my candidate becomes president or not, what I want most after this election is to be in communion with those who disagree—with my friend and his friends and all of the Republicans and Democrats and other voters who are grieved by the ways we have wounded one another and our country. The possibility of conversion may be all that can heal us now.

Rebecca Wilson is a member of Church of Our Saviour Episcopal Church in Akron, Ohio.

Halloween humor and a dark-skinned son

By LeeAnne Watkins

Part 1: Knock on the Door

I’ve got a difficult thing to do tonight.

It started a few days ago with my neighbors down the street. They have these humongous McCain/Palin signs in their yard, and as they were decorating their yard for Halloween they added their usual assortment of ghouls and ghosties.

But this year one of the ghouls was leaning over the McCain sign, holding the severed head of Barack Obama.

My son Shyam and I saw it at the same time, and while I was shocked, he went straight to outrage. “That’s a death-threat to Obama! We have to call the police!” I mumbled something about Halloween being different somehow, and he just looked at me in a puzzled way. Then I mentioned free speech, but he said, “free speech doesn’t include death threats, does it?”

We’ve been talking about it for days, both of us deeply disturbed in a way that gets a little worse as each day passes. We have been wondering what to do, if anything. Calling the police didn’t seem right. Shyam asked his godmother Lisa for advice, and she suggested that he talk with the neighbor and explain how the display makes him feel. Shyam brought it up with his teacher and classmates, but although I hear the discussion was good, they didn’t have any satisfying suggestions about what was to be done. In the end, he and I talked about exactly what we want say, and not say. We agree that I’m the one to deliver the message. So tonight I go to knock on the door of a neighbor I barely know, and without any smooth segue, try to explain what effect their display has had on us.

As I’ve been imagining how I might have this conversation in a way that brings out our best selves, I might try to explain what it is like for my son, who they have never really met but surely have seen. I will tell the neighbor what I overheard my son tell his friend Colin this morning as we drove past the Barack head on the way to school: “It looks like me, doesn’t it?"

You see, my son has dark skin, and black eyes, and black hair, and in that mask he saw a version of himself.

How difficult it must be to be one of the only kids of color in his suburban grade school. There are layers of depth to the experience he must be internalizing about growing up dark in an almost exclusively caucasian Minnesotan town. I intellectually know that Shyam’s not being white puts him at a disadvantage in our world. I know that given the lynchings in Minnesota’s history, and the continued violence toward people of color, that his race will always be a factor in his safety. I’ve known that in my head, but I’ve never felt that deep chill like I did this morning, when Shyam recognized that this level of ugliness is real, right on our street, against him more than the other boys he plays baseball with.

It made me cry a little on the way in to work today. I want to be a good mother of an inter-racial family, and on days like this I feel so ill equipped. I wonder if I should move into St Paul where there are more people that look like him, where there would be more safety in numbers. But that’s an illusion too, isn’t it, the safety in numbers. So what do I do, to make the world a better place not just for all people of color all over the world, but for my boy, on my street? I will knock on the door.

But I fret over how that might go. I have imagined them yelling at me, thinking me a left-wing whacko, giving me a lecture on free speech, on how I ought to mind my own business and not try to control what other people do with theirs. I worry that they will argue that it is simply a joke, a little Halloween fun and I’m making too much out of nothing. Maybe they are right.

But no, they are not right. There are consequences to free speech, and this one has offended and frightened my family. The mother bear in me has been aggravated.

In my best imagining for this conversation, the neighbors quickly apologize, saying they never thought about the implications of their Halloween joke for the dark-skinned boy down the street. At the very least I hope they take down the decapitated Obama head. But I would also hope that they could reach out to Shyam in some way that builds relationship, that strengthens rather than frays our little attempt at a neighborhood community. I guess I’m looking for transformation, on our little street, just this one actual street, changed to look more like the Reign of God. In my best imagining this is how racism is washed away, each of us gathering up our courage to influence the tone of our common life, one difficult conversation at a time, face to face, neighbor to neighbor.

I’m used to preaching on this theme, but I’m embarrassingly anxious about moving my feet to make it so. But I believe in the whole Reign of God thing. I believe that bit about God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven. I do believe in the example of Jesus as a guide in making that so. So tonight I will knock on my neighbor’s door. I will say my prayers for courage and for the right words and for the Holy Spirit to move between us. I will pray for a better world, for all of us, but especially for Shyam, who will be watching.

Part II: “Tell your son it’s only a mask.”

It was the height of awkwardness. I knocked on that door, stomach in knots, and was nicely invited in to the living room to have a seat. I explained that my goal was only to be a good mom, and ask for a few minutes of their time to explain what effect their Obama display has had on my boy. I tottered around my well-rehearsed sentences. They listened. They were surprised to hear about what my son said about how the mask looks like him, and had to spell out that Shyam has dark skin and dark hair. (it is always interesting to me the way in which people see, and don’t see, race).

Then they said: “Tell your son it is only a mask." And: “If we had a body to put under the mask, we would have" and “We never gave it much thought." And then they went on to say how many people have driven by to run up and have their photos taken with big “thumbs ups" in front of it. And how mine is the first negative comment they have gotten, verses the many supportive ones.

The room got silent. I couldn’t stand the quiet and so began repeating myself until I realized the conversation was pretty much over. I stood to go, they continued to sit. I said ‘good night’, and they wished me a good night too, but I felt their hostility as I made my own way out the door.

What happens now? On one hand, I feel I did what I set out to do, which was to speak out against a situation that was offensive to my family, and my son knows that I did. What my neighbor does or doesn’t do with that Obama mask is only mildly relevant at this point. I acted like the mother (and the neighbor, and the citizen, and the Christian) I want to be.

All this leaves some profound questions. Where is the line between free speech and hate speech? Where is the line between speaking out against a perceived injustice and butting in to someone else’s business? Does our history of violence make that headless black man a symbol of something much more sinister, or is it really just a Halloween mask?

So what is next? I’m prayerfully pondering all sorts of options, including doing nothing at all. Or I might speak with my elected representative on our local human rights commission, or the police chief, or the mayor, asking for advice. Maybe I will make a version of this article into an Op Ed piece for the newspaper. I don’t know. But I do know that I still want to make the world a better, less intimidating place for all people, most particularly my son, even here, particularly here, on my street.

The Rev. LeeAnne Watkins is rector of St. Mary's Episcopal Church in St. Paul, Minnesota, and the mother of an adopted son.

A generation's awakening

By Margaret M. Treadwell

An amazing phenomenon is occurring in America, and the excitement is palpable. Have you noticed the increasing number of young people awakening to their responsibilities and rights as members of a democracy? The good news in this presidential election is the 18- to 29-year-olds stepping up to help heal our troubled country. While volunteering for the campaign, I have seen their actions match their beliefs and words:

• In Iowa, an eyewitness observed the young people trained in the grassroots approach to networking and organization bringing one individual at a time into the voting process months before the election. She said, “They understand that our democracy is fragile and can be lost if only 50 percent of eligible voters come out to vote. There is a spiritual aspect in mobilizing young people to become involved in politics.”

• In North Carolina, a college graduate accepts minimal pay for his work to register voters in rural counties where he often faces racism and threats. His hope, persistence and singleness of purpose are faith in action.

• In South Carolina, my 17-year-old godson writes about his involvement with fellow students who are getting everyone in the area surrounding his school, including inner city Charlestoners, active in registering voters and planning to get out the vote on Nov. 4.

• At the Bethesda Grassroots Obama Office (nicknamed the BOO), the intern program is equally balanced between promoting Obama’s candidacy and providing an educational experience for the young volunteers. An important part of that education focuses on understanding both their own candidate’s and the opponent’s positions.

In preparation for a recent Town Hall meeting, Montgomery County and D.C. high school students chose partners and researched issues for debate with one person taking the Republican position and the other, the Democratic position. Each debater smartly navigated the rough waters of the economy, social security, the war, environment and energy. Said one young woman who took the part of both McCain and Obama for an admirable debate on women’s issues, “The entire intern experience has been so exciting. The (volunteer) staff has given us students real responsibility and a voice.” A welcome sign at the entrance to the BOO reads, “Thank you for bringing your gifts of time, energy, spirit, ideas, talent, supplies, creativity, inspiration, labor, money, humor, passion and patriotism.” A small room set aside for quiet, meditation or prayer posts two printed questions: “Got Hope?” and “What are you grateful for?”

A lawyer who worked on both the 2004 and 2008 conventions says, “The young volunteers now are in sharp contrast to those in the last election. They are more tolerant, open and ready for change. They aren’t cynical about politics and, through their vision, purpose, and hope, they energize every sector of voters.

Her view is substantiated in author John Zogby’s recently published, The Way We’ll Be: The Zogby Report on the Transformation of the American Dream (Random House, 2008). Drawing on surveys he conducted over a 20-year period, he predicts an optimistic future, the center of which is a group he labels the “First Globals,” consisting of the current 18- to 20-year-olds in the United States whom he found embrace diversity, feel connected personally to the rest of the world, are the first color-blind Americans and the first to bring a consistently global perspective to foreign policy and environmental issues.

How is this phenomenon changing First Globals’ families? Some family members simply can’t speak about politics without conflict. But a mother talks about her three sons, ages 30, 26 and 22, coming home last Thanksgiving inspired by Barack Obama’s memoir, Dreams From My Father, and how they convinced their politically weary parents to listen up: “Change is in the air; a new generation is coming along.” Now the whole family is volunteering.

Parents also tell me that although their political preferences may be different from their children’s, the communication about diverse opinions has grown more open and accepting. A father explains, “When a family can sit down together, discuss both sides, disagree and still respect and love each other, our bonds grow stronger.”

And will the young people from both parties come out to vote in November? Will they remain involved if their candidate loses the election? Will their faith be shattered? Or will their youthful spirit and resilience carry them through to find and support the strengths of the new president in reuniting our country no matter what the outcome? How can their families help them accept disappointment, look for positive ways to continue their good work, and never lose their faith and hope?

“Hope” is the thing with feathers – That perches in the soul – And sings the song without the words – And never stops – at all….

Emily Dickinson (from “The Poems of Emily Dickinson, ed. Thomas H. Johnson, 3 vols. (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard Univ. Press, 1955))

Margaret M. (“Peggy”) Treadwell, LCSW -C, has been active in the fields of education and counseling for thirty-five years. Following a long association with Dr. Edwin H. Friedman, during which she served on his faculty, she co-edited and helped posthumously publish his book, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix.

The spiritual adviser and the Public Square

By Kathleen Staudt

I recently visited the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church (NYAPC) in Washington DC, and enjoyed a fascinating historic tour of the building, especially the “Lincoln Parlor.” Mary Todd Lincoln and the children were members of this church during the Lincoln Administration, and apparently the President relied on the pastor, the Rev. Phineas D. Gurley, as an informal spiritual advisor. On display in the Lincoln Parlor are photos of the Lincolns and the Lincoln cabinet, and, behind glass, an early draft of the Emancipation Proclamation. The story is that originally, Lincoln intended an arrangement that would have reimbursed the southern landowners for their slaves, essentially a government “purchase” of the slaves, to free them. In private conversations, the president’s spiritual advisor encouraged him to take a more morally consistent position, and the ultimate result was the Emancipation Proclamation as we have it.

Gurley was the preacher at the funeral of the Lincolns’ son Willie (as well as at Lincoln’s own funeral), and apparently met with the president to talk about “the state of his soul” and to listen. Apparently he did make some use of his relationship for what might be called “political” purposes: there are records of his recommending several people for influential political positions. But he seems to be someone whose judgment and integrity were generally held in high regard. He was also known as a preacher who did not preach politics. It appears that there was a relationship of genuine spiritual companionship between Gurley and the President, though they met relatively infrequently and Lincoln never joined Gurley’s church. The obvious spiritual depth of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, together with the story told at NYAPC about the Emancipation Proclamation, give us some sense of the “fruits” of that relationship, but its details were not a matter of public record when those conversations were going on. And , I believe strongly, this is as it should be, when it comes to spiritual advisors to the powerful and famous.

There’s a contrast here to the way that the religious advisors of the powerful have been covered—and, I suspect, manipulated nowadays, and it is dismaying to me. From my training and work as a spiritual director, I know that conversations about the “state of one’s soul” are about a work in progress, God’s work in progress. And there are good reasons why our code of ethics insists on the sacred confidentiality of such conversations. I would think that for a famous person, such a relationship would need to be a place of freedom and absolute confidentiality.

People sometimes quote their spiritual advisors (as Barack Obama does, for example, in his use of Jermiah Wright’s phrase “The audacity of hope”), and that is their prerogative, as well as their spiritual risk. But I grow uneasy –and suspicious– when spiritual advisors themselves take the public stand and talk about their pastoral relationships with candidates From this point of view Jeremiah Wright’s speech to the NAACP was profoundly distressing and obviously embarrassing to the candidate, whatever one might say about the theology of the black church and the value of the Reverend Wright’s ministry generally. I had the same problem with a New York Times front page article a few weeks ago featuring an interview with Sarah Palin’s pastor, who spoke of her worship and prayer practices and her request for Bible passages to guide her in her desire to be a faithful leader. Even apart from my personal objections to the theology and the political priorities expressed in this interview, I was troubled by the situation: What are we to think, when the pastors to the powerful give public interviews about those conversations. Are they doing it with the candidates’ permission? Or if not, whose agenda is being furthered?

It seems to me that revealing publicly the details of a spiritual conversation is a kind of sacrilege, a manipulation of holy things to further a personal or political agenda. There’s a commandment against that: You shall not take the name of the Lord in vain. It seems to me that public discourse about the theological positions of the candidates – and the pressure on them to explain their beliefs is our most blatant contemporary violation of that commandment. There is good reason why pastors and spiritual companions are enjoined to be very respectful of boundaries and confidentiality. In my view, if there is a genuine relationship of spiritual guidance and companionship, this kind of confidentiality should trump the public’s “right to know” about a powerful person’s associates and beliefs.

What a candidate says about him/herself is another matter – and may or may not be the fruit of good spiritual advice. But I have become profoundly suspicious of anything we hear publicly from a “spiritual advisor” about the state of a candidate’s or President’s soul. There’s a Buddhist saying that “those who know, do not speak, and those who speak, do not know.” This seems to me a good guide for processing media stories about the spiritual lives of the candidates, or of any public figures.

Dr. Kathleen Henderson Staudt (Kathy) keeps the blog poetproph, works as a teacher, poet, spiritual director and retreat leader in the Washington DC area, and teaches courses in literature, theology and writing at Virginia Theological Seminary and the University of Maryland, College Park.

The pastoral necessity of a non-partisan pulpit

By Sam Candler

In the United States, we are in the home stretch of a season of voting. Our two political parties scramble daily for our support. Many of us, and our friends and neighbors, have already declared our political choices; and we are hard at work on political campaigns.

During this sprint, I admit two things to my parishioners and friends. The first is that I actually love politics. I know that the partisan mud is deep. I know that every statement has to be filtered through ten screens. I know that attacks and defenses can be severe, and even unfair. But I do enjoy the contests. I also admire most of the candidates. I salute those who have offered themselves for public service; and I salute their campaign workers and office staffs.

However, the second thing I must admit is that there is no way that I –an Episcopal priest, rector, and dean-- can take a partisan stand during our government elections. This is not simply because of tax consequences. We all know, I hope, that Episcopal churches in the United States enjoy the benefits of tax exemption as long as we do not allow partisan political statements in our official church gatherings. Thus, people can still give financially to our churches and enjoy a deduction from their taxes. (What people may not realize is that this particular criterion of tax-exempt organizations dates back only to 1954.)

No, I have another reason that I do not take a partisan stand during our government elections. My reason has to do with pastoral care and with leadership allegiance. I realize that my own parish, a large and rather politically diverse one, contains all sorts of partisan believers and workers. Not only do I have strong Republicans and strong Democrats in my parish, but I also have many of those parties’ state workers and campaign officers. Some folks in my parish attended the Republican Convention and other folks in my parish attended the Democratic Convention.

Does this mean that I have paralyzed myself under the guise of wimpy pastoral care? Does this mean that I have opted out of my religious responsibility of ethical and social leadership? No, I can –and do-- make statements about political and moral and ethical matters.

Rather, I believe that my ordained leadership is not meant to be “merely” political. I am not called to force my ordained leadership into either of the partisan boxes that surround each of our two national candidates. My leadership allegiance is to an agency higher even than the office of the United States presidency. My leadership allegiance is to God and to the mysterious working out of God’s realm on earth. I believe that whatever leadership I have is strengthened if I publicly ally myself only with that higher agency, with our hoped-for kingdom of God.

Essentially, I am wary of the Episcopal Church becoming too associated with either of our country’s two major political parties. I know that we need political parties. I know they do good things. And, I enjoy my parishioners’ political work; and I even enjoy their spirited and sometimes goofy partisanship. But I cannot surrender my public leadership to the support of political parties.

Of course, I will be voting in the upcoming elections. Furthermore, it does not take too long a conversation with me to determine whom I might support. That is not a secret; I simply do not use whatever ordained leadership I have to ally myself with a political party.

Finally, I will always, always, accept an invitation to pray during the gathering of a political party. I have prayed at Democrat gatherings, and I have prayed at Republican gatherings. I have enjoyed both! And I do enjoy attending political gatherings! This year, I pray that these political processes will produce a leader whom God will use for the good.

The Very Rev. Sam Candler is dean of St. Philip's Cathedral in Atlanta. He helped start that city’s interfaith group, and leads regular community bible studies. He is also inspired by playing jazz piano, hunting, astronomy, and poetry. His sermons and reflections on “Good Faith and Common Good” can be found on the Cathedral web site.

Jesus Economics

By R. William Carroll

Recently, from the pulpit, I issued a call to our parish to raise significant funds, beyond those in our parish budget, to support our ministries that feed the hungry. In the past year, we have added support to the Good Earth Hunger Mission, a new ministry led by a parishioner, which is growing food locally to support area hunger ministries. Our thought was to begin to address the systemic causes of hunger, a global food system that presupposes an oil-based economy (both for transporting food and for making petroleum based fertilizers), a point which was driven home for us by a local organic farmer at a sustainable agriculture workshop at the Mt. Grace Appalachian Ministries Conference, co-sponsored by the Dioceses of Southern Ohio and West Virginia. We want to continue to meet immediate need but begin to think more systematically about the interdependence of social and environmental justice.

My point of departure in the lectionary was Psalm 149:4: “For the LORD takes pleasure in his people, and adorns the poor with victory.”

The context of my remarks came from some statistics cited in the Winston-Salem Journal:

A blizzard of pink slips pushed the jobless rate from 5.7 percent in July to 6.1 percent in August, the Labor Department reported yesterday.

Worried about the economy and their own business prospects, employers cut payrolls by 84,000 in August, marking the eighth straight month of losses.

So far this year, a staggering 605,000 jobs have vanished -- slightly less than the population of Alaska. The economy needs to generate more than 100,000 new jobs a month for employment to remain stable.

A separate report showed that a record 9.2 percent of American homeowners with a mortgage were either behind on their payments or in foreclosure at the end of June.

Both sets of statistics are staggering. The mortgage figures point to the effects on Main Street of the crisis that is affecting Wall Street as well. There were nods of approval in the congregation when I noted that things are even worse in Ohio (and certainly in Athens County, where I serve) and that they have been for some time. As I observed in the sermon, these statistics are confirmed by the witness of our local hunger ministries and homeless shelter, which are seeing an increasing number of requests for assistance from people who would have previously thought of themselves as comfortably middle class. It is going to be a VERY hard winter.

In this article I want to do something that I didn’t do in the pulpit. (Don’t worry. I’m getting round to it.) My sermon’s purpose was to awaken us to local need and local response. But that is always insufficient. We also need to be politically engaged. Politics is (or can be) a means to address matters of mutual concern, the common good, which the framers of our republic, in the Preamble to the Constitution, called the “general welfare.”

Now, I believe passionately that preachers should avoid advocating parties or candidates from the pulpit. Not only is this the law, but it shows profound respect for the wisdom and conscience of the People of God, a respect that must be maintained if we are to be true to our baptismal ecclesiology. And so, even though I have some strong views about politics and the current presidential and congressional elections, I adhere to the law.

At the same time, though, I think it is the duty of those of us who are responsible for proclaiming Christ to draw attention to the real issues in this election. Surely, the central issues include those concerning war and peace, human rights (where do the candidates stand on torture?) and the rule of law, health care, and the economy.

At the same conference I mentioned above, the keynoter, Tupper Morehead of the Diocese of East Tennessee, who is my brother in Christ and in the Third Order Franciscans, spoke about what he calls “Jesus economics.” He noted that “the Church has the authority to preach Jesus economics in the churches of Appalachia.” We also have the authority to preach this economics in our cities and suburbs. We should take it to the streets, and proclaim it, by word and example, in town and country alike. The Reign of God preached by Jesus has social implications. In it, the first are last and the last are first.

First and foremost, as we cast our vote in November, we must remember the needs of the poor, who lack their daily bread and who are being forced out of their homes. The Republican Party and Democratic Party, and their respective nominees, offer very different perspectives on economic policy. Third party candidates differ even more greatly. They differ on taxation, on the relative roles of markets and regulation, and on what kind of social “safety net” they would offer to the poor among us. All would argue that their policies, in the long run, will create more general prosperity for the American people, and presumably for others around the world.

Christians have a non-negotiable imperative to assess these policy proposals carefully. And, although people of good will may differ about which approach will be most beneficial in fixing an economy in crisis, we have a moral obligation to keep the needs of the poor front and center. Christians can’t approach an election asking “What’s in it for me?” They must always ask themselves, “How does this affect other people?” and especially “How does this affect God’s poor?”

“For the Lord takes pleasure in his people, and adorns the poor with victory.”

The Rev. R. William Carroll serves as rector of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens, Ohio (Diocese of Southern Ohio). He received his Ph.D. in Christian theology from the University of Chicago Divinity School. He is a novice in the Third Order of the Society of Saint Francis.

Advice for Electiontide

Sara Miles, director of ministry and pastoral care at St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, sent this letter to parishioners this week.

Dear Friends,

I'm writing to you as someone who's a political activist, an organizer, and a strongly opinionated voter. But as the November elections approach, I want to talk to you as your pastor.

It's no secret that there's a lot of time, energy, and money going into stirring up passions around this election. You've read the attacks on Barack Obama and his supporters, on Sarah Palin and John McCain. You've received or sent angry, rumor-filled emails. You've heard or told snarky, hostile jokes about the evils of the other side--whoever "the other side" is for you. You've sat there fuming reading the news or watching TV, and you may even have despaired about the general level of dishonesty, vitriol and division generated by campaigns and their supporters.

I want to ask you to pause and consider how our words and actions during this campaign are going to play out in the years to come. Anger-- especially anger that feels "righteous," when we're raging against injustice and the bad guys-- is addictive. It's hard to let go of. As someone who's lived in wars, during bitter political struggles, and also in post-conflict societies, I can tell you that anger flung around recklessly during a conflict poisons the water of civil society for a long time. And I see how carrying around rage and resentment hurts individuals personally. And as someone who considers herself a part of what we call the Body of Christ, I can tell you that it's impossible to hate a part of that Body without damaging the whole.

So I want to ask you, first, to take a deep breath and pray for your enemies.

Please notice that I'm not asking you to pray that your enemies will repent and see the error of their ways, or that they'll start doing what you think they should do, or that they'll be punished for their wrongdoings. I'm asking you to simply pray for them.

And then I want to ask you, if you feel that the stakes in this election are simply so high that you must do something, to, for God's sake, do something. And by that I don't mean watch more TV, or compulsively follow your favorite political blog. I don't mean forward a nasty email to your friends, or tell a hateful story about the other side to people who agree with you politically.

I mean act. Having a well-developed political opinion is very different than engaging in political action. I urge you to avoid the trap of "right thinking" and ideological purity, and instead to leave your home and your circle of like-minded friends. To get out there and work for your candidate or your cause, going door to door and talking with real live human beings, some of whom will be on the other side politically.

It's always easier to hate the other side when you only talk to people who agree with you. It's harder to demonize people when you have to look them in the face.

And looking people in the face, and honestly listening to what they say--even if you can't stand it---and working as hard as you can for what you believe is right, while praying for your enemies, is really the only way I can see out of the mess our country's in now. I know it's the only way I can escape my own bitterness and self-righteousness.

God willing, I'll be acting this fall. And each morning around eight, during Morning Prayer, I will be praying for all the candidates, and for the people of our country. Please join me.


Sara Miles is the author of Take this Bread: A Radical Conversion.

A religious liberal looks at "Christianists"

By Jean Fitzpatrick

With apologies to Kermit the frog, it's not that easy being a liberal religious voter.

People tend to pass you over in all the speculation about which candidate the evangelicals and right-wing Christians will support. Nobody polls us, and sometimes it seems as though nobody knows how we see things -- or recognizes that ours isn't "religion lite."

It's confusing, seeing a Presidential candidate who doesn't seem entirely clear whether he's an Episcopalian or a Baptist. I don't cast my vote based on a candidate's religious affiliation, but when a person's been an Episcopalian for 71 years and then during the South Carolina primary last year suddenly tells a reporter, "By the way, I'm not Episcopalian. I'm Baptist," even though he's never had an adult baptism, I think we deserve an explanation. It would help us understand what makes him tick. The Washington Post's faith blog was calling McCain "John the Baptist" this weekend, noting that John the Episcopalian made an unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination in 2000, which is also when he called Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell “forces of evil.”

It's worrisome, seeing a Vice Presidential candidate who calls herself as a "bible-based Christian," prays for a natural gas pipeline, and thinks the U.S. mission in Iraq is a task from God. "A lot of people were praying," James Dobson said recently, "and I believe Sarah Palin is God's answer." What was the question?

It's sad, hearing speech after speech by sarcastic Christians at the Republican convention. What was that nasty tone? We all have our moments, God knows, but it wasn't as though this was road rage -- these people were reading speeches off a teleprompter. Snarky might play well in the convention hall, but seeing it on the small screen I wondered where love thy neighbor fitted in. Exaggeration is certainly no stranger to politics, but hearing one untruth after another from Palin about her own record and Obama's on everything from tax hikes to the Bridge to Nowhere -- not to mention Huckabee claiming Palin "got more votes running for mayor of Wasilla, Alaska than Joe Biden got running for president of the United States" -- I wondered what happened to thou shalt not bear false witness.

And now McCain is running a commercial accusing Obama of supporting legislation to teach "comprehensive sex education to kindergartners." Implying a condoms-and-cucumbers approach to the facts of life, the voiceover intones ominously: "Learning about sex before learning to read?" Obama has repeatedly stated that he favors community-based programs that teach young children to know the difference between appropriate and inappropriate touch. As a pastoral psychotherapist with years of experience helping sexual abuse survivors, I am all too familiar with the need for programs that protect the most vulnerable among us. To distort this kind of education insults both Obama and anyone who has experienced sexual abuse.

Voters and leaders get into trouble when Christians turn into the home team and all they can think about is scoring. Here's a little news flash: Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world." It's not our job or our calling to claim the world or the country or even little Wasilla for Jesus. When we prey on people's fears and bring out the worst in them so they'll vote for us, then we've succumbed to lust for power and lost touch with what's essential. We diminish ourselves and our faith. I've decided to start using Andrew Sullivan's name for people who use the name "Christian" as a political identification: Christianist. "Christianity, in this view, is simply a faith," he wrote a couple of years ago on "Christianism is an ideology, politics, an ism....I mean merely by the term Christianist the view that religious faith is so important that it must also have a precise political agenda. It is the belief that religion dictates politics and that politics should dictate the laws for everyone, Christian and non-Christian alike."

The God who loves me loves Muslims and Jews and atheists, blacks, whites, and browns, gays, straights, wearers of flag pins, snowmobile racers, Eastern elites, moms of special needs babies, teens who have abortions, Republicans and Democrats, loves us all. Somehow we've all got to start doing a better job of leading this country, not to mention sharing this tiny, precious globe. A good start would be getting our facts straight and respecting one another. That's the candidate who gets my vote. It's not that easy being a liberal religious voter, but it'll do fine. It's not religion lite. It's hard. Demands all the brains and heart God gave us. But it's beautiful, as Kermit said. It's what I want to be.

Jean Grasso Fitzpatrick, L.P., a New York-licensed psychoanalyst and a member of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, sees couples and individuals in her private practice. A layreader in the Diocese of New York, she is the author of numerous books and articles on the spirituality of relationships, including Something More: Nurturing Your Child's Spiritual Growth and has a website at

Don't expand the President's power to make war

By George Clifford

Historically, the Christian tradition has relied – at least in its rhetoric – upon Just War Theory to decide when and how to wage war. The six jus ad bellum criteria (just cause, right authority, right intent, proportionality, last resort, and reasonable chance of success) provide a basis for deciding whether to wage war. The two jus in bello criteria (proportionality and non-combatant immunity) guide how a nation wages a just war.

The United States Constitution assigns Congress the power to declare war, i.e., Congress constitutes right authority for the U.S. to wage war. Yet in recent years, presidents have often acted unilaterally citing their role as Commander-in-Chief, their duty to defend the nation, and the need for expeditious action to justify bypassing or minimizing Congress’ role. Concurrently, Congress has often failed to exercise due diligence before authorizing the President to go to war.

U.S. involvement in Vietnam exemplifies those problems. By 1964, the Vietnam War was already well underway without Congressional authorization because of decisions made by Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson. Nevertheless, the Vietnam War’s cost in dollars and American lives had reached the point where President Johnson felt he needed authorization from a dubious Congress. Congress’ consideration of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution followed an alleged attack in international waters upon the Navy destroyer, USS MADDOX (DD-731), by North Vietnamese forces, an incident now known to have never happened. Passed after fewer than nine hours of committee and floor debate, the Tonkin Gulf Resolution authorized the President “to take all necessary steps, including the use of armed force, to assist any member or protocol state of the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty requesting assistance in defense of its freedom.” Subsequently, both President Johnson and Nixon relied upon the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution as the Congressional authority to wage the Vietnam War. Congress’ failure to engage in a full and open debate about whether to wage war contributed to the U.S. continuing a costly, ill-fated war.

Following 9/11, Congress expeditiously passed the Authorization for Use of Military Force Resolution on September 14, 2001, empowering the President “to use all necessary and appropriate force” against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks and to prevent future attacks. That resolution provided the legal basis for the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and the administration’s adoption of controversial policies such as indefinitely detaining those the government identifies as “illegal enemy combatants.”

Now the Bush administration quietly seeks Congressional authorization for continued armed conflict with al Qaeda and reaffirmation “that for the duration of the conflict the United States may detain as enemy combatants those who have engaged in hostilities or purposefully supported al Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated organizations.” Passage of this resolution will confer on President Bush and his successors broad wartime powers. Therefore, the resolution merits thoughtful and open consideration by Congress, citizens, and Christians.

From a Christian perspective, I find the resolution troubling for three reasons. First, Just War Theory emphasizes that going to war should be a last resort. The precedent of the U.S. invading Afghanistan based on wording of a similar resolution now exists. What country might this or a future President choose to invade, based on a new resolution? The draft contains no guidance on criteria to be satisfied before the U.S. invades another country. In other words, the proposed resolution is tantamount to Congress abdicating its war making powers and handing the Commander-in-Chief a blank check to make war if and when the President deems it right. The checks and balances written into the Constitution cohere well with the Christian recognition of pervasive sin. Concentrating power in the hands of one person unnecessarily invites abuses.

Second, the resolution attempts to perpetuate an egregious denial of human rights. Enemy combatants remain persons, something that committing a crime, no matter how heinous, can never change. The Book of Common Prayer’s baptismal covenant reminds us that all persons are worthy of equal dignity and respect, i.e., deserve equal rights and equal treatment. Thankfully, the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that prisoners at Guantanamo Bay are entitled to habeas corpus rights to challenge their imprisonment in court. Passage of the proposed resolution would attempt to circumvent that ruling and undercut our moral obligation to respect every human being as one of God's children.

Third, the proposed resolution tacitly suggests that effective government action can create a secure nation, e.g., allowing the government to wiretap U.S. citizens without a court order will keep the U.S. safe from terrorists. Bruce Fein, a former Justice Department official during the Reagan Presidency, said in comments about the proposed resolution, “I do not believe that we are in a state of war whatsoever. We have an odious opponent that the criminal justice system is able to identify and indict and convict. They’re not a goliath. Don’t treat them that way.”

Any demonizing of al Qaeda and other terrorists dehumanizes the terrorist, creates additional obstacles to ending the terrorist threat, and is a form of fear mongering. Elusive promises of absolute national security are all bogus. Trusting in the government, and especially in military prowess, for one’s security is a highly addictive, extremely dangerous form of idolatry that seduces many Americans. Whether we like it or not, life is inherently risky. Disease, disaster, or destruction strike frequently, e.g., Representative Stephanie Stubbs Jones death from cancer (sadly only one of thousands each year), hurricanes Gustav and Katrina, and the reports of random violence that appear daily in the headlines.

Jesus instructed his disciples to be as wise as serpents. Every person and government prudently acts to prevent criminal behavior, apprehend criminals, and properly adjudicate them. The demands of justice for all, temperately balancing individual liberty and security, and courageously living in the face of real threats all help to define the nature of those prudential actions. Policies that elevate security to a position of preeminence result in a society in which justice is impoverished and fear rules. Democratic governments that have yielded to fear, as happened in ancient Greece and Rome, generally become dictatorships. Democracy, not dictatorship, is the form of government most consonant with Christianity. As Christians, God calls us to live in community, both as people of faith and as citizens of a particular nation. Strengthened by God, seeking justice and liberty for all, and living boldly in the face of an uncertain, often risky, future is one cost of sustaining a democratic government.

The Rev. George Clifford, a retired priest in the Diocese of North Carolina, served as a Navy chaplain for twenty-four years.

Religious freedom in a diverse, secular society

By Luiz Coelho

It took several hours and the hardwork of many skilled professionals to install the huge Vermont-granite monument of the Ten Commandments in the rotunda of the Alabama Supreme Court in Montgomery. The sculpture, which was donated by benefactors, weighed more than five thousand pounds, and the process of installing the monument was so arduous and impressive that it was filmed by professional cameramen. However, despite the difficulties, Chief Justice Roy Stewart Moore was proud to announce to the media on the morning of August 1, 2001, the successful installation of the monument.

This story might sound like an ordinary episode in the history of public administration in the United States. It was not, though. The monument also portrayed, alongside the Judeo-Christian foundations of moral living, quotes from the Declaration of Independence, the United States’ National Anthem, and various sayings of the Founding Fathers. Many were in favor of the creation of the monument; however, many were also opposed to its installation in the Supreme Court rotunda, because they felt it overstepped the bounds of separation of Church and State. Several organizations filed suit in the United States District Court, asking for the removal of such a monument. Moore, who was already known for trying to implement prayer before trials and for taking his own portable Ten Commandments tablets to court, used the powers of his Office to resist the removal of the sculpture as long as he could. However, eight members of the Alabama Supreme Court intervened, unanimously overruled Moore, and ordered the removal of the monument. In the end, both the monument and Judge Moore were removed from the building.

Moore's story is not an isolated case. In several other instances of American public life, the Courts have removed religious symbols, such as crosses, crèches, and ten commandment tablets, from the public square in the last fifty years at least. Prayers in such environments are also heard less frequently. It can be said that in the United States, religion has been playing a less and less important role in public affairs altogether, even though conservative Christians are still seen in prominent circles both in society and the government.

Some see this trend as a direct attack against “traditional American values”, and – at least their perception of – the society that the forefathers of the United States worked to create. They often cite how peaceful and prosperous life was in the past, when “the Christian God” had a place of public honor among Americans. Many would argue, also, that freedom of religion has always been guaranteed by the U. S. Constitution, and that religious minorities have always had the right to build houses of worship. Are these views and arguments valid? Was religious freedom so evident in the past? Or, was it plainly masqueraded by a certain majority who belonged to one kind of faith only, and who created a set of structures to secure it? How worse, or better, are we now?

Like many people of faith, I dearly welcome the advent of real religious freedom, especially because it frees us to deal with symbols related to the religious life. It might be interesting, then, to see some examples of how public expressions of religion actually have changed in the last fifty years, and if they really helped us achieve more tolerance and full separation between church and state.

It would be inconceivable nowadays to demand anyone to hold to a particular religious viewpoint or to express a belief in God in order to hold a public office. Yet, fifty years ago, it was possible for public organizations to have prerequisites that would limit access to such jobs to people of faith only. For example, in the early sixties, Roy Torcaso was denied his appointment as a Notary Public in Maryland because he refused to declare a belief in God. Article 37 of Maryland's Declaration of Rights stated that a declaration of belief in the existence of God was necessary for any office, profit or trust in that state. The case went to the Supreme Court in 1961, and the Justices unanimously found Maryland's requirement a violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. That decision established a legal precedent which created a paradigm shift in the role of faith in the public square. From then on, an acknowledgement of a given religious belief ceased to be a prerequisite for public jobs in every part of the country.

Another example of changing attitudes toward the place of religion in the public square during the last fifty years can be seen in the public schools. The elderly can still recall that it was not uncommon to say prayers, sing religious hymns or even have obligatory religious services in public schools. A series of court rulings, however, has changed the possibility of such practices today. These rulings were the results of complaints by citizens, such as a group of parents of students in New Hyde Park, New York, who complained in 1966 that a public prayer to “Almighty God” was against their beliefs. The case, which became known as Engel v. Vitale, went to the Supreme Court, which ruled that government-directed prayers in public schools are a violation of the Establishment cause. Since that ruling, it has become more and more difficult to hear prayers said in public schools, and subsequent attempts to allow them have been defeated in court. Prayers in educational institutions are confined nowadays, to chaplaincies, religious clubs or associations of common-minded people. But, in no case may a person be obliged to participate in public prayers in school.

Such lawsuits and governmental measures have not appeared out of nowhere. They reflect, in fact, a very noticeable paradigm shift on the American religious scene. When the British allowed European settlers to establish colonies in these lands, most of them belonged to Christian religious groups, often Protestant denominations, although some Jewish settlers found a home here as well. With an increasing immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, this profile changed to include more Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians. Judeo-Christian religious ideology was still the norm, however, and it is reasonable to say that fifty years ago the overwhelming majority of Americans were Christians, or believers in God. This pattern started to change when immigration from non-Christian countries began to increase.

In their American Religious Identification Survey, researchers at the City University of New York discovered that from 1990 to 2001, the number of people in the United States ,who have a religion other than Christianity increased from 5.8 million to 8.7 million. Such a number, albeit still small, reflects a sizeable minority, which practically did not exist years ago.

Much more significant than the increase in non-Christians is the increase of people who identify as atheist and agnostic. Non-religious people were usually a very small and intellectual minority in the first half of the twentieth century. Today, they compose about fourteen percent of the American population, as pointed out in the aforementioned study, after having more than doubled in size from fourteen million people to practically thirty million people between 1990 and 2001. Together with non-Christians, they compose practically twenty percent of the American population – a percentage that is growing, according to the study.

The gradual secularization of the public square is merely a response to a more religiously diverse society. It is now impossible to ignore non-Christians and those who profess no faith at all. The removal of religious symbols, sometimes under serious protest, is the most neutral answer to a truly pluralistic society, rooted in the freedom of religion articulated in the United States Constitution and several other historical documents of this country.

It has to be said, though, that not only has the percentage of those who identify with a specific religion changed, but the profile of the typical religious American has also changed. In The Fifties Spiritual Marketplace: American Religion in a Decade of Conflict, Robert Ellwood argues that religious traditions in the 1950s were largely intensified by socio-political conditions. He believes that religious organizations used to provide a very important framework upon which families built their lives in the postwar period. Routine religion was part of what was perceived as normalcy, and after all the chaos of previous decades, people needed normalcy. Religion was also seen as the amalgama of American families – especially at a time many families were marked by the loss of beloved relatives. Finally, being religious was a sign of anti-communism; and, the cold war, with all of its implications, was often portrayed as a kind of Armageddon in many households. Back then, religion was completely intertwined with the way society was organized.

However, throughout the last fifty years, a series of movements in American society, such as the sexual revolution, women empowerment, the end of the cold war and fast communications, have drastically changed what Americans might call “family”. What is perceived as a familial arrangement in today’s society does not always correspond to the vision our grandparents shared. There are manifold types of families in our times and a direct genetic link between relatives does not exist in all of them. Families now include both heterosexual and homosexual partners, stepchildren, adopted children, remarried spouses, half-siblings, close friends and a myriad of other groups of people which would take pages to define. Religion, under this new context, is not necessaily the glue that holds families together. Common Sunday after-church luncheons have given way to cell phone calls or even e-mails. And with the rise of the so-called “religious right” in the government, the merger between religion and politics à la the cold war is not viewed favorably in more liberal circles.

Such conclusions are often misinterpreted as the final defeat of religion in the United States. Yet, it can be said that religious freedom was probably never more celebrated and protected in U. S. History as it is in our contemporary, pluralistic society today. The largely-Christian/largely-familial religious environment of the fifties posed a much greater threat to freedom of faith. People were often forced, by social conventions, to follow the same religion (and in many cases, the same denomination) as their parents and grandparents. Marriages often took place within such religious circles, regardles of the true beliefs of the participants. The scenario, nowadays, is markedly different. The latest survey by the Pew Forum of Religious and Public Life reveals an astonishing piece of information: nearly half of American adults leave the faith tradition of their upbringing, either to either switch allegiances or abandon religious affiliation altogether. Roman Catholic and Protestant mainline churches have lost members to newer Christian groups. Those who lack faith, are increasingly comfortable in leaving religious organizations they once belonged to for primarily social reasons. Yet once people find a religion that fulfills their needs, they are moe likely to adhere to it faithfully, and to try to engage in all the possibilities that it provides. Religion is to our generation, therefore, is much more a matter of personal choice than it was fifty years ago.

When the religious spectrum was monolithic, public manifestations of the majority faith were not bothersome to most people. Now, in a much more varied religious climate, it seems logical not to encourage any particular brand of faith in a public space. Thus, the much-criticized secularization of public places is actually an important step toward protecting religious freedom, and creating a more diverse and equaitalbe society. It helps reinforce the values enshrined in the U. S. Constitution and respects people's rights to choose whether to have a faith or be part of a religious institution. It also protects newer churches and religious groups from state-sponsored propaganda of older ones. And, as long as religions have the right to worship in their houses of prayer and act according to their beliefs, their rights are protected. The ongoing changes are definitely for the common good.

Luiz Coelho, a seminarian from the Diocese of Rio de Janero, spends part of the year in the BFA program at the Savannah College of Art and Design. His Web site includes his art and his blog, Wandering Christian, on which he examines "Christianity in the third millennium, from a progressive, Latin American and Anglican point of view."

Dialog of faith can ease tensions between U. S. and Iran

By John Bryson Chane

Politicians in both Iran and the United States have been divisive, disrespectful, and inflammatory in their condemnations of each other, in effect increasing the likelihood of a military confrontation. As the Episcopal Bishop of the Dioceses of Washington, DC, who has travelled twice to Iran and found friendship and shared values with Iranian clerics, I think it's time for religious leaders in both countries to take the initiative to find ways to seek peaceful solutions to the complex problems that have plagued US-Iranian relations for years.

Clerics on both sides believe that reconciliation must come from respectful communication. But such dialogue cannot occur in a vacuum, or in environments where people are demonising each other. The stakes are high in the Middle East, and the shrill and negative discourse of both countries' political administrations will not ease the increasing tensions between our countries. We must embrace tolerance and sincere dialogue to reverse this trend.

I have been to Iran twice, the first time in 2006 at the invitation of former President Khatami. More recently, I spent five days meeting with academic and religious leaders in Iran who are very concerned about the possibility of a US military incursion against their homeland. While in Tehran and Qom, one of the holiest cities in Iran, we spent a great deal of time discussing the common religious values and themes shared by both Christianity and Islam. Our commonalities centred on issues of peace as well as the moral prohibition of developing and using weapons of mass destruction.

In addition to agreeing that politicians have been behaving childishly, my Iranian colleagues and I also think that the level of ignorance by Christians and Muslims about each other's religions has been extremely unhelpful in extending positive dialogue between these two great monotheistic religions and our two nations.

A deeper understanding of both nations' cultures, as well as a willingness to face the labyrinth of US-Iranian history, are necessary first steps.

Iran uses the development of nuclear energy and the implied fear of future nuclear weapons as a wedge issue in its relationship with the United States. In its defence, Iran says it is the only Persian, Farsi-speaking country in a region of Arab nations. Once a great power thousands of years ago and now an emerging player in the Middle East in the 21st century, Iran says its future is threatened by nuclear programmes and weapons in the region.

Iran can also look to the history of unwelcome involvement by the United States in its internal affairs. The covert overthrow of popular Prime Minister Mosaddeq in 1953, the propping up and support of the unpopular Shah, the US government's military support of Sadaam Hussein in Iraq's war with Iran, and the failure of the Clinton Administration to embrace the emerging moderate leadership of President Khatami (eventually leading to Khatami's isolation by hardliners in his government) are all painful failures of US foreign policy.

At the same time, the United States has every right to be deeply concerned about statements made by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about the Holocaust and the eradication of the State of Israel, as well as the verification of anti-personnel weapons manufactured in Iran and their use by Iraqi Shi'a militants against American troops. And the hostage crisis of 1979, when militant Iranian students took over the US Embassy, still exists as an open wound in the American psyche.

Much of Iran's anti-Israel rhetoric can be attributed to deflected anger at the United States for violating known agreements about the parameters of establishing the State of Israel under the Roosevelt and Truman administrations and Israel's development of nuclear weapons without the permission of the United States. The perceived bias of the United States in favour of Israel in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has only exacerbated anti-Israeli feelings. (It must also be noted, however, that the largest concentration of Jews in the Middle East outside of Israel can be found living peacefully in Iran.)

It is imperative that religious leaders from both countries, who are respected for their scholarship and "religious diplomacy", continue their closely held and critically focused theological conversations unimpeded by visa restrictions too often imposed by the United States and Iran.

Likewise, members of the diplomatic corps on both sides need to acknowledge that they have been unable to broker a peaceful solution to the current crisis between our two countries and that it is time for some more creative solutions. A new 21st century understanding of Track II diplomacy, initiated through theological diplomacy, must go hand-in-hand with the formal diplomatic search for the peace that has always been at the centre of the Holy Books of both Christianity and Islam.

The Right Reverend John Bryson Chane is the Episcopal Bishop of the Dioceses of Washington, DC. He was named one of the 150 most influential leaders in the District of Columbia by Washingtonian Magazine. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

The plank in Michael Gerson's eye

By Jim Naughton

In today’s Washington Post, columnist Michael Gerson once again takes Sen. Barack Obama to task for his relationship with his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. In breaking with Wright, Gerson writes, Obama has woken from a theological slumber. But contrast Wright’s words and actions with those of Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, the leader of Gerson’s church, and ask yourself who has been sleeping.

Gerson is a member of the Falls Church in Falls Church, Va. His congregation and the nearby Truro Church, played the key role in leading 11 Virginia parishes out of the Episcopal Church after the Church consecrated Gene Robinson, an openly gay man as bishop in 2003. Most of these parishes joined the Church of Nigeria, which Akinola leads.

The relationship between Akinola, Truro and the Falls Church is a close one. The American churches provide important financial support for Akinola’s ministry, and American clergy frequently write his papers and speeches.

In February 2006, 10 months before Gerson's church made the final decision to affiliate with Akinola, Bishop John Bryson Chane of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington (full disclosure, he is my boss) published an op-ed piece in The Washington Post calling attention to proposed Nigerian legislation (here, on page 12) supported by Akinola that –interpreted as narrowly as possible—would have significantly curtailed the rights of gays, lesbians and their supporters to speak about their lives in public, assemble or practice their religion. Interpreted more broadly, language that aimed at stopping any displays of same-sex affection, public or private, direct or indirect, was a prescription for home invasion.

One of the more objectionable clauses in this legislation reads:

Any person who is involved in the registration of gay clubs, societies and organizations, sustenance, procession or meetings, publicity and public show of same sex amorous relationship directly or indirectly in public and in private is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a term of 5 years imprisonment.

Akinola’s supporters argued that Muslims were behind the bill, but human rights activists in Nigeria told a different story. The legislation was advanced by a Christian president, and supported by the Christian Association of Nigeria while Akinola was its president. The bill’s key parliamentary opponent was a Muslim.

The legislation was vigorously criticized by 16 international human rights groups, the European Parliament and the U. S. State Department. It eventually died, but Akinola never backed away from his support, even after human rights groups explained the potentially devastating effect the law could have had on groups working to prevent the speared of AIDS.

In the midst of this legislative struggle, Akinola gave an interview to The New York Times, which appeared on the paper’s front page on Christmas Day, 2006.

The way he tells the story, the first and only time Archbishop Peter J. Akinola knowingly shook a gay person’s hand, he sprang backward the moment he realized what he had done.

Archbishop Akinola, the conservative leader of Nigeria’s Anglican Church who has emerged at the center of a schism over homosexuality in the global Anglican Communion, re-enacted the scene from behind his desk Tuesday, shaking his head in wonder and horror.

“This man came up to me after a service, in New York I think, and said, ‘Oh, good to see you bishop, this is my partner of many years,’ ” he recalled. “I said, ‘Oh!’ I jumped back.”

Akinola's allies in the United States had worked hard to soften his image and distance him from the bill (very, very hard.) but the published record was against them, and after the Times' interview, Akinola stopped speaking to reporters in the U. S.

If Gerson had any trouble with Akinola's behavior, he did not voice it in a column he wrote five months later. In his first effort as a Post columnist, Gerson described Akinola's decision to consecrate Truro's former rector, the Rev. Martyn Minns, as a bishop in the Church of Nigeria, as an "epoch-dividing event," and praised Akinola's vibrant brand of Christianity.

Gerson may have been referring to the failed Nigerian legislation when he offered these highly-qualified reservations, but they are so vague it is impossible to tell:

This emerging Christianity can be troubling. Church leaders sometimes emphasize communal values more than individual human rights, and they need to understand that strongly held moral beliefs are compatible with a commitment to civil liberties for all. Large Pentecostal churches are often built by domineering personalities promising health and wealth.

(The Post printed my letter responding to Gerson’s piece. However, I was unsuccessful in persuading the paper to acknowledge that Gerson had hidden a conflict of interest from his readers in failing to disclose that his parish was involved in litigation over church property on Archbishop Akinola's behalf. This still seems to me a fairly obvious and signficant violation of journalistic ethics.)

In May, The Atlantic magazine raised new and more troubling concerns about Akinola. In “God’s Country,” the writer Eliza Griswold, daughter of the Rt. Rev. Frank Griswold, former Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, describes a retributive massacre in the Nigerian town of Yelwa carried out in 2004 by a well-organized band of men, wearing clothing and tags that identified them as members of the Christian Association of Nigeria. Akinola was president of CAN during the massacre, which Human Rights Watch reports claimed the lives of approximately 700 Muslims. Dozens of others were kidnapped, raped or maimed. (The relevant sections of the article and the HRW report are excerpted here.)

Eliza Griswold visited Akinola in 2006. She writes:

When asked if those wearing name tags that read “Christian Association of Nigeria” had been sent to the Muslim part of Yelwa, the archbishop grinned. “No comment,” he said. “No Christian would pray for violence, but it would be utterly naive to sweep this issue of Islam under the carpet.” He went on, “I’m not out to combat anybody. I’m only doing what the Holy Spirit tells me to do. I’m living my faith, practicing and preaching that Jesus Christ is the one and only way to God, and they respect me for it. They know where we stand. I’ve said before: let no Muslim think they have the monopoly on violence.”

When these remarks came to light, Akinola’s spokesman released a statement that had nothing to do with the incident at Yelwa, but with later riots over the publication of Danish cartoons, that Muslims viewed as insulting to the prophet Mohammed. Neither the archbishop nor his American followers have offered further elaboration.

Akinola's handling of the massacre in Yelwa and his incendiary comments during the cartoon riots contributed to his defeat when he ran for re-election of the Christian Association of Nigeria. Indeed, members of the Association took the unusual step of denying him the vice presidency, which is usually awarded to the candidate who finishes second in the presidential balloting. His anti-gay crusades, and his efforts to split the Anglican Communion over the issue of homosexuality led to the defeat of Akniola's handpicked successor, in the voting for president of the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa. Yet, members of his American flock, which is concentrated in Northern Virginia, but includes a congregation with close ties to the Family Research Council, and other conservative political groups, continues to support him.

These congregations are involved in a high-stakes effort aimed at either driving North American churches out of the Anglican Communion for their acceptance of same-sex relationships, or, failing that, splitting the Communion in two, and claiming leadership of a potentially large faction centered in Africa. This movement is financed by Americans who, with help from British evangelicals, are also its chief strategists. Public fealty to Akinola and one or two other African archbishops is essential, however, or the effort is unmasked as a largely Western enterprise, and loses credibility among Anglicans in the developing world—the very constituency for whom it purports to speak.

As a result, the Nigerian archbishop, whose influence is on the wane among Christian leaders in his own country and among Anglican leaders on his own continent due to his extremism, remains the spiritual leader of Michael Gerson’s parish, and in similarly-minded congregations in Northern Virginia.

Gerson may hold views very different than those of Akinola—just as Barack Obama may hold views very different than those of Jeremiah Wright. But given Gerson’s repeated criticism of Obama over his relationship with Wright, it seems fair to ask whether anything that Wright has said or done is as destructive to the human family or reflects as poorly on the Church as the word and actions of Peter Akinola, and why Gerson is able to pronounce with such supreme condescension on Obama’s failures when his own are so much more damning—and enduring.

Jim Naughton is editor of Episcopal Cafe.

On being an ally

By Ann Fontaine

Last year I updated my anti-racism training as required of lay and clergy leaders in the Diocese of Wyoming. As part of our training we pledged to work against racism in our churches and communities. Since I am white I wondered how I can fulfill that pledge as an ally with those who experience racism because of skin color and/or ethnic group. It is the same question I have when working with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (lgbt) brothers and sisters.

Reflecting on the struggle by women for equality in church and community, I know there is more to working as an ally than just being helpful and nice. An ally is one who works with others to attain their goals. An ally does not just stand beside one, but also “has one’s back,” offering to watch out for unseen dangers. I know from my own place of needing allies that it needs to be done with respect and consultation. Ask for information and guidance from those with whom one wishes to be an ally instead of assuming one knows best for the other.

Some questions to consider in ally work:

Are there ways that being a white person who is an ally to other racial communities, being a man who is an ally to women, being straight and an ally to lgbt persons, and being non-transgender and an ally to transgender people are similar? Different?

If we are members of marginalized groups what do we look for in non-members who want to be allies?

Are allies helpful or harmful to progress? Is it something in between?

The author, James Baldwin spoke about the danger of allies with savior complexes. Have any of us had experiences with allies who thought of their role in that way? Have we fallen into that mode of acting ourselves?

Working as an ally is often difficult. The story of the Good Samaritan shows how easy it is just to walk on by and not get involved. During Civil Rights struggles of the 1960s people who were allies suffered physical harm and death. In South Africa, white women who belonged to the Black Sash movement and who demonstrated against the white apartheid laws and assisted people negotiating the difficulties of the “pass” laws were shunned by their white friends. Those who ally with people who are transgender, gay, lesbian, and bisexual for civil rights are attacked with name-calling and worse. Those who work as allies are often marginalized along with those with whom they ally. Allies can find themselves on the outside of both the dominant group and the marginalized group. It can be a lonely place unless there are other allies with whom one can work and talk.

The reward of justice and space for all to live into the fullness of their creation is worth the difficulties but it is important not to underestimate what might happen as well as one’s own ability to fail at the task.

A possible Code for Allies might be:

We listen to those with whom we work without judging the perspectives, experiences, and feelings of the members of the marginalized group, even when the words feel accusatory towards us. These perspectives, experiences and feelings reveal what we do not know about those with whom we seek to become allies.

We seek to learn from those with whom we ally in order to educate ourselves and others about the culture and concerns of those with whom we are allied. We examine our fears of “the other. We recognize the interconnectedness of “isms” and other examples of individual and societal prejudice.

We understand the commonalities and the differences among the various expressions of prejudice and isolation of groups.

We identify and work to change our prejudicial beliefs and actions as well as to change the beliefs and actions of others, both individual and institutional.

We build relationships with other discredited, marginalized, oppressed, non-privileged groups.

We work for the equalizing and responsible use of power and authority.

We advocate for policies and activities that support those affected by injustice.

We use appropriate language.

We confront inappropriate language.

We ask questions rather than assume we know the answer.

We take risks.

We appreciate the efforts by members of our ally group to point out our mistakes.

We combat the harassment, discrimination, and physical assault that marginalized groups experience in our society by speaking out, by our presence and by working to change the systems that continue oppression and give one group privilege over another.

We appreciate the risks taken by our allies for their own freedom.

We recognize that groups need to work on their own and with others – even when that means we may be left out of the discussion and work.

We support other allies.

We act as allies with no conditions attached.

What should be done as an ally if one thinks a chosen course of action is unwise or will not work as planned? One option is to ask how the strategy was developed and what it seeks to accomplish. This helps to open up the conversation and perhaps give an opportunity to express questions. Giving support does not require blind obedience, but if the group decides this is the right way to proceed then an ally needs to choose whether to participate or not. An ally who undermines the group is worse than those who are not allies.

In the end it is worth asking why one might wish to be an ally? Why does one think it will be helpful? Is anyone asking for help? Examining motives helps to keep one from falling into savior roles or trying to get needs met at the expense of others.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. often quoted Theodore Parker saying, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." If we are to be part of this moral universe becoming an ally helps bend the arc.

In our baptismal covenant we promise to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves and to strive for justice and peace among all people, respecting the dignity of every human being. These promises are a foundation for the work of becoming an ally.

We become allies as followers of Christ, who commands us to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves. The work is for us and our souls as well as for the healing of our communities and the world.

(My thanks to Lelanda Lee, Michael Music, James Toy, the blog Bilerico, Kay Flores, Kristin Fontaine, and Laurie Gudim for their help with this article.)

The Rev. Ann Fontaine, of the Diocese of Wyoming, keeps the blogs Green Lent and what the tide brings in. She is the author of Streams of Mercy: a meditative commentary on the Bible.

Against capital punishment

By George Clifford

The Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, John Roberts, in his majority opinion in Baze v. Rees, No. 07-5439, the recent Kentucky death penalty case challenging the constitutionality of execution by lethal injustice, wrote:

Simply because an execution method may result in pain, either by accident or as an inescapable consequence of death, does not establish the sort of ‘objectively intolerable risk of harm’ that qualifies as cruel and unusual [under the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment].

A premise underlying Roberts’ comment – that the death penalty is not a kind, gentle act – seems commonsensical to me. Unfortunately, modern culture often lacks an adequate supply of the precious commodity we call commonsense. Why would anyone think that capital punishment, however administered, is not painful?

Societies impose the death penalty on convicted criminals for three reasons. First, a society may intend the death penalty to deter people from committing crime. Deterrence obviously proved ineffective with respect to the criminal justly convicted of a crime. Both death penalty proponents and opponents point to research that supposedly supports their argument that the death penalty deters, or does not deter, crime. From my ethical perspective, the research is irrelevant. My ethical problem with justifying the execution of one individual to deter other persons from committing crimes is that this reduces the one executed to a means to an end, thereby denying that person’s inherent dignity and worth as a child of God. Christians should never view a person as simply an instrument for achieving a goal, no matter how laudable the goal. The Gospel of Luke’s account of the crucifixion portrays Jesus assuring one of the criminals crucified with Jesus that the two of them, that very day, will be together in Paradise (23:39-43). Jesus clearly regarded the criminals crucified with him, who both acknowledged their guilt, as persons worthy of dignity and respect in spite of their crimes. In Luke’s narrative, one criminal experiences transformation, the other does not.

Admittedly, Scripture’s witness on the issue of deterrence, like the research on deterrence, is inconsistent. Some Biblical passages recognize the value of deterrence:

• “Stone them to death for trying to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. Then all Israel shall hear and be afraid, and never again do any such wickedness.” - Deuteronomy 13:10-11 • “All the people will hear and be afraid, and will not act presumptuously again.” - Deuteronomy 17:13 • “The rest shall hear and be afraid, and a crime such as this shall never again be committed among you.” - Deuteronomy 19:20

Other passages suggest that retribution belongs to God, undercutting the rationale for deterrence:

• “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people…” - Leviticus 19:18 • “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’” - Romans 12:19 • For we know the one who said, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’” - Hebrews 10:30

I discuss retribution, the third rationale for the death penalty, below. Suffice it to say, the Deuteronomic passages supporting deterrence reflect a more rigid legalism and less robust understanding of personhood than I find in Leviticus and the New Testament. These latter passages point to a developing awareness of the demands of loving as God loves. Not surprisingly, the Baylor Institute of Religion survey, American Piety in the 21st Century, published in September 2006, confirmed that individuals who have an authoritarian image of God are more likely to support the death penalty than individuals who have a benevolent image of God.

Second, society may impose the death penalty intending to prevent a person convicted of a serious crime from further harming anyone else. As a Christian, I have two ethical problems with this rationale. Capital punishment is a final solution that allows no second chance. What if new evidence becomes available that the person executed was, in fact, innocent? Worse yet, what if the executed person is innocent but nobody ever finds the exculpatory evidence? At least in the first instance, society can release and compensate the convicted person discovered to be innocent. No evidentiary standard, no matter how high it is set, can guarantee that absolutely everyone given the death penalty is in fact guilty.

Even more morally troubling to me, the death penalty makes a large number of people – legislators, police, judges, lawyers, jurors, prison officials – complicit in the death of each person executed. William J. Wiseman, Jr. was a member of the Oklahoma State House of Representatives from 1974 to 1980. He admits that for six years his highest priority, like that of every legislator he has ever known, was retaining his seat. Everything else was in a different category of regard and concern. Philadelphia Quakers had educated Wiseman and he opposed the death penalty. He believed that at best it was unjustified and at worst was immoral.

When a bill came before the legislature to re-write Oklahoma’s death penalty law, Wiseman found himself in a difficult position. Ninety percent of his district, as measured by a poll that he had commissioned, supported the death penalty. He was afraid that if he voted against the death penalty he would not be re-elected. Wiseman attempted to rationalize supporting the death penalty by seeking a more humane means of execution. Working with the state medical examiner, who sought out Wiseman after learning of Wiseman’s quest for a more humane method of execution, they drafted what became the nation’s first legislation authorizing capital punishment by lethal injection. Over thirty states have copied that groundbreaking legislation.

Today, William Wiseman lives with the knowledge, the guilt, that he is morally responsible for the execution of many criminals. He sacrificed his principles for political expediency. (William J. Wiseman, “Inventing lethal injection,” The Christian Century, 20-27 June 2001, pp. 6-7) I do not believe that I have the moral right to ask others to kill another person to prevent that person from committing additional crimes when at least one viable alternative exists, e.g., life in prison without parole. This belief mirrors Christian Just War Theory, which requires any potential war to satisfy a number of criteria, one of which is that war is truly the last resort, before waging war with the attendant use of lethal force is morally justifiable.

Third, society may impose the death penalty as retribution against the criminal for the crime committed. The gospels report in several places that Jesus taught his disciples, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 5:43; 19:19; 22:39; Mark 12:31). Jesus’ teaching echoes the Torah (Leviticus 19:18) and the New Testament repeats it several times (Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8). Pretending that Jesus thought that anyone involved in imposing the death sentence on him or in executing him acted out of love for him mocks the brutally cruel reality of his crucifixion. Similarly, no amount of thought or imagining allows me to construe legally executing a convicted criminal as loving that person.

Some death penalty proponents argue that executing the guilty individual somehow expiates, atones for, makes amends, or compensate the victim or victim’s loved ones. Executing the guilty, from this perspective, becomes an act of justice, if not love, for the victim or victim’s loved ones. This entails, as with the first rationale for the death penalty, reducing the executed to a means to an end. In other words, the way to set the first wrong – the crime(s) that led to the imposition of the death penalty – right is a second wrong – the dehumanization of the criminal. Two wrongs never make a right.

Capital punishment is obviously painful. Its principal pain stems not from the method of execution, no matter how agonizing. Prematurely extinguishing a human life causes the real anguish of capital punishment. The executed criminal experiences that pain most intensely. The rest of us are diminished by the loss of a brother or sister and because we ourselves become a little less human every time our society executes one of its members. The time has come to declare loudly, emphatically, and decisively through our political process that capital punishment is inimical with whom we believe God has called us to become. Capital punishment should end, regardless of constitutional issues, because capital punishment is morally wrong.

The Rev. George Clifford, a retired priest in the Diocese of North Carolina, served as a Navy chaplain for twenty-four years.

How the President (and the press) misinterpreted the Pope

By W. Nicholas Knisely

Pope Benedict has just finished his first visit (as Pope) to the United States. It’s not surprising that many of his statements tended to confuse the people covering the event. The Pope, a former theology professor, shares a trait with the present Archbishop of Canterbury; he speaks in paragraphs, not in sound bites. (And he won’t simplify concepts so that they are easily digestible by the evening newsreaders.) But it wasn’t something that the Pope said, it was something that our President claimed the Pope had said that sent me off on a week’s worth of research and thinking. During a television interview on the eve of the visit, the President expressed his gratitude for the Pope’s teaching that "there's right and wrong in life, that moral relativism has a danger of un-dermining the capacity to have more hopeful and free societies." The President’s statement elicited a flurry of articles and online conversations about how relativism might actually achieve the destruction of society. But the problem is, near as I can tell, the President got the Pope’s thinking just about dead wrong.

I was particularly interested in the question of the proper role of relativism because of my training prior to studying for the priesthood. Part of my studies were spent in theoretical physics (in a small branch of general relativity theory actually) and I’ve been teaching a course on the philosophy of physics for the past six years or so. As part of all that I’ve been digging into the philosophical underpinnings of both classical and quantum physics and trying to see how we might connect the work being done there with the way we as a Church talk about God (literally: Theology).

One of the most important breakthroughs in classical physics in the past century came about as a result of Albert Einstein’s willingness to take the philosophical ideas of Ernst Mach seriously. Mach argued, in effect, that “reality” was ultimately determined by a person’s own observations. Einstein used the idea to construct his postulate of relativity which states that one reference frame’s observation is equally true as another’s even if they contradict, because the laws of physics must be the same for all. There are a couple of shelves worth of books involved in unpacking the statement, but the upshot is that no one observer can really claim priority over another one, even if they contradict each other. In effect, each person’s experience of the world around them is equally valid to another’s. While this was not a universally accepted idea in physics until the second half of the twentieth century (Hitler and Stalin claimed the idea that there was no absolute truth in Science to be preposterous and a result of deviant and Jewish thinking) the concept was repeatedly confirmed in experiment after experiment and is now broadly accepted in the physical sciences.

But a deeper question remains. Given that relativity is experimentally verified in the physical world, how should it be used in the realm of ideas? Do we want to argue that because relativity is a characteristic of physical reality, that it must also be a characteristic of morality? Should it be a fundamental characteristic of theology as well? (If that’s true, then much of the scholasticism of Reformation and Counterreformation theology is automatically overturned.) Benedict, back when he was known as Cardinal Ratzinger, tried to answer these questions. There’s a lovely summary of his thinking available online titled “Relativism, The Central Problem for Faith Today” that walks us through his objections. Apparently the President’s people based the President’s remarks on the title of the essay and not the actual text.

Pope Benedict’s critique of relativism shows that he’s not simply rejecting relativity in a sort of modern versus post-modern reactionary way as the President’s words seem to imply. What the Pope does instead is to look carefully at how various theologians have used relativistic and subjectivist philosophical systems. His critique centers on the observation that the move to reject the very existence of absolutes takes us to a place we don’t want to go. (It essentially forces us to reject any special quality to the revelation of God in the person of Jesus.) But Benedict recognizes the possibility that while ultimate truth exists, it is unknowable by human beings except in approximation.

Painting with a very broad brush, in technical terms the Pope is arguing that Positivism cannot be proven and is even poisonous to theology, and he’s willing at least to enter-tain the principles of PostPositivism (and some of its specific children) as a way of continuing a conversation between science, theology and philosophy. I don’t have space in this essay to unpack fully the meaning of each of the terms above, but a little googling and an afternoon’s worth of reading and all will become moderately clear.

The Pope thus is landing in the same place where most scientists are these days, in post-positivism. Post-positivists admit the impossibility of being able to make statements of fact in an absolutely true way, but still attempt to express truth in a way that is “good enough” for a given purpose. These good-enough expressions come with the caveat that they might be different (pluriform) in different contexts. Post-positivism instead cautions that all attempts to describe truth are ultimately limited and incomplete, but that the attempt should be made. It is not the same as the idea of philosophical relativity which says that there is no unique truth at all, and all claims to truth are equally valid. It’s an important distinction because the implications of a fully relativistic world view take us down roads we know from experience we should not travel.

But keep in mind that while Benedict cautions against the implications of relativism, he doesn’t attempt to solve the problem the way the President’s quote would implies. He does not embrace absolutism as a corrective to the dangers of relativism. Here is Benedict’s key point on the subject in the essay I reference above: “I am of the opinion that neo-Scholastic rationalism failed which, with reason totally in-dependent from the faith, tried to reconstruct the pre-ambula fidei with pure rational cer-tainty.” Benedict goes on to argue that truth can only be approached by means of a path that uses faith and philosophy in a respectful dialogue and that attempting to rely on one or the other is to make a fundamental mistake.

Why does this matter? Look how badly the majority of people have understood the point that the Pope was making. In effect they are force-fitting what he did say into a structure of modernity that they want him to support even while he is explicitly rejecting it. Why do they do this? The idea that there are no fully knowable moral absolutes is not easily accepted by most people. If science and philosophy won’t give us the absolutes we desire then we turn to religion for them, as is what seems to have happened here. The problem is that the absolutes are not readily available in religion either, at least according to Benedict.

This missing of the point is just another example of how desperately people want neat and easy answers to complex and difficult questions. The President’s people got the Pope wrong. They did so because they wanted to be able to say that we are right and others are wrong. (The press got the Pope wrong because they apparently relied on the President’s writers to do their work for them.) But it’s not just the President’s speech writers who chase after the mirage of absolutes. We all want to know for certain what God wants us to do. The problem is that what we want and what the universe gives us are often different. To quote Westley in “The Princess Bride”, we must all “get used to disappointment.” Instead we need to recognize that the best we do is to muddle through, trying to do the best we can and trusting desperately in God’s mercy revealed to us in Jesus. Somehow I think free societies will manage to survive as well.

The Very Rev. W. Nicholas Knisely is Dean of Trinity Cathedral in Phoenix Ariz. He serves as Chair of the Standing Commission on Episcopal Church Communication, is active in ecumenical works and was originally trained as an astronomer before he was ordained. His blog is Entangled States.

Untangling the roots of violence

By Kris Lewis

In the courtyard outside Trinity Wall Street sits a brass sculpture cast from the root of a large sycamore tree that once stood in the churchyard of St. Paul’s Chapel. On September 11, 2001 when the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center came tumbling down, this tree absorbed the shock waves that some have likened to a small nuclear blast, and fell in such a way that it shielded the chapel and the graveyard from damage caused by falling debris. I walked by this sculpture each day to enter the church for Trinity Institute’s program on religion and violence but it wasn’t until I was leaving Wednesday evening at the conclusion of the conference, my head and my heart full, that it struck me what an apt symbol this sculpture was for what we’d been doing. Just as this root provided strength and stability for the tree it supported, so too does religion provide grounding for the community of faith. And just as these roots were ripped from the ground by seismic shocks, allowing a tall and proud tree to fall, so too can religion be uprooted, shaken and disturbed by forces of conflict and change. Ironically, the root memorialized here had buffered the effects of perhaps the greatest single act of violence this country has witnessed—an act many have attributed at least in part to religious fundamentalism. And we were here to untangle the roots of religion and violence.

The program began with lofty questions—are religion and violence inextricably linked? Is the perceived link the result of misinterpretation, subversion of sacred texts? Can our religious symbols and stories be reinterpreted, reshaped to break that link? Or must we abandon religion, completely rid ourselves of what many hold to be archaic ways of making meaning, in order to forge a more peaceful world? Hard questions with no easy answers.

The conference speakers, like the attendees, represented the three Abrahamic religions. Each spoke movingly of both their particular faith tradition and their own experiences. Each called into question some of the assumptions made about those traditions and experiences both by those in the faith and those outside it.

Noted Black Liberation theologian James Cone recalled for us the role religion played both in the oppression of African Americans and in their attempt to find meaning in an unjust world. Injustice itself is a form of violence, he reminded us, and the church cannot truly be church unless it calls into question the social structures that support injustice. As long as there is injustice there must be resistance and the church is called to empower the people for that resistance. Moreover, the church should be the source of hope for a people engaged in resisting the violence of an unjust world.

Jewish scholar Susannah Heschel questioned the validity of blaming violence on religious fundamentalists and extremists. What, after all, defines extreme—is it praying once a day or five times? Is dying for one’s country allowed, but not dying for one’s religion? And cannot liberalism lead to extremes just as fundamentalism might? Violence is present in our sacred stories, but how we understand those stories will necessarily affect how we deal with that violence, and so we need to consider how we construct and interpret our religious narratives. The challenge, according to Heschel, is not to erase the particularities of our faith communities, but rather for each community to embrace its own tradition without demonizing the other, all the while remembering that the ultimate expression of God is justice.

Catholic author James Carroll noted how deeply the myth of redemptive violence is embedded not only in the religious consciousness of America but also in our secular worldview. From the Puritan settlers who envisioned a new “Jerusalem on a hill” and who sacrificed the lives of native Americans and black slaves to achieve their vision, through the series of wars fought to maintain freedom but on whose altars the lives of millions of young men were laid, culminating in the current “war on terror,” sanctified violence has been a way of life in this nation. Our challenge now is twofold—to come truly to grips with the violent realities of our past and to wrestle with issues of boundaries, purity, inclusiveness, atonement and sacrifice in a way that allows for both honest self-criticism and hope for the future.

Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan argued that we must promote justice and dignity for all if we want a world of non-violence. Tolerance of the other is not enough; rather we must respect the other and look for places where values and conscience are shared as a foundation for a peaceful world. We must reform ourselves before we can reform others, Ramadan reminded us, and we must work to find meaning in life from God.

(Interviews with Carroll, Cone, Heschel and Ramadan will be featured on the Cafe's Video blog, courtesy of Trinity, Wall Street.)

A pacifist at heart and a firm believer in non-violent resistance, I came to this conference already full of my own questions about the roots of violence and what I perceive to be a failure on the part of the Christian community to honestly confront it. I left with a head full of new perspectives and insights from my own faith community and from those whose faith is different. I left, too, with a heart full of sadness and doubt, seeing the scope of the problem to be even greater than I had conceived. Despite this sadness and doubt however, I also left with a sense of hope—hope born out of the willingness of people of different faith communities to come together to grapple with such difficult issues and out of the experience of sharing my doubts and fears and my dreams for a better world in a group willing to hear them and bear them with me.

The Rev. Dr. Kris Lewis is a graduate of the General Theological Seminary and serves as the Assistant Rector at Saint Mary's Episcopal Church, Barnstable MA. She is learning to see the world with new eyes through photography and keeps the blog My Soul in Silence Waits.

Climate Change, Hunger and Industrial Animal Agriculture

By Christine Gutleben and Lois Wye

Climate change is receiving increasing attention among faith communities, especially The Episcopal Church. As people of faith, we are becoming more aware of our roles as stewards of creation, while developing sensitivities to our consumption habits and our carbon footprints. The Episcopal Church has also put the U.N.’s Millennium Develop Goals on the front burner, recognizing the religious communities’ critical role in reducing world hunger and improving the lives of our brothers and sisters around the globe.

Our Presiding Bishop, Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori, has recognized that climate change and world hunger are inexorably intertwined. Testifying before Congress in June of this year, she said, “We cannot triumph over global poverty . . . unless we also address climate change, as the two phenomena are intimately related. Climate change exacerbates global poverty, and global poverty propels climate change.” Bishop Jefferts Schori’s testimony is significant; however, a third critical element is missing from the discussion. Unless we take an honest look at industrial animal agriculture and the food choices that support this system, our progress in mitigating world hunger and climate change will be significantly hampered.

Nearly one fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock agriculture – more than the contribution of all transportation systems combined, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) report, Livestock’s Long Shadow. Moreover, the report states that thousands of acres rainforest are cleared to make way for farming—to raise grain not for people or pastured animals, but for feedlots. In many parts of the world, small farmers are forced out of business and into poverty when they are unable to compete with large industrial farming practices. In short, if we want to have the strongest impact on combating both climate change and world hunger, we must do more than turn off the light switch or trade in our SUVs for hybrids; we must change the way we shop and the way we eat.

The problem is one of increasing urgency. The contribution of factory farming to environmental problems, world hunger, and untold animal suffering is rising rapidly. In 1961, the average American consumed 195 pounds of meat per year, by 2001 this figure rose to 272 pounds per year—a 77 pound increase in the last 40 years, according to the FAO. This illustrates that the continual growth of industrial animal agriculture in the United States is not simply a result of having to feed more people, it is also a result of Americans eating more meat. And the problem doesn’t stop there. As our western, meat-based diet is exported around the globe, per person meat consumption is exploding in countries like China and Brazil. The average person in China is consuming an increase of 110 pounds of meat per year, up from 40 years ago; similarly, in Brazil, the average person is now consuming an increase of 113 pounds of meat per year. At this rate, in just 20 years, we will need to produce 5 times more meat than we are currently producing globally, according to the FAO.

Factory Farming and Climate Change

The industrial livestock industry is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, as measured in carbon dioxide equivalent. This accounts for animal agriculture’s direct impact as well as the impact of the resources required for feedcrop agriculture. Methane, nitrous oxide and ammonia emissions, all of which have a more significant global warming potential than carbon dioxide, are also produced in high quantities on factory farms. The U.S. produces the largest portion of methane emissions from farm animal manure in the world, totaling nearly 1.9 million tons annually.

A 2005 report from the University of Chicago entitled Diet, Energy and Global Warming concluded that the average American diet, which includes meat, dairy and eggs produces 1.5 metric tons of carbon dioxide more per person per year than a plant-based diet yielding the same calories. The study notes that producing a calorie of meat protein means burning more than ten times as much fossil fuels and ten times as much carbon dioxide than a calorie of plant protein. The emissions difference between an omnivorous diet and a plant-based diet is roughly the difference between driving an SUV and a compact car. Indeed, however much energy we save through switching light bulbs or driving hybrid cars, we will sooner or later have to address our diet and reduce our consumption of factory farmed animal products if we are serious about mitigating the effects of climate change.

Factory Farms and World Hunger

Compassion in World Farming (CIWF), a non-governmental organization headquartered in the United Kingdom, has produced an excellent, 17 minute video entitled, “Eat Less Meat.” This video illustrates the impact of a meat-based diet and factory farming on human health, the environment, world hunger, and animal welfare. According to CIWF, the growing global popularity of meat as a dietary staple and the increasing middle class in many countries has encouraged intensive industrial farming methods in developing countries. This is usually undertaken as a joint venture with western companies, and meat is produced both for export and the local middle class. Local small scale farmers cannot compete and lose their farms. They tend to drift into cities and move from being self-sufficient farmers to landless urban poor.

Moreover, the rise of factory farms worldwide encourages the development of monocultures, wherein farmers are encouraged to grow a single crop solely to be exported for animal feed. Thus, local economies become less diversified and more fragile, affordable food is removed from local economies, and land which could be used to raise food for people is instead used to raise food for animals.

According to the World Health Organization, a hectare of land used to raise crops for livestock can feed only two people, while a hectare of land used to grow rice or potatoes for people can feed approximately 20 people. If everyone in the world were to eat as much meat as the average American, by mid-century it would require four planets the size of earth to grow the grain to feed the animals. Conversely, according to the International Food Policy Institute, if people in the west halved their consumption of meat, and the land used to feed those animals was used to grow crops for people, 3.6 million children in developing countries could be saved from malnutrition by the year 2020.

Factory Farms and Animal Welfare

After World War II, the process of raising animals became largely transformed into one of producing high quantities of meat as cheaply as possible, at the inevitable expense of animal welfare. Animals have been moved from pastures to feedlots and warehouses. Some of the worst abuses of factory farms include battery cages for egg-laying hens, where hens are crammed row upon row into cages so small they cannot spread their wings, and gestation crates, where 400 pound hogs are kept in cages so small they cannot turn around. Most factory farmed animals spend their entire lives without feeling the earth beneath their feet or the sun on their backs.

In the United States alone, ten billion animals will be killed this year for our consumption. Most of these animals will spend their lives inside factory farms. These are God’s creatures, entrusted to our care. They live their lives and go to their deaths without one gentle touch, one act of mercy, from human hands.

We live in a culture where few of us have any idea how food gets to our table. There are rumblings of change within the faith community. In May of this year, Barbara Kingsolver spoke at the National Cathedral about her book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, regarding the importance of eating mindfully. In August, The New York Times published, “Of Church and Steak: Farming for the Soul,” which addresses the need recognized by some in the faith community to treat farm animals more humanely and to practice more sustainable methods of agriculture. These rumblings need to become a roar.

Where do we go from here

Farmer, author and teacher, Wendell Berry, offers this critique of the way we purchase food products without concern for origin. Berry explains that our food choices are critical not only for our own spiritual integrity, but for the health and well being of the earth and all its inhabitants:

We can [not] live harmlessly or strictly at our own expense; we depend upon other creatures and survive by their deaths. To live, we must daily break the body and shed the blood of creation. The point is, when we do this knowingly, lovingly, skillfully, reverently, it is a sacrament; when we do it ignorantly, greedily, clumsily, destructively, it is a desecration…in such desecration, we condemn ourselves to spiritual and moral loneliness, and others to want.

Deliberate, selective, intentional and compassionate food choices that align with our spiritual principles are, in part, what makes food a sacrament – a material reality that conveys the divine. We have the choice to experience the sacramentality of creation or its destruction when we purchase, prepare and eat our food. Berry also reminds us that we are not the center of God’s universe. We exist as dependent creatures within diverse and intricate ecosystems and should consider food choices with this in mind.

It is time our food choices enter into the “carbon footprint” equation. These choices have a far greater impact than has been accounted for thus far and it is time our religious communities consider the ethics of eating as part of any serious work on climate change and the fight against world hunger. As The New York Times noted in its recent article, “If this nascent cause [were to be] taken up by large numbers of churches and synagogues, the economic effect alone could be profound.”

In 2003, the Episcopal Church took the first steps in recognizing this need with GC Resolution D016. “Support Ethical Care of Animals,” condemns the suffering caused by factory farms and calls upon the church to encourage its members to adhere to ethical standards in the treatment of animals and to advocate for legislation protecting them. Farms with stricter animal welfare standards benefit animals, humans, and the environment.

The Humane Society of the United States’ (HSUS) Animals and Religion program is reaching out to congregations and religiously affiliated organizations to join with it to work in partnership for a more just, sustainable and humane food system. The collaboration between HSUS and the religious community could form a powerful coalition to return industrial agriculture to a more appropriate scale and address the problems inherent in the factory farming system. The HSUS commends The Episcopal Church’s resolution on animals and suggests reducing the consumption of animal products, refining the selection of these products to more humane alternatives and replacing them with sustainably produced fruits, vegetables, grains and legume as important steps in enacting the resolution, reducing one’s carbon footprint, combating world hunger and being better stewards of both the earth and all its inhabitants.

Christine Gutleben is Director of the Animals and Religion Program at the Humane Society of the United States. Lois Godfrey Wye is an environmental attorney at the law firm of Holland & Knight, a student at Wesley Theological Seminary, and a parishioner at the Washington National Cathedral.

Links referred to in this article:
Livestock's Long Shadow Executive Summary (FAO)
Diet Energy and Global Warming (University of Chicago)
Eat Less Meat Video (CIWF)
Factory Farms
Battery Cages for egg laying hens
Gestation Crates
Of Church and Steak: Farming for the Soul (NYT)
Support Ethical Care of Animals (TEC)
The 3 R's

A system that excludes the poor

By George Clifford

I am a fan of democracy. Although every form of democracy has its problems, no other system of government seems better suited to respecting the dignity and rights of all. The other day, I read Cornell West’s Democracy Matters. West notes that democracies have historically had short life spans and then insightfully observes that one can link the end of every democracy to increases in poverty and paranoia. That prompted some reflections about life in America today, the 2008 Presidential campaign, and my Christian faith.

Poverty is on the increase in the U.S. Scholars, politicians, and others point to a variety of causes that include tax policy, business practices, fewer two parent families, etc. Eradicating poverty is a complex challenge without easy answers. As a Christian who prefers to live in a democracy, I must make that challenge a priority. Scripture suggests that God, in the words of the former Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt. Rev. David Sheppard, has a bias toward the poor. Yet I find that even among political candidates who claim to have a strong commitment to ending poverty, other issues generally receive more attention. Anti-poverty messages have little political traction and therefore take a backseat. Nationally, as well as in my home state of North Carolina, anti-poverty programs and initiatives die in legislative committee more often than they come to a vote in the full legislature.

Recently, I also read The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama. Obama worked as a community organizer with the poor before attending Harvard Law School and beginning his political career. Not surprisingly, given that background and his strong Christian faith, Obama has tried to maintain an emphasis on helping the least advantaged among us. I do not intend these comments as an endorsement of Obama; voters must measure the merit of his platform and depth of his commitments against that of the other candidates using a Christian scale. Instead, Obama’s background provides the context for what I found very powerful in his book, his description of how an insatiable need for campaign funds drives politicians into close association with moneyed interests. Politicians solicit donations from prospective donors by cultivating relationships through phone calls, meetings, and campaign events. The longer one is a politician, the more time one invariably and necessarily will spend with those moneyed interests. With time, conversations become more extensive and friendships develop; repeated exposure to the thoughts, prejudices, and worldview of the affluent begins to color the politician’s views and priorities. The process excludes the poor, and even most middle-class, because they are not in a financial position to donate $1000 or more to a political campaign.

Obviously, the electoral system’s structure reflects an inherent bias toward the wealthy rather than toward the poor. Perhaps less obvious is the often publicly unappreciated personal integrity that prevents more politicians from succumbing to the temptations of corruption and illegal campaign financing. Maybe least obvious is that those of us who know of God's bias toward the poor must become more involved in the political process. Voting makes a difference. Campaign contributions make a difference. Volunteering makes a difference. Speaking out makes a difference. Only when God's people get involved can we Christian fans of democracy expect for God's bias toward the poor to become more than empty rhetoric.

Paranoia within the United States also seems on the increase. People talk and act as if they are afraid of terrorism, cancer, crime, losing their job to illegal immigrants, losing their house because they can no longer afford the adjustable rate mortgage, losing their children to drugs, etc. Today’s politicians – from all parties – frequently pander to those fears, seeking an easy way to mobilize support and votes. Franklin Roosevelt in his first inaugural address famously said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” That thought is deeply rooted in Scripture; in over thirty places, the Bible exhorts us not to fear because God is with us. Tellingly, the authors of Scripture never suggest that people should live without fear for the authors well know that living means being vulnerable and not in control. Paul Tillich went so far as to argue in The Courage to Be that the basic human condition is anxiety, the fear of the unknown and non-being; the Christ answers by giving us the courage to live.

Fear mongering costs lives and impoverishes the living. Hundreds of thousands have died at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars because the United States impetuously and ill advisedly launched a war on terror instead of deliberately targeting the relative handful of extremists who posed a real threat. Security without human rights – indefinite detention of alleged enemies without trial, intrusive surveillance without court orders, etc. – is security without freedom. Family protection legislation outlawing same-sex marriage or teaching abstinence only does nothing to address the real causes of marital failures, denigrates people with a same sex orientation, and promotes unhealthy behaviors that waste healthcare resources. Initiatives designed to exclude illegal aliens build fences, literally and metaphorically, between people and nations, transform productive workers into fugitives, disrupt families, and deprive the U.S. of its arguably most valuable resource, people willing to pay almost any price in order to create a better life for themselves and their families.

The United States faces a host of real problems: poverty, healthcare, crime, terrorism, and many more. Contrary to some naïve Christians on the far right and far left whose faith seems to have an answer for everything, none of those problems has an easy or inexpensive answer; some of the problems do not even have known answers. If an easy, inexpensive answer existed, then somebody would have already solved the problem. The most important contribution that Christians can make to debates about these issues is to insist that politicians stop promoting, and pandering to, paranoia. Real answers require carefully defining the problem and a commitment to finding viable and moral solutions.

In the 2004 U.S. Presidential election, slightly more than 60% of eligible citizens voted, according to the George Mason University United States Election Project. Almost 40% did not vote. U.S. wealth is concentrated in less than 10% of the population. Over 90% of the population is poor or middle-class. People who self-identify as Christian comprise 80% of the U.S. population. Those numbers paint a hopeful future – if Christians will get involved in the political process. Voting, contributing, volunteering, speaking out now is how we can help the poor, fight paranoia, and preserve democracy. Whining in 2009 will achieve nothing.

The Rev. George Clifford, Diocese of North Carolina, served as a Navy chaplain for twenty-four years, with tours at sea, on the staff of the Chief of Chaplains, on exchange with the Royal Navy in London, as the senior Protestant chaplain at the Naval Academy, and as the senior chaplain at the Naval Postgraduate School.

After the music ends

By Steven Charleston

The reviews are still coming in for “Live Earth”, the global music event inspired by Al Gore to raise awareness to the dangers of global warming. Featuring a wide range of pop stars and bands who donated their services, the international concert was performed at nine locations around the world. It is estimated that two billion people watched the show in locations as far apart as Brazil and Japan. The goal, as the former Vice President told the Associated Press, was to raise awareness to the realities of global climate change. His hope was that awareness would lead to action.

Is he right? Will consciousness raising translate into practical response? Once people are alerted to a reality, will they do something about it? That remains to be seen. And it raises a fundamental question for any of us who seek to do what Al Gore is doing: motivate people to change.

For many years now scientists, environmentalists and their allies have been sounding the call to action. While “Live Earth” is certainly one of the most ambitious efforts in that direction, it is standing on the shoulders of a long history of awareness building going back over decades. In fact, the timeline of that history could be traced back to other political figures like Theodore Roosevelt and artists like Ansel Adams. Concern about the destruction of the Earth is nothing new. Questions about why that concern has not become policy are perennial. The reviewers of “Live Earth” are asking it. We should be too.

When do we achieve the tipping point on any justice issue? When does public awareness about an issue, whether it is civil rights or global warming, reach its crest and spill over into public action?

A small group of Episcopalians think they have an answer: get the religious community to do what others have been either unwilling or unable to do. To make a bold step from awareness to action, a partnership between the Diocese of Olympia and the Episcopal Divinity School has proposed a national covenant to reduce green house gas emissions in every parish, synagogue, and mosque in the United States. Challenging all faith communities to stand together to make a public witness to creation, they have proposed the “Genesis Covenant”.

The “Genesis Covenant” is a catalyst. It seeks to get national church bodies, such as the Episcopal Church, to commit to a realistic, but difficult set of goals within a set period of time. It envisions a 50% reduction by all religious institutions in the energy use that fuels global warming by the middle part of this century. It offers a network of support, resources, and information to help national faith communities carry out their pledge. And it seeks to leverage similar action by corporate and political interests who will be challenged to follow the lead of people of faith in doing something concrete to effect change.

The “Genesis Covenant” is “Live Earth” translated into action. Like the international scope of Al Gore’s concert, the “Genesis Covenant” has the potential for a global impact. If it succeeds, it could become a unified movement among all of the world’s religions to turn the tide of global warming. Imagine every religious community from Rio to Tokyo, from Berlin to Johannesburg, from New York to Beijing all joining in a single covenant to stop global warming through direct action on the local national level. The same audiences who heard the music could now begin the dance.

Will the “Genesis Covenant” work? Yes, if we have the will to move from hearing to doing. The “Genesis Covenant” is an invitation to people of faith to take the lead in making that happen. It moves us beyond being a concerned, but passive audience into a coordinated and committed movement. It takes the critical step from awareness to action. It offers us an opportunity to demonstrate in practical terms that people of faith can do more than enjoy the show. They can change the world.

(For more information about the “Genesis Covenant” please contact Episcopal Divinity School’s communication office,

The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston, former Bishop of Alaska, is president and dean of Episcopal Divinity School, and keeper of the podcasting blog EDS's Stepping Stones. A citizen of the Choctaw Nation, Bishop Charleston has been called "one of the best preachers in the Episcopal Church."

Angelic troublemakers

By Will Scott

Who are you inspired by? Whose life and witness encourages your own? As I look out on the world that seems on the brink of collapse, I have felt compelled to pray more. I have also looked to the recent past through the wonders of Wikipedia to encounter people who struggled with injustice, violence and faith.

There are many people to whom we can turn for inspiration in these dark times. Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Dorothy Day are two individuals supported by their communities who exemplified Christian commitment and struggle, taking the witness and teachings of Jesus seriously and challenging political and economic evil. Yet there are additional people I’ve been wishing I could invite over for dinner recently: Simone Weil, William Stringfellow and Bayard Rustin.

Simone Weil was an eccentric, passionate, and clumsy intellectual who strongly identified with the working class of early 20th century France. Raised in an agnostic family with Jewish ancestry Weil “lived the questions,” as the poet Rilke encouraged his readers to do. Weil was a pacifist, yet with many of her political comrades, found herself on the battlefield during the Spanish Civil War. Apparently after burning herself on a cooking stove, Weil left Spain and went to Assisi. There, in the same chapel where St. Francis had prayed, Weil had a deeply spiritual experience. Weil’s writings after that became more mystical, but continued engaging political and social issues. Drawn to Roman Catholicism, Weil chose not to be baptized because she was fascinated by other religions. Weil’s work challenges our contemporary compulsion to view faith as the same thing as certainty or as an excuse to ignore the beliefs and practices of others. Her life compels us make the cause of the oppressed, of migrant workers, and low income people our own.

William Stringfellow was an Episcopal lay person, lawyer and theologian. While attending college on scholarships, Stringfellow got his start in activism by helping to organize a sit-in at a local lunch counter. Before long, Stringfellow had moved into an apartment in Harlem to work among the poor. His compulsion to work for justice and reconciliation were rooted from the beginning in his Christian faith and belief in the primacy of the Bible. Stringfellow stood in strong support of women’s ordination, and also harbored a fleeing Daniel Berrigan (for acts of civil disobedience.) As a lawyer, he represented victimized tenants and the impoverished. One of Stringfellow’s closest collaborators was his life partner, Anthony Towne. Stringfellow’s life and theology has strongly influenced the work of contemporary theologians and biblical scholars like Walter Wink, Ched Myers and Bill Wylie-Kellerman. Stringfellow challenges our contemporary proclivity to categorize one another along secular political lines like conservative and liberal, instead encouraging us to find the roots of our efforts for justice, equality and peace in scripture.

Bayard Rustin was an African-American Civil Rights leader who was instrumental in organizing the 1963 March on Washington. Having worked for the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Rustin strongly influenced the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.’s commitment to nonviolence. Both as an African American and as a gay man, Rustin confronted injustice, bigotry and hatred regularly, being silenced, beaten, and fired at on numerous occasions. Rustin would likely push us toward a fuller embrace of the principles of nonviolence and encourage different movements for justice and equality to work together. Rustin would want gays and lesbians to stand up for the dignity and fair treatment of immigrants, the poor and others, and vice versa. It was Rustin who said, “We need, in every community, a group of angelic troublemakers.”

So whose life and witness do you look to for inspiration, guidance and encouragement? Whom do you wish you could invite over for dinner? What would you ask them? What advice might they give us in our time?

The Rev. Will Scott, is associate pastor at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, Calif. Raised by a school teacher and a social worker in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, he is drawn to intentional community, the pursuit of global justice, and the church's witness for peace. He blogs occasionally at Yearns and Groans.

Lessons from Jerry

By Steven Charleston

The recent death of the Rev. Jerry Falwell has produced an expected flurry of media eulogies and critiques. Both his supporters and detractors have offered opinions about his legacy. If we read between the lines of these many political post mortems, I believe conservatives and liberals alike can find some lessons that the Falwell experience has to teach us. The question is: which side in the debate will learn the most from these lessons?

Here are four of those lessons for our shared reflection as we look at the mirror that Jerry Falwell holds up to all of us, what ever our faith or politics may be:

Lesson Number One: if you can create a constituency, you can exercise political power far beyond your real numbers. The secret is in perception. Jerry Falwell created the impression of a unified grassroots movement. He influenced politicians and supporters because he claimed to speak for a solid block of public opinion. While he did not invent this process, he certainly refined it in the context of American civil religion.

Lesson Number Two: all social agendas rise and fall on the tide of media exposure. In our culture, images on a screen are validation. Falwell was one of the early practitioners of media religion. By using the most contemporary forms of communication, he was able to galvanize large numbers of people to both see and respond to his message. Even those who disagreed with him were talking about him, and as anyone in show business knows, the fact that people are talking is all that matters.

Lesson Number Three: if public opinion is a tightrope drawn between acceptance and rejection, exaggerated rhetoric is a strong wind. Falwell undercut his own credibility (much like his counterpart, Pat Robertson) with outlandish statements that brought him censure and ridicule. There is a moral gyroscope at the center of culture and it can tilt quickly if any leader steps over the line of reason.

Lesson Number Four: personal power is ephemeral while shared values are enduring. The great preachers of the age come and go, but the message they deliver can be forever if it is embedded in the commitments of a community. Falwell’s community remains a potent and resilient force in both religion and politics. His true legacy will not be in how well he is remembered fifty years from now, but in how many people continue to self-identify with the values (or lack of them) for which he stood.

These four simple lessons, among the many that we may identify, are an integral part of the religious landscape of this century. As both conservative and progressive factions contend for social impact, political power, and moral persuasion in the United States and beyond, these lessons from Jerry Falwell will be acted out over and over again. Certainly Falwell’s constituency will be continuing to press for an agenda of values that embodies their political and social agenda. With just as much certainty, they will be confronted by others whose value system is radically different. Both sides will attempt to unify and focus a community. Both will seek to use the media and technology to expand their base. Both will search for language that invites people to believe and to act. But in the end, both will be measured by how well they can transcend images in order to influence reality.

The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston, former Bishop of Alaska, is president and dean of Episcopal Divinity School, and keeper of the podcasting blog EDS's Stepping Stones.

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Only thing I did was wrong was stayin' in the wilderness too long

Thanks to Susan Russell and The Admiral of Morality for recommending in recent days that we honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., by re-reading his Letter from Birmingham Jail. Look, too, at this temporizing statement from Birmingham religious leaders, including the Episcopal bishop of Alabama, who opposed the way King pursued his goals.

Those of you in the DC area, might want to celebrate Dr. King's birthday at Washington National Cathedral, which is hosting a speech by Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking at 2 p. m., followed by a concert by hip-hop artist Bomani Arma.

Raise the minimum wage

From the Episcopal Public Policy Network:

New Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have pledged to bring the Fair Minimum Wage Act to the floor for a vote in the first 100 hours of the 110th Congress. This will be an important FIRST step toward a fair living wage in the United States.

Your support is needed to ensure a "clean minimum wage" bill. A "clean" bill means without amendments. Click here to send a fax to your Senators and Representative.

For ten long years, Congress has raised its own pay but failed to pass an increase in the Federal Minimum Wage - Today a full-time worker earning the $5.15 minimum wage makes only $10,700 annually – that is $6,000 below the poverty line. Due to inflation, today's $5.15 minimum wage is lower in value than the minimum wage in 1950.

Your voice is critical. Contact your Senators and Representatives and urge them to support the Fair Minimum Wage Act to raise the Federal Minimum Wage "without amendments." A vote in the House is expected as early as January 10, with a Senate vote in the following weeks. To fax a letter to your Senators and Representatives, CLICK HERE.

(An interesting posting on this issue onthe blog of The Washington Monthly.)


As a longtime fan of microlending--See this somewhat dated Beliefnet column.--I was thrilled when Muhammad Yunus, the godfather of microlending, recently won the Nobel Prize. Now Connie Bruck of The New Yorker has in-depth account of recent developments on this promising front in the war against poverty. A front, I might add, on which liberal and conservative believers have served with distinction.

Faith-based favoritism

The New York Times is in the midst of a four-part series on "how American religious organizations benefit from an increasingly accommodating government." Today's article focuses on how poorly faith-based groups are allowed to treat employees.

Standing Up for the MDGs

The latest from the Episcopal Public Policy Network:

On Sunday, October 15, Episcopalians have an opportunity to help set a new Guinness World Record by standing up against global poverty and supporting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

What is STAND UP?
Launched by the Millennium Campaign, STAND UP is an innovative and exciting challenge to set an official Guinness World Record - the greatest number of people ever to STAND UP Against Poverty and for the Millennium Development Goals - on October 15-16, 2006. STAND up is supported by the ONE Campaign, the Episcopal Church, and other anti-poverty advocates, and is designed to raise public awareness of global poverty and the MDGs. To learn more, click here:

Click on contnue to keep reading.

Read more »

A step toward totalitarianism?

Garrison Keillor is in a feisty mood. Here's some of what he has to say:

I got some insight last week into who supports torture when I went down to Dallas to speak at Highland Park Methodist Church. It was spooky. I walked in, was met by two burly security men with walkie-talkies, and within 10 minutes was told by three people that this was the Bushes' church and that it would be better if I didn't talk about politics. I was there on a book tour for "Homegrown Democrat," but they thought it better if I didn't mention it. So I tried to make light of it: I told the audience, "I don't need to talk politics. I have no need even to be interested in politics -- I'm a citizen, I have plenty of money and my grandsons are at least 12 years away from being eligible for military service." And the audience applauded! Those were their sentiments exactly. We've got ours, and who cares?

The Methodists of Dallas can be fairly sure that none of them will be snatched off the streets, flown to Guantanamo, stripped naked, forced to stand for 48 hours in a freezing room with deafening noise, so why should they worry? It's only the Jews who are in danger, and the homosexuals and gypsies. The Christians are doing just fine. If you can't trust a Methodist with absolute power to arrest people and not have to say why, then whom can you trust?

Sen. Danforth at the Cathedral

Former Senator John Danforth will speak at Washington National Cathedral tomorrow night at 7:30. Details are here.

To read the speech he gave at our General Convention in June, click on the "continue reading" tab. Video coverage of that speech is here.

Read more »

Did the pope aim at Protestants but hit Muslims?

Tim Noah of Slate has a fascinating analysis of the pope's controversial speech at the University of Regensburg. He notes, almost in passing, that "the true whipping boy of Pope Benedict's speech ... isn't Islam but Protestantism. The Reformation, he's arguing, sundered faith from reason and led to the rise of secular culture. Many of us would agree with that statement and count it as a point in the Reformation's favor. But the pope means it as a criticism."

I am still digesting his argument, but the piece is well worth reading.

(Full disclosure: Tim is a friend of mine.)

Looking back at "the vist"

The visit by former Iranian president Mohammed Khatami to Washington National Cathedral earlier this month precipitated a blizzard of demagogic commentary, some of it from the Anglican right. Neither the Cathedral nor the diocese has responded directly to these criticisms, beyond posting the remarks made before and after Khatami's speech by Dean Samuel Lloyd of the Cathedral and Bishop John Bryson Chane of the diocese. However, those interested in learning more about the speech and about diplomatic relations with Iran might find these five contributions helpful.

This balanced report, by Eric Fingerhut of Washington Jewish Week makes it clear that Jewish opinion on the visit was not uniform.

This essay, by Steven C. Clemons, director of the American strategy program at the New America Foundation here in DC begins as follows:

"As the Pulitzer Prize winning historian John Dower tells the story so well about Japan and the United States, states that move towards war often demonize each other's leaders and whole societies in order to stir and consolidate public opinion and steel their citizens for big sacrifices ahead.

"As the White House continues to beat a drum on Iran, leaders on both sides will find ways to dehumanize the other side's key state figures.

"This hasn't happened with former Iran President Mohammed Khatami quite yet, but word is out that Senator Rick Santorum and his allies are outraged about the Iranian leader's visit and out trying to serve Khatami with a subpoena regarding war crimes. But what Santorum hasn't figured out is that his party's CEO, President Bush as well as Secretary of State Rice extended Khatami a visa because he is considered to be one of the good guys in Iran -- and a potential ally in the long run."

It is unfortunate that Bishops John Lipscomb, Edward Little and Geralyn Wolf, who lectured us publicly on our "shallow" understanding of Middle Eastern affairs didn't have a chance to talk to someone like Clemens before they called upon the Cathedral to cancel the event. They might also have been edified by a conversation with former ambassador Joe Montville, who was the Cathedral's principal adviser on the visit. Montville spent 23 years working for the State Department in North Africa and the Middle East before becoming chief of the Near East Division and then director of the Office of Global Issues, and my sense is that the bishops would have been gratified by the depth of his knowledge. We weren't able to arrange these conversations, however, because, schedules being what they are, the bishops weren't able to get in touch with us before releasing their statement to the media.

(Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright thought the visit was a good idea, too. But I digress.)

In this column by Douglas Savage, assistant director of the Institute of World Affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, writes that: "the desire to fit America's foes into a single, homogenous bundle stands in the way of a more nuanced and ultimately more effective foreign policy. Today's tendency to place every demonstrated or potential adversary that appropriates the language of Islam into the same terrorist basket has led to policy decisions that are ultimately harmful to U.S. interests in the region."

You can feed your inner wonk by learning more about the New American Foundation's recent conference "U. S. Strategy in towards Iran: Thinking Through the Unthinkables--Beyond a binary choice?"

And finally, it is worth remembering that President Bush personally approved Khatami's visa because, as he told Paul Gigot of the Wall Street Journal : I was interested to hear what he had to say.

Dean Lloyd had it right when he said to Khatami: "In our own time Pope John Paul, II who met in 1999 with our guest this evening, understood that if the church is to facilitate healing and transformation, it cannot live on the margins of controversy uttering hopeful pieties. Rather it must immerse itself in the struggles that convulse the human family. Reconciliation requires us to seek partners to take risks to hear what these potential partners say and to examine what they do. And requires us to submit ourselves to the same searching scrutiny."

Race in the race

Ethics Daily, a Baptist site, has posted an interesting editorial on the Tennessee Senate race. The race pits Rep. Harold Ford, a black, Baptist Democrat against Bob Corker, a white Republican. By most measures, Ford is the more culturally conservative of the two candidates.

Writer Robert Parkham of the Baptist Center for Ethics notes that the "overwhelmingly white Tennessee Baptist Convention claims a membership of 1.1 million in a state with a population of 5.7 million." So Southern Baptists exert significant electorial influcence.

"How they vote will disclose how far Southern Baptists have moved away from their segregation heritage and racial prejudice," Parkham writes.

How did free speech become controversial?

I have only skimmed the avalanche of commentary occasioned by Pope Benedict's recent speech, but I sure did like this essay by Anne Applebaum over at Slate.
She says, in part:

"...I don't mean that we all need to rush to defend or to analyze this particular sermon...But we can all unite in our support for freedom of speech—surely the pope is allowed to quote medieval texts—and of the press. And we can also unite—loudly—in our condemnation of violent, unprovoked attacks on churches, embassies, and elderly nuns. By "we" I mean here the White House, the Vatican, the German Greens, the French Foreign Ministry, NATO, Greenpeace, Le Monde, and Fox News. Western institutions of the left, the right, and everything in between. True, these principles sound pretty elementary—"we're pro-free speech and anti-gratuitous violence"—but in the days since the pope's sermon, I don't feel that I've heard them defended in anything like a unanimous chorus.

Andrew Brown's piece on the speech is also worth reading.

Lloyd: The church...cannot live on the margins of controversy uttering hopeful pieties

The Washington National Cathedral and the Episcopal Diocese of Washington have been taken to task in some quarters for inviting former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami to speak Thursday night. I thought the Very Rev. Samuel Lloyd, dean of the Cathedral, addressed those concerns eloquently in his introduction of the former president.

"We’re hosting this event this evening at the National Cathedral as part of this Cathedral’s ministry of reconciliation. This ministry requires us to engage in conversation with nations, faiths and individuals with whom we may have significant disagreements. It requires us to give a respectful hearing to people whose words, and maybe actions, sometimes disturb and trouble us. For us as Christians, Jesus modeled this behavior eating with the hated tax collectors, healing the servant of a despised centurion in the Roman occupying army. His words continue to challenge us. “You have heard that it was said and you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy but I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:43–45) In our own time Pope John Paul, II who met in 1999 with our guest this evening, understood that if the church is to facilitate healing and transformation, it cannot live on the margins of controversy uttering hopeful pieties. Rather it must immerse itself in the struggles that convulse the human family. Reconciliation requires us to seek partners to take risks to hear what these potential partners say and to examine what they do. And requires us to submit ourselves to the same searching scrutiny. Your Excellency, you come to the National Cathedral as one who is open to dialogue with Americans on the role of religion in peace. It’s important that we who have our common heritage in Abraham use our great traditions to come together in understanding, instead of using our weaknesses to divide. We must recognize the painful histories we both carry. We Christians recognize the destruction that we inflicted on the Muslim world during the Crusades. You, yourself, were one of the first leaders in the Middle East to recognize the terrible events of 9/11 and their impact on our country."

Bush on Khatami: I was interested to hear what he had to say.

Paul Gigot of The Wall Street Journal breaks the news that President Bush personally signed off on the visa for former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami, who spoke at Washington Natiional Cathedral on Thursday night.

The key passge from a lengthy piece based on an interview on Air Force One:

Intriguingly, the president broke a little news on the subject of Iran, acknowledging that he personally signed off on the U.S. visit this week by former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami. The trip has angered many conservatives because Mr. Khatami presided over the nuclear weapons development and cheating that Mr. Bush has pledged to stop. Why let him visit?

"I was interested to hear what he had to say," Mr. Bush responds without hesitation. "I'm interested in learning more about the Iranian government, how they think, what people think within the government. My hope is that diplomacy will work in convincing the Iranians to give up their nuclear weapons ambitions. And in order for diplomacy to work, it's important to hear voices other than [current President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad's."

One thing Mr. Khatami has said this week is that because the U.S. is bogged down in Iraq it will never have the will to stop Iran's nuclear program. Is he right? "Well, he also said it's very important for the [coalition] troops to stay in Iraq so that there is a stable government on the Iranian border," Mr. Bush replies, rather forgivingly.

On other hand, Mr. Bush remains as blunt as ever about the nature of the Iranian regime when I ask if one lesson of North Korea is that Iran must be stopped before it acquires a bomb. "North Korea doesn't teach us that lesson. The current government [in Iran] teaches that lesson," Mr. Bush says. "Their declared policies of destruction and their support for terror makes it clear they should not have a nuclear weapon."

The impression Mr. Bush leaves is of a man deeply engaged on the Iran problem and, like several presidents before him, trying to understand what kind of diplomatic or economic pressure short of military means will change the regime's behavior. One way or another, Iran will be the major dilemma of the rest of his presidency, and Mr. Bush knows it."

Mohammed Khatami's speech at the National Cathedral

As you may know, we've been in the midst of a bit of controversy here on the National Cathedral close over the past week. Last night, former Iranian president Mohammed Khatami spoke at the Cathedral.

Lucy Chumbley, editor of our diocesan newspaper Washington Window covered the event, and we shared her story with the Episcopal News Service.

The text of Khatami's speech, accompanied by photographs of the event are available on the Cathedral's Web site.

Dean Samuel Lloyd did what I thought was an excellent job explaining whythe Cathedral extended an invitation to a controversial figure such as the former president, and I am trying to get a copy of his remarks. Bishop John Chane offered a response to the speech, which you can find by clicking on the "keep reading" button below.

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Faith appeals not working for Dems

Have a look at Amy Sullivan's thoughtful piece from Slate on the Democratic Party's declining appeal to religious voters.

An excerpt:

The Pew Research Center's annual poll on religion and politics, released last week, shows that while 85 percent of voters say religion is important to them, only 26 percent of Americans think the Democratic Party is "friendly" to religion. That's down from 40 percent in the summer of 2004 and 42 percent the year before that—in other words, a 16-point plunge over three years. The decline is especially troubling because it cuts across the political and religious spectra, encompassing liberals and conservatives, white and black evangelicals, mainline Protestants, Catholics, and Jews. The Republican Party also experienced a drop in the percentage of Americans who say it is friendly to religion—eight points over the past year. But that decrease occurred mostly among white evangelicals and Catholics and the reasons for it seem obvious: Two years of broken promises by the GOP.

In contrast, the Democrats' crumbling credibility on religion wasn't caused by one thing. And that may be the problem. All at once, the party needs to counter conservative attacks, change the conventional wisdom that Democrats just aren't religious, and expand the party's reach to moderate religious voters. To do that, the party will need a little more faith and a whole lot more work.

Support the Minimum Wage Hike

The latest from the Episcopal Public Policy Network:

Just before members of Congress left Washington for their August recess, there was a flicker of hope for an increase in the Federal Minimum Wage which was quickly extinguished by political gamesmanship. The minimum wage increase was attached to several other controversial measures, and ultimately they all failed.

For ten long years, Congress has raised its own pay but failed to pass an increase in the Federal Minimum Wage - shocking when one realizes that a full-time worker earning the $5.15 minimum wage makes only $10,700 annually – that is $6,000 below the poverty line. Due to inflation, today’s $5.15 minimum wage is lower in value than the minimum wage in 1950.

Tell Congress it is not OK to use the Minimum Wage to play political games – they need to address the minimum wage on its own merits.

YOUR VOICE is critical over the August Recess. Right now your Senators and Representative are at home – within easy reach of their constituents. Contact your Senators and Representatives – make an appointment with them, or attend a town hall or other public meeting where they will be speaking – urge them to raise the Federal Minimum Wage before the end of the 109th Congress.

To send an email message to your Senators and Representatives click here.

"Welfare as we know it" all gone "Poverty as we know it" still here

By John Johnson

[ENS] At a Congressional oversight hearing July 19 on the 1996 welfare reform bill, known as the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity and Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA), a letter from Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold and the leaders of four other Christian denominations pointed out that while "welfare may have ended as we know it ... poverty in our nation has not."

Bishop E. Roy Riley, Jr., chair of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Conference of Bishops, included the letter during his testimony before the House Ways and Mean Committee.

The letter, also signed by the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; the Rev. Dr. Clifton Kirkpatrick, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); the Rev. John H. Thomas, General Minister and President, United Church of Christ; and Bishop Beverly Shamana, President of the United Methodist General Board of Church & Society, expressed concern that while welfare rolls may have declined after passage of the legislation in 1996, poverty persists.

"We understand that many in Congress may be inclined to celebrate a political anniversary: the tenth anniversary of the signing of PRWORA and the 'successes' of the law that as President Clinton said 'ended welfare as we know it.' This is a celebration in which we cannot join."

In his testimony before the committee, Riley commented on the goals of the 1996 welfare reform efforts, which were to reduce welfare dependence and improve employment, reduce child poverty and improve family life.

"Unfortunately the economic life reality in 2006 undermines broad claims at success. Families are stretched to the breaking point while working full-time for wages that keep them in a low-income status. There are an increasing number of poor, hungry, and uninsured Americans ... at the end of the day, the bottom line is this: nearly 20 percent of the children in this richest nation in the world live in poverty. Whatever else we have accomplished, whatever claims we make for our reforms that fact remains."

The committee convened the hearing nearly ten years after President Clinton signed the measure into law to hear testimony on the successes and failures of the law that substantially overhauled and revised the nation's welfare system. In addition to Riley, the committee heard from former Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, former Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson as well as policy analysts and economists from the Brookings Institute, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Heritage Foundation and Baruch College.

To see previous statements on the budget from the mainline leaders and Action Alerts from the Episcopal Public Policy Network, go to:

Previous statements from the mainline leaders can be found at:

-- John Johnson is domestic policy analyst in the Episcopal Church's Office of Government Relations.

Click below to read the letter

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Blessed (and forgotten) are the poor

Today's Washington Post confirms rumors that the meek will not come into their inheritance any time soon.

"Poverty forced its way to the top of President Bush's agenda in the confusing days after Hurricane Katrina battered the Gulf Coast and flooded New Orleans. Confronted with one of the most pressing political crises of his presidency, Bush, who in the past had faced withering criticism for speaking little about the poor, said the nation has a solemn duty to help them.

'All of us saw on television, there's . . . some deep, persistent poverty in this region,' he said in a prime-time speech from New Orleans's Jackson Square, 17 days after the Aug. 29 hurricane. 'That poverty has roots in a history of racial discrimination, which cut off generations from the opportunity of America. We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action.'

As it happened, poverty's turn in the presidential limelight was brief. Bush has talked little about the issue since the immediate crisis passed, while pursuing policies that his liberal critics say will hurt the poor. He has publicly mentioned domestic poverty six times since giving back-to-back speeches on the issue in September. Domestic poverty did not come up in his State of the Union address in January, and his most recent budget included no new initiatives directed at the poor.

Read the story.

Meaning of Life TV

I want to make sure that you all have plenty to do when I go on vacation at the end of the week, so I am stockpiling online religion-related resources. Have a look at Meaning of Life TV. John Polkinghorne, Anglican priest and theoretical physicist, is one of those interviewed. Among other speakers: Freeman Dyson, Huston Smith and Edward O. Wilson

Among the topics: faith and reason, free will and the problem of evil.

For the Ann Coulter fan in your life

Robert S. McElvaine, who teaches history at Millsaps College has dismantled Ann Coulter's latest sin against charity at Sightings.

My favorite part of the essay are the Beatitudes according to Coulter:

Blessed are the haughty in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who exult over others, for they shall be further rewarded.
Blessed are the arrogant, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for domination, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are those who show no mercy, for they shall obtain the wealth of others.
Blessed are the hard in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the war-makers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who persecute for their own sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when you revile others and persecute others and utter all sorts of evil against them falsely on my account.

An Evangelical's Lament

Randall Balmer surveys the religious right, and doesn't like what he sees:

"Evangelicals have come a long way since ... 1972. We have moved from cultural obscurity — almost invisibility — to becoming a major force in American society. Jimmy Carter's run for the presidency launched us into the national consciousness, but evangelicals abandoned Carter by the end of the 1970s, as the nascent religious right forged an alliance with the Republican Party.

In terms of cultural and political influence, that alliance has been a bonanza for both sides. The coalition dominates talk radio and controls a growing number of state legislatures and local school boards. It is seeking, with some initial success, to recast Hollywood and the entertainment industry. The Republicans have come to depend on religious-right voters as their most reliable constituency, and, with the Republicans firmly in command of all three branches of the federal government, leaders of the religious right now enjoy unprecedented access to power.

And what has the religious right done with its political influence? Judging by the platform and the policies of the Republican Party — and I'm aware of no way to disentangle the agenda of the Republican Party from the goals of the religious right — the purpose of all this grasping for power looks something like this: an expansion of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, the continued prosecution of a war in the Middle East that enraged our longtime allies and would not meet even the barest of just-war criteria, and a rejiggering of Social Security, the effect of which, most observers agree, would be to fray the social-safety net for the poorest among us."

Here's the rest.

The Stem Cell Debate

Today on Slate, Michael Kinsley argues that stem cell research raises fewer moral and ethical questions than the everyday conduct of a fertility clinic.

He writes: "If embryos are human beings, it's not OK to kill them for their stem cells just because you were going to kill them, or knowingly let them die, anyway. The better point—the killer point, if you'll pardon the expression—is that if embryos are human beings, the routine practices of fertility clinics are far worse—both in numbers and in criminal intent—than stem-cell research. And yet no one objects, or objects very loudly. President Bush actually praised the work of fertility clinics in his first speech announcing restrictions on stem cells."

In 2003, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church passed Resolution A014 which:

Urge[s] that the United States Congress pass legislation that would authorize federal funding for derivation of and medical research on human embryonic stem cells that were generated for IVF and remain after fertilization procedures have been concluded, provided that:

+these early embryos are no longer required for procreation by those donating them and would simply be discarded;
+those donating early embryos have given their prior informed consent to their use in stem cell research;
+the embryos were not deliberately created for research purposes;
+the embryos were not obtained by sale or purchase...

And, on a vaguely related matter, have a look at thispiece on advancements in genetic screening.


We have a steady diet of Anglican issues here on the blog lately. As a result I missed Sen. Barak Obama's recent sppech on people of faith in public life. Here is E. J. Dionne's take on it. And there is a good conversation going on over at Street Prophets.

Reclaiming the Common Good

The liberal Center for American Progress has released a new report aimed at shifting the "values" debate onto turf more hospitable to Democratic candidates.

Among the key findings:

• 71% of voters strongly agree that “Americans are becoming too materialistic,” including 71% of Democrats, 70% of Independents, and 72% of Republicans (92% total agree).

• 68% of voters strongly agree that the “government should be committed to the common
good and put the public’s interest above the privileges of the few” (85% total agree).

• 73% of Democrats, 62% of Independents, and 67% of Republicans strongly agree with a common good focus for government. A similar percentage of voters (68%) strongly
agrees that “government should uphold the basic decency and dignity of all and take
greater steps to help the poor and disadvantaged in America” (89% total agree).


In terms of the role that religious and moral teachings should play in public debate about key issues, American voters focus most on “poverty and hunger” (75% leading or major role); “homelessness” (61% leading or major role); “government corruption” (58% leading or major role); “terrorism” (56% leading or major role); “the environment” (54% leading or major role); and “health care” (52% leading or major role). In a lower tier of issues, 44% of voters believe that religious and moral values should play a leading role in public discussion of abortion and only 37% believe similarly about gay marriage.

The accompanying slideshow is here.

A failure of empathy

Michael Kinsley's got an interesting column in the Post this morning about health care. Here is the part that caught my eye:

What is the most ridiculous thing about the American health care system? Is it that 45 million Americans don't have health insurance? That is the most embarrassing thing, but it's not beyond all rational explanation. It's a failure of empathy. We -- the majority of Americans who are lucky enough to be covered -- apparently don't care enough to do something about the minority who aren't.

Faith-based diplomacy

Beliefnet uses the term "faith-based diplomacy" to describe the ideas Madeline Albright advances in this interview. She's talking about the importance of political leaders understanding the role of religious faith in the lives of the world's population.

We used the phrase in a different way in a op-ed piece I contributed to in September 2005. We were hoping to promote a conference at Washington National Cathedral. Our focus was on the role that religious leaders could play in immeliorating global conflcit and some of the conditions that gave rise to this conflict. (The 35 religious leaders who attended that conference produced this statement.)

The piece never saw the light of day, but I have always been fond of it, so I thought I would pass it on. Here's an excerpt:

In the multi-ethinic West, we may identify ourselves primarily as citizens of a country, but on much of our violence-ridden and poverty-wracked planet, people understand themselves principally as adherents of a faith. While ideals like freedom and democracy inform the diplomacy of the West, equally strong ideals of submission to the Divine often inform the aspirations and actions of humanity in other corners of the globe.

The developing world is undergoing a religious revival that will only enhance the role of local religious leaders in shaping national destinies. Whether we look at the exponentially growing Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches in sub-Saharan Africa or the continuing trend toward religiously Islamist states in North Africa and the Middle East, it is clear that faith leaders enjoy almost unprecedented influence in the lives of their nations. Moreover, faith leaders, unlike their government counterparts, have the power to speak across national boundaries and connect with people on the deepest of levels: the level of their core beliefs.

Power such as this can be used for good or for ill. Parts of the world where the destabilizing forces of poverty and disease create a climate of hopelessness are ripe for exploitation by religious extremists seeking to motivate terror and conflict. The response of faith leaders committed to peacemaking must go beyond offering a moral vision that directly counters the dark vision of terrorists; we must wage a war against the forces that make their communities targets for exploitation in the first place: poverty, pandemic disease, a lack of basic education, government corruption, and inadequate resources for development. As President Bush observed in 2002: “Poverty doesn’t [itself] cause terrorism…yet persistent poverty and oppression can lead to hopelessness and despair. And when governments fail to meet the most basic needs of their people, these failed states can become havens of terror.”

Click below to read it all.

Read more »

The latest on the Middle East

From the Episcopal Public Policy Network:

The unfolding humanitarian crisis among the Palestinian people is endangering the fragile hope that still remains for a two–state solution. President Bush and his administration need flexibility to conduct the required foreign policy involved in Israeli-Palestinian issues – but Congress is refusing to give the President the flexibility needed.

Legislation pending in the Senate (S 2370) needs to be amended in order to allow the President the flexibility to deal with the humanitarian crisis and be able to pursue avenues that might open for negotiations toward a two-state solution – the solution we believe to be in the best interest of Israelis, Palestinians, and the United States. Please write your Senators today asking them to help amend S 2370.

Existing law already prohibits aid going to a terrorist organization or directly to the Palestinian Authority. HR 4681, a far more restrictive and punitive bill than S 2370, passed overwhelmingly despite the fact that the Bush Administration said the bill was "unnecessary ... and constrains the Executive's flexibility to use sanctions, if appropriate, as tools to address rapidly changing situations." If the Senate does not amend its bill, the final legislation that comes out of a joint House-Senate conference committee would do long-term damage to prospects for peace.

A (tepid and highly qualified) defense of President Bush

I am a garden-variety lefty on many political issues, but I am not so sure that I agree with what former secretary of state Madeline Albright is saying in this Reuters story from CNN's Web site.

Here's Albright: "I worked for two presidents who were men of faith, and they did not make their religious views part of American policy..."

Well, she knows these guys and I don't, but I find it very difficult to believe that if they were people of strong faith (and even his most ardent critics would concede this about Carter) that this faith didn't inform their religious views. If you have real faith, it can't be compartmentalized. It isn't part of your worldview. It is the font of your worldview.

Albright again: "President Bush's certitude about what he believes in, and the division between good and evil, is, I think, different. The absolute truth is what makes Bush so worrying to some of us."

I'd agree the Bush is disastrously stubborn; he's fact-resistant. That said, there are things about which faith bestows certain convictions. The real struggle is in deciding which of your convictions arise from your faith, and which arise from self-interest or personal preference and then get classified as matters of faith so as to make them non-negotiable.

Albright seems to be saying that Bush's religious views make him rigid, which I take as a knock on religion. Don't believe in Jesus too hard boys and girls or you'll become rigid. I'd say that in Bush's case, the need for what I guess you could call a rigid creed (although, if you were being charitable you could call a firm creed) preceded the embrace of a particular strain of Christianity. But the same can be said about anybody who believes anything.

In embracing the Christian faith, we don't escape our own subjectivity. But we do hope to temper it through membership in a community that holds us accountable to a vision that is larger than our own.

I am no fan of the President's policies. And I think he has granted influence to people with theocratic tendencies. But I think he has done so for political reasons--They are his base.--not religious ones. I wish people would refrain from criticizing his faith. It isn't fair to him, and it isn't fair to God--who doesn't deserve the wrap for what is happening in Iraq.


This Washington Post story is a classic example of the chicken and egg game that reporters and media relations folks like myself play all the time. The headline says the religious left is gaining "visibility." But visibility is largely the media's to bestow or withhold. So today the religious left is more visible in Washington than it was yesterday in large measure because the Washington Post has said so. So the headline could easily read: We write about religious left.

Don't get me wrong. I am delighted that they have written this story.

(I think that in leaving out the role that the leaders of the mainline Protestant denominations played in the campaign that almost derailed last year's morally repugnant and profoundly anti-Christian federal budget, they missed the one instance so far in which religious leaders with the ability to speak directly to people in the pews--as opposed to those who can only get their message out through the media--actually came close to accomplishing something. But that is another story. Or, actually, a non-story, since stories aren't stories until they are written. Which brings me full circle.)

Where was I? Oh, yeah. I am delighted that they wrote this story, but it is a prime example of those peculiar cases in which it is hard to tell whether they media is discerning a trend, or creating one. It wouldn't be at all surprising if, on the heels of this Post story leaders of the religious left found themselves receiving more invitations to appear on talk shows, ahd an easier time getting op-eds published, etc. This wouldn't be because the religious left was measurably more visible in our society--the folks who book talk shows don't have the time to do that sort of reporting--it would be because the religious left was more visible in the media. (The religious right has benefitted from this dynamic for two decades. It also benefits from the media's perception that the religious right has the power ot make things happen --Washington journalism is always in some way about power-- whereas the religious left does not.)

Anyway, as the religious left gains more "visibility" I think we can expect conservatives to attempt to diminish whatever influence the left might gain by decrying the intrusion of sectarian values into our political life. Sort of like decrying gluttony after you've spent twenty years as the only person at the banquet.

Robin Hood in Reverse

From the Episcopal Public Policy Network:

Did you know that just two months ago the President and Congress cut $39 billion dollars from education, health care for senior citizens and those with disabilities, child support and support for the working poor from last year's federal budget?

Now, leaders in the House of Representatives want to cut an additional $10 Billion from programs serving the working poor, children, and the elderly as well as environmental protections from the fiscal year 2007 budget. These cuts will not be used for deficit reduction but to offset a portion of the tax cuts recently passed and defense spending increases.

In March, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church and other Christian leaders wrote to the House Budget Committee their concerns regarding the President's FY 07 federal budget: "As people of faith we must speak with and for the most vulnerable as their voices are least often heard in the corridors of Washington ... We call upon our government to eliminate the inequities in its federal budget and instead act to pass a budget that meets the moral test of serving 'the common good.'"

Your help is needed TODAY! Please e-mail your Representative and urge him/her to oppose the FY 2007 Budget Resolution. Congress may consider this budget this week!

Air America takes on the campaign against mainline Churches

One of the frustration of people whose generally liberal political views are shaped by their faith, is the the difficulty we have had in getting secular liberals to understand what we were up to and to collaborate with us when the issues permit.

I am glad to say that Air America, the liberal radio network, has begun a program devoted to progressive faith communities, and gladder to say that this Sunday, the program will be exploring an issue that has been a hot topic in the Diocese of Washington, and on this blog. (If you haven't read the Following the Money series, give it a look.)

Here's the release:

This Sunday, May 21, on the national radio show State of Belief, Rev. Welton Gaddy exposes the coordinated effort to undermine mainline Protestantism -- and render America's largest denomination incapable of standing up to right wing politics.

In conjunction with the website Talk to Action, State of Belief takes an unprecedented look into the takeover of America’s churches, revealing the ugly truths, personal experiences, and exhaustive research of four leaders:

Dr. Bruce Prescott, Executive Director of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists, is, like Welton, a veteran of the purges that marked the conservative takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention. The strategy, says Prescott, is to keep mainstream denominations in turmoil over wedge issues such as gay marriage, so that conservative leaders can be free to achieve their political and religious goals.

Dr. John Dorhauer, minister for the St. Louis Association of the United Churches of Christ, has seen congregations around him descend into in-fighting, provoked by right-wing propaganda. Dorhauer explains, “What the politically motivated achieve is the silence of the religious conscience voice that has historically led this country....If you take out the 45 million people that are represented by the National Council of Churches, you are going to hollow out one of the cores of our nation's democracy.”

Dr. Andrew Weaver, a United Methodist pastor and research psychologist, has traced the campaign against mainline Protestantism largely to the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a think-tank funded by uber-conservative industrialists such as Richard Mellon Scaife and the Adolph Coors family. Weaver says that the IRD and so-called religious “renewal” groups are funneling money in "a systematic effort to undermine mainline churches that still have democratic, transparent processes." The problem in countering these efforts, he says, is that "All of these traditions have niceness at the core; while we've been thinking it's touch football, they've been playing tackle."

Welton offers listeners a wake-up call: "The Southern Baptist Convention was lost not because of those trying to take it over, but because of people arguing that it wasn't a big deal."

This issue has never before been discussed on national radio, and continues State of Belief’s focus on how religion is being manipulated for partisan political purposes. It may stun listeners – and it is sure to inspire Protestant congregations to reclaim their role as a positive and much needed healing force in our nation. State of Belief: religion and radio, done differently.

State of Belief is heard nationwide on Air America Radio on Sundays from 5 to 6 PM EST. Information about affiliates, listening live via the internet, or podcasting can be found at

Much more information on this issue, including the research and writings of Welton’s three guests, can be found at the website Talk to Action.

Apostle of Prosperity

The Interreligious Theological Center, a consortium of six predominantly black seminaries in Georgia, has chosen a controversial commencement speaker according to John Blake's story in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution.

Bishop Eddie Long "preaches what is known as prosperity gospel, that God rewards the faithful with financial success. He declared in a 2005 interview that Jesus wasn't poor. In 2003 Long told a meeting of civil rights veterans in Atlanta that blacks must "forget racism" because they had already reached the promised land," Blake writes.

"In 2004 Long led a march — while carrying a torch lit at King's crypt — where he called for a constitutional ban on gay marriage."

His invitation has caused theologian James Cone, who was to receive an honorary degree, to boycott the ceremony.

"Cone is a King scholar whose influential books argue that Jesus identified with the poor and the oppressed, not the prosperous," Blake writes. "A professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, he is considered the intellectual mentor for a generation of black pastors who came of age in the post-civil rights era.

He won't attend the commencement, he said, because he doesn't want to appear to condone Long's ministry.

"King devoted his life to the least of these," Cone said. "King could have been just like Bishop Long with all the millions he has, but he chose to die poor. He would not use his own message or his own movement to promote himself."

In a written statement, Long said he was a "firm supporter" of the seminary's mission and was honored by the invitation.

"Free speech, spirited debate and dialogue are the hallmarks of all great institutions of higher learning," Long said in the statement.

Leaving aside the political issues that undergird this dust-up, let me ask if anybody out there, liberal or conservative, thinks the "prosperity gospel" has an ounce of legitimacy.

I tell ya, mainline Protestant Churches can't get no respect

The United Church of Christ has taken the lead in pointing out cable news networks' preference for putting the likes of Jerry Falwell forward as a spokesman for all Christians on holy days such as Easter. Courtesy of Street Prophets and Accesible Airwaves.

Faith-based black hole

"Less noticed during all the comings and goings over at the White House this week was the resignation of Jim Towey, who has run the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives for the past five years. Towey is a good man--he is perhaps one of the only people in government, Democrat or Republican, who passionately cares about the fact that there are very few ways to track whether programs that receive federal funds actually accomplish anything, making it impossible to tell whether an organization like Head Start, for instance, is meeting the educational goals set out for it or whether faith-based programs are as effective as secular ones.

But Towey also chose to mouth the Bush administration's fiction that government discriminated against faith-based groups until George W. Bush came to save them. And he stayed in his position long after it was clear to most observers that the faith-based office was little more than a political showpiece for the White House. On that score, it may turn out to be very difficult to replace him."

Amy Sullivan has the story on the Washington Monthly's blog.

Onward Christian Liberals

If you live near a good bookstore or newsstand, you owe it to yourself to hustle on out and buy the Spring issue of The American Scholar. It contains an excellent essay by Marilynne Robinson, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Gilead, explaining how the Christian right has perverted not only Christianity, but evangelicalism. And how the mainline Churches let them.

Barak Obama on the Democrats religion problem

Jodi Enda's profile of Barak Obama in this month's issue of The American Prospect features this eye-catching quote from Obama:

"I do think that there’s a strain of the Democratic Party -- it’s not uniform -- that is somewhat patronizing towards people who go to church,” says Obama, who attends the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, which is Congregationalist, and keeps a Bible in his car. “If you go to a black evangelical church, there may be traditions that secular humanists might be uncomfortable with -- hoopin’ and hollerin’, wavin’ and dancin’,” he says, purposefully slipping into the vernacular. But, he says, the preachers and the parishioners are talking about the same things that Democratic leaders are: “They’re talking about health care and looking after our seniors and trying to salvage young men from going into the prison system. So there’s nothing alien about it. And yet sometimes, the Democratic Party, I think, just assumes that as long as people are in church that somehow we can’t reach them, that we have nothing in common. That’s simply not true and certainly hasn’t been true historically.”

This reminds me of the experience of a friend of mine who was being romanced to take a high level position in Howard Dean's presidential campaign. His contact with the campaign wanted to meet on a Sunday. But my friend, who taught the Rite 13 class that my older son was in, explained that he had a commitment at church.

The response of his contact? "How quaint."

Poor dumb Democrats.

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