Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Prayer and Action

July 15, 2018

You know, sometimes when I am preparing a Sunday sermon, I never get past the Collect of the Day! Some of these Sunday prayers in our Prayer Book so rich, and many are very ancient. Our one for today goes back to at least the 10th century. And they often contain as much spiritual wisdom and insight as the Scripture Readings which follow!

The Collect’s theme for today is prayer and action, and the relationship between the two. We prayed: “O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them…” The first part tells us the primary purpose of prayer — that we may know and understand what things we ought to do!

I’m afraid we too often understand prayer as telling God something we want done for us. We ask for forgiveness, we pray for others, we pray for ourselves. Sometimes it’s as though we think of God as some kind of heavenly Butler, just waiting around to fulfill our every need. But the truth is, prayer is not meant to change God’s mind. It’s meant to change ours!  We pray so that we might know and understand what things we ought to do!

That means that a good portion of our prayer time each day needs to be spent in reading and meditating on the Bible and other spiritual books, and in quiet and silence, learning about God and listening for God’s gentle direction and guidance for our lives. That’s prayer too! So that we can know and understand what things we ought to do.

Secondly, our time spent in prayer and worship is meant to recharge our spiritual batteries so that we can rise up from our knees and get about the task of doing what God wants us to do out there. As the Collect says, as we know and understand what things we ought to do, that we may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them!

Our First Lesson today (Amos 7:7-15)) describes the prophet Amos following what he understands as direction from God in confronting the king who was oppressing his people. Amos has such confidence in his vision of the plumb-line that he even takes on the court-appointed priest, Amaziah, who tries to stop him from carrying out his mission.  He says, “O seer, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there and prophesy there, but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary…”

But Amos says, “I am no (professional) prophet; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, (but) the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.” Amos prayed first, and that gave him confidence to follow through even in the face of opposition.

Today’s Gospel (Mark 6:14-29) tells a similar story of John the Baptist’s martyrdom at the hands of another king, Herod Antipas. We know that John was a man of prayer because Jesus’ followers once wanted him to teach them how to fast and pray like John the Baptist had done for his disciples. John fasted and prayed in the desert so that he would have the grace and power to speak truth to power and challenge Herod, not only to clean up his tangled marital relationships, but to stop oppressing his people and keeping them in poverty.

And finally, St. Paul begins his Epistle to the Ephesians (1:3-14) today with words of prayer, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places…” He goes on to say that “…he has made known to us the mystery of his will.” Why? So that “we might live for the praise of his glory!” Again, Paul counsels prayer so that we might know and understand what things we ought to do, and then have grace and power to accomplish those things!

It’s become quite fashionable these days for politicians when confronted with the now-commonplace incidents of gun violence, or some other devastating human tragedy, to say that they are sending their “thoughts and prayers” to the victims and their families. This, whether or not it seems likely that said politician has uttered a serious prayer in decades! In recent months, some of those victims and families have suggested that the politicians keep their thoughts and prayers to themselves and get about the business of doing what we elected them to do:

And that is, to find solutions to these problems – whether it’s the scourge of violence, the immigration mess, or the increasing gap between rich and poor here and around the world, or environmental concerns which threaten the planet. I must say I have some sympathy with those sentiments! Keep your thoughts and prayers to yourself! And get about the business of solving the problems!

Of course that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t pray for victims and survivors! But if we think that is all we need to do, that pious utterances and assurances on cable news networks absolves us of our responsibility to be about the hard work of making this world a better place, then perhaps we had better pray again. And to pray this morning’s Collect:

“O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them…”

So, spend your prayer time this week more in listening for God than talking.

And then, rise up from wherever it is that you pray, knowing that you have the grace and power to accomplish whatever it is that God wants you to do.

For that is God’s promise!

 

 

Shattering The Silence

May 22, 2018

We marched, singing, to “Shattering Silence,” a limestone and steel structure on the west grounds of the Iowa Judicial Building. This powerful piece commemorates the 170th anniversary of the landmark 1839 Iowa Territorial Supreme Court ruling that prohibited the enslaved Ralph Montgomery from being extradited to Missouri after he failed to raise the $550 he promised to pay to buy his freedom. We thought it was an appropriate place to share our witness.

The Iowa Poor People’s Campaign was about the task of Shattering The Silence Around Systemic Racism in Iowa. After a  period of testimony and song, we made the following commitments to each other and to our state. I commend them to you as a way of combating the racism, xenophobia, and misogyny so present in our land today:

  1. I won’t be silent when I see racial profiling on the street, at the store, at my workplace. I won’t be silent when I hear racist speech at home, at church, at work, at clubs. I won’t be silent when stand  your ground laws are passed to justify murders.
  2. I won’t be silent when immigrant families are torn apart. I won’t be silent when asylum seekers are treated like criminals. I won’t be silent when people seeking the promise of freedom are called animals.
  3. I won’t be silent when indigenous women are murdered and missing. I won’t be silent when land is taken and exploited from sovereign nations. I won’t be silent as 28.3% of American Indians and Alaskan Natives live in poverty.
  4. I won’t be silent when voter suppression laws are passed. I won’t be silent as over 52,000 people with felony convictions are disenfranchised in Iowa. I won’t be silent when people are turned away from the polls.
  5. I won’t be silent when hostility and hatred are aimed at Muslims in and beyond my community. I won’t be silent when there is a ban on refugee resettlement. I won’t be silent when people are persecuted because of their religion.

Will you join us in “Shattering The Silence?”

Let Love Be Genuine

February 16, 2018

The days are evil.  A dysfunctional Congress (whose work was complicated by a meddling Administration) failed to pass even one bill on immigration — even one which included protecting the Dreamers while enhancing “border security” both of which a majority of Americans approve and which a bipartisan committee had proposed. Thousands of undocumented immigrant families remain paralyzed by fear.

A deeply troubled young man, with a long history of unstable behavior, was able to purchase a high-powered rifle three days after he was expelled from high school and slaughter seventeen students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. No matter how you count the number of school shootings in this country just this year, this one was one too many. Young people are afraid to go to school every morning — afraid for their very lives.

A new breakthrough in the Robert Mueller investigation into Russian meddling in U.S. elections, particularly in the presidential election of 2016, includes the indictment of 13 Russian nationals and three separate entities for conspiracy to disrupt these same elections. Proof positive that such interference did indeed occur and, whether or not there was any active collusion by the Trump campaign, that this investigation is far more than any kind of “hoax.” Some of us now wonder if we can trust the outcome of any elections in 2018, 2020, or beyond.

What are we to do?

There are many proposals, strategies, and actions out there designed to take on one or more of these vexing issues. Given the divisive political climate of the day — fueled by politicians and the media as well as the Russians — few of them hold any real promise of success at least in the short term. We are hopelessly divided on immigration, gun control, and electoral politics. Perhaps a better question in these Lenten days is

How shall we live?

Christians, and other people of faith, are called to model a completely different lifestyle and set of priorities than those we see played out in the halls of Congress, the mean streets and schools in our neighborhoods, and the vicious world of international “relations.” There are many texts which attempt to describe this lifestyle. Here is one that  has always spoken to me:

“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit,serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:9-18)

For now…just for today…let this be all you worry about accomplishing.

It will make a difference.

And tomorrow…

Some of these decisions will turn into proposals…strategies…and actions.

But, just for today…

Let love be genuine.

The Art Of The Possible

January 23, 2018

So, I guess some on the Left (including a few already running for President in 2020) are goring Chuck Schumer and the majority of Senate Democrats for “caving in” on the government shut-down in exchange for a promise from Mitch McConnell to have a debate and  an up-or-down vote on DACA in the coming months.

There is no question but that this is risky, particularly considering the fact that no one really knows where Donald Trump will ultimately come down on this and whether or not he is prepared to twist some right-wing arms in the House of Representatives which is far less likely to pass anything remotely looking like amnesty for the Dreamers than are the senators.

But I hasten to remind my fellow lefties that politics is the art of compromise and the art of the possible. Personally, I would rather guarantee the safety and security of some 800,000 Dreamers in exchange for money for a so-called border wall which will not even be built for five years — plenty of time to flip both houses of Congress and elect a new President who could then re-direct whatever money is appropriated to some kind of reasonable border security, which could even include humane ways to detain and evaluate those seeking a new life in the “land of the free and home of the brave” without the benefit of legal status.

I wonder how many of those now howling about a Democrat cave-in bothered to vote in 2016 or wasted their vote supporting some third or fourth party candidate. With those votes, we would now have a Democrat in the White House no matter how much Russian interference took place to swing the election Trump’s way. I was happy to see so many of my fellow “resisters” hitting the streets last weekend protesting the Administration as well as witnessing for women’s equality and rights.

Now, I would suggest they hit the streets and the phones, working hard for Democratic candidates up and down the ballot in 2018. The time is right to begin reversing one of the most heartless and dangerous courses this country has ever been on. Politics is the art of the possible. But possibilities begin with an informed and engaged citizenry willing to make sacrifices and to stand bravely for the principles they believe in…and on which this nation was founded.

The Impact of Christian Unity

January 21, 2018

I think it’s unlikely that when Jesus called Simon and Andrew to follow him – as we heard in today’s Gospel – he could possibly have imagined that his little band would one day turn into a worldwide church of some 2.2 billion members. If the truth be known, I don’t believe that Jesus ever intended to found a church.  He came to do what the first line of today’s Gospel said he would do: to renew his people Israel and to proclaim something called the kingdom of God – to announce the fact that God is king… and that Caesar is not!

But that little apostolic band eventually turned into a movement;  and for movements to perpetuate themselves across time and space they inevitably institutionalize (for better or worse).  And so the church was born.  For a thousand years we were one church (although not monochrome even in those early days, there were local variations, but we were one church!). Then, in the Great Schism of 1054, the Western and Eastern branches shattered apart for political as well as theological reasons.

Five hundred years later – for different political and theological reasons – the Reformation produced Lutherans and Reformed Christians and Calvinists and Anglicans, and we’ve been pretty much dividing ever since. By some estimates there are over 30,000 denominations across the world today. That’s pretty depressing for those of us who still say in our creeds that we believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church!

And so every year we observe something called the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. From January 18th (the feast of the Confession of St. Peter) to January 25th (the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul) Christians around the world pray for an end to our scandalous divisions and for greater unity among us all.  It’s easy to get discouraged about the slow pace of ecumenical unity…until we remember how far we’ve come even since World War II…in my lifetime.

In those days Roman Catholics were not to enter Protestant churches and most Protestants would not dare enter a Catholic church. Mainline Protestants made cruel jokes about Baptists and “holy rollers.”  And there were instances of discrimination and lack of preferment in the workplace perpetrated by Christians against other Christians. Most of us remember all too well the concerns raised about John F. Kennedy’s Catholicism when he ran for President in 1960.

The modern ecumenical movement has made all kinds of strides over these last decades, both in the realm of “Faith and Order” and also what used to be called the “Life and Work” movement.   In line with our Epiphany theme here at New Song about the plight of immigrants and refugees around the world, I’d like to hold up an example of the Life and Work movement known as Church World Service.

In 1946, in the aftermath of World War II, seventeen denominations (including the Episcopal Church) came together to form an agency to do in partnership what none of them could hope to do as well alone. The mission: Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, comfort the aged, and shelter the homeless.

In that same year “… churches opened their hearts and provided more than 11 million pounds of food, clothing, and medical supplies to war-torn Europe and Asia. Protestants and Catholics pooled talent and resources to meet a staggering refugee crisis. Today the Immigration and Refugee Program of Church World Service is a vital, internationally-recognized operation, having resettled nearly half a million refugees since its inception.”

“… in 1947, Lutheran World Relief and the National Catholic Welfare Program created a joint community hunger appeal, the Christian Rural Overseas Program, also known as CROP. (Some of you have no doubt participated in CROP walks, but may not even have realized where they came from.) The early CROP initiative captured the imagination of American’s heartland”.

“Soon ‘Friendship Trains’ roared across the country, picking up commodities such as corn, wheat, rice, and beans to be shared around the world. The experience of the trains led to ‘Friendship Food Ships.’ And, a multi-denominational program called the One Great Hour of Sharing was formed to raise in-church gifts to help fill these ships.” (From the CWS website)

Well, I could go on and on with the history. But, suffice it to say, Church World Service continues today its refugee resettlement and food security programs as well as many more efforts. When I served on the Board of the National Council of Churches in New York, I was regularly blown away by the annual reports of those efforts.

We face new challenges to immigrants and refugees in our day. Fueled in part by fears of terrorism and economic insecurity and in part by a new wave of nativism reinforced in the highest levels of government, there are new barriers being raised against immigrants and refugees coming into our country.  The government was shut down yesterday because of this!

Last Tuesday, before the shut-down, I went with about a dozen colleagues from the Center for Worker Justice to plead with staff persons for Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst at their offices in Cedar Rapids. We asked them why our senators could not support a “clean Dream Act” (which has overwhelming bipartisan support in Congress) and end the fear of deportation for some 700,000 primarily young DACA residents. And we got the same old tired arguments about the need for border security and the same old hysteria about human trafficking and terrorism as reasons for that heightened security.

But this is not the first time Americans have confronted a sudden influx of refugees and it’s not the first time the impulse has been to close the door. Even in the era I’ve been talking about, after World War II, when the Soviet Union was tightening its grip on Eastern Europe, President Eisenhower released a plan to bring a quarter-of-a-million asylum-seekers to the U.S.  That was our President’s plan!

But the end of WW II sent waves of refugees in many directions. And the popular reaction here was resistance. Not the kind of “resistance” many of us are engaged in today….not the kind of resistance we saw in the streets yesterday…resistance to refugees! A Gallup poll in 1946 found that fifty-nine per cent of Americans disapproved of a plan to accept those displaced by the war – including Jews who had survived the Holocaust.

We’ve been here before, dear friends. But in those dark days it was people of faith who made the difference – not least ecumenically minded Christians such as those who banded together in the fledging Church World Service, The National Council of Churches and World Council.. Those we celebrate in this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

So, Jesus may not have intended to found a church. But he surely intended that his followers — and the followers of Simon and Andrew in today’s Gospel — would heed his central message: “The time is fulfilled… the kingdom of God has come near… repent, and believe in the good news!”

Part of that good news for us is that “all are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome…in this place.”

 

New Year’s Resolution: Resistance With Respect

December 31, 2017

The preacher at our Episcopal Church this morning (a lay person of whom we have quite a number licensed and trained) spoke of this new year’s eve as a time to pause, looking back at 2017 even as we prepare to enter 2018.

He grounded this nicely in today’s Lessons from Scripture, seeing John’s Prologue as looking backward to a time when the Word was with God; Isaiah looking forward in chapter sixty-one to a time when God would “cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations;” and St. Paul in Galatians 3 rejoicing in the present, what he called the “fullness of time.”

As I take that pause “between the times” on this new year’s eve, I look back on 2017 as a devastating year at least in the political arena and, from my perspective at least, for this nation and the world. I believe Donald Trump has already done enormous damage to this country, undermining the respect the world used to have for us (as recently as under President Obama) and making life in the not-too-distant future extremely difficult for poor and working class people, immigrants and people of color, and threatening the very environment in which “we live and move and have our being.”

I look forward to 2018 as an opportunity to reverse at least some of these trends by working to elect Democrats to local, state, and national legislatures — particularly to flipping the Senate and House of Representatives so that the worst of this Administration’s proposals can be thwarted legislatively…perhaps even the likely extreme appointments the President may attempt to make to the judiciary, perhaps even the Supreme Court.

In short, I shall rededicate myself to the “resistance” in 2018, but I want it to be “resistance with respect.” I commit myself to monitoring my language and tone particularly on social media so as not to add to the coarsening of society we find there so often. I will try to give my opponents the benefit of the doubt and to focus my attention on their arguments or positions, not on them as persons.

This will not be easy because I do perceive great evil out there in these days. But, if I claim to be a follower of the One who was able to pray — even as they drove the nails — “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do, it is the very least I can do.

Please join me in this effort. Redouble your efforts to resist evil. But resist in a non-violent manner which truly does “respect the dignity of every human being” and which will be seen as light shining in the darkness.

Remember,  we have been told that “the darkness did not overcome it.”

Mary And The Tax Plan

December 23, 2017

As we enter this weekend on which we will celebrate not only the Fourth Sunday of the Advent season, but begin our celebration of the Twelve Days of Christmas, my attention is drawn to the song Luke tells us Mary sang at the Annunciation of her role in all this. We sing it every day in Evensong. It is called the Magnificat as our hearts join hers in “magnifying” the Lord.

This plucky Jewish teenager not only praises God for choosing her for such privilege, but joins her fore-mother Hannah in reminding us all that “Yahweh raises up the poor from the dust (and) lifts the needy from the ash heap.” (I Samuel 2:4)

Mary puts it this way, “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.” (Luke 1:52-53).  Such is the justice of God to be embodied in the life, death, and resurrection of Mary’s son.

In these days, President Donald Trump has announced a “big, beautiful tax cut for Christmas.” And yet there are many who fear that, unlike Mary’s gift to us, our government has just passed a tax bill which may “cast down the lowly, and lift up the mighty on their thrones,” taxation which may –in the long run — “fill the rich with good things, and send the hungry away empty.”

We do not yet know the ramifications of all this, but as we prepare to commemorate the birth of Jesus, let us rededicate ourselves — in the New Year — to standing with those who may be most negatively affected by the new tax laws. And, just as importantly, to shine the very Light of Christ on those who will unfairly reap the benefits — those who in fact need no tax relief but who should be paying even more in thanksgiving for the bounty they have received (often through no merit of their own) and to ensure the well-being of those less fortunate than themselves.

For remember, Mary also sang of the One who “has mercy on those who fear him in every generation” but who has also “shown the strength of his arm (and) and has scattered the proud in their conceit.”

May it be so.

Merry Christmas!

 

In The Wilderness (Of Today) Prepare The Way Of The Lord

December 11, 2017

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” That quotation is heard regularly from this pulpit and is one of my favorites from Dr.  Martin Luther King, Jr. ( It is apparently one of Barack Obama’s as well since he not only used it in many speeches, but quite literally had it woven into a rug in the Oval Office!)

The quote is sometimes criticized for being overly optimistic and even deterministic. In other words “Don’t worry, be happy” everything is going to turn out right in the end anyway…perhaps suggesting that resistance and efforts working for justice and peace are not even necessary. In these days, the words may really seem overly optimistic as we are confronted daily with facts some of which John Harper called our attention to last Sunday:

The U.S. Congress is working on putting the finishing touches on a tax plan which has many poor and middle class people (as well as deficit hawks) extremely worried; the Supreme Court has given carte blanche to President Trump’s travel ban on persons from certain predominantly Muslim countries; this same president seems hell bent on rolling back federal land protection in such sacred Native lands as the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah; and the great state of Alabama seems almost certain to elect an alleged sexual predator to the United States Senate.

And still the stock market surges and employment figures are good.  Even in the face of the concerns I just listed; and the fact that there is genuine worry about an outbreak of nuclear war, beginning (but perhaps not ending) on the Korean peninsula and new tensions arising in the Middle East over the Administration’s decision to move our embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem! Don’t worry, be happy!

Is the arc of the moral universe really bending toward justice? Really?  Well, I believe that it is, but it may be helpful for us to look first at the context of Dr. King’s familiar quotation and then turn to our scriptural lessons for this 2nd Sunday of Advent to see why…and how.  First – as is so often the case – we need to look at the context of Dr. King’s quote. It was not original with him. He was citing a 19th century Transcendentalist, a reforming Unitarian minister and abolitionist named Theodore Parker – and the whole quotation reads like this:

“Evil may so shape events in this world that Caesar will occupy a palace and Christ a cross; but that same Christ will rise up and split history into A.D. and B.C. so that even the life of Caesar must be dated by his name. Yes, the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” In other words, bad people will often prevail in this carnal world where Caesar still rules, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t engage in social activism and strive for justice.

Just as Dr. King always looked to the great stories of his faith for strength and inspiration so it may behoove us to pay attention to our history in order to be strengthened in the present and to await the future with hope. Look at our Lessons today:

Isaiah was “comforting” (which means strengthening) his people with the confidence that – even while they were in exile – God was preparing to do something new.   And, by the way, in Isaiah, it’s not “a voice crying in the wilderness” but “a voice crying, in the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord.” In other words it is while we are in the wilderness that God is to be seen most powerfully at work! The people of Israel had to learn to trust their God while they were in Exile, not only after their joyful return. (Isaiah 40:1-11)

The Psalmist too looks back with gratitude at God’s action in their return from exile, “You have been gracious to your land, O Lord, you have restored the good fortune of Jacob….Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Truth shall spring up from the earth, and righteousness shall look down from heaven.” (Psalm 82:1, 10-11)

Centuries later, Mark quotes our same passage from Isaiah as the Jews suffer under yet another occupying power – this time the Roman Empire.  Decked out like Elijah – the first of the prophets – John the Baptist assures his people that (even though he may not have all the answers) this state of affairs will not stand, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize with the Holy Spirit,” (Mark 1:7-8)

And finally this morning, the second Epistle ascribed to Peter was likely written after the fall of Jerusalem yet again in 70 AD. Everything had fallen apart and yet still Jesus had not returned to set things right. So, the early Christians were encouraged to settle in and wait for him, “Do not ignore the fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you…” (2 Peter 3:8-9b)

But does that mean they are to sit around doing nothing? Hardly, the author continues: “Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God…” (2 Peter 3:11-12a)

Can we really “hasten the coming of the day of God?” Well, Isaiah thought so. The Psalmist thought so. John the Baptizer thought so. Jesus thought so. “Peter” thought so. Theodore Parker thought so. Martin Luther King, Jr. thought so. Each one of them put their ultimate trust in God’s power to save. But each one of them spent their lives striving for justice and peace in God’s name.

Do not flinch from the events brought to your attention in the daily newspapers, beloved. Read them and weep. But then, dry your tears, find one cause with which your heart aligns and start making a difference. For it will only be then that

“Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together…” (Isaiah 40:4-5b)

Sexual Misconduct Is A Social Disease

November 27, 2017

“In 1995 the Diocese of Iowa adopted Policies and Procedures Concerning Allegations and Incidents of Sexual Misconduct. The policy was the attempt to prevent the occurrences of sexual misconduct in the first place and to ‘ensure that where allegations of sexual misconduct are made the response to any allegation or instance will be just and compassionate, and so may allow God’s grace to work redemptively.'”

“The new policy met the Church Insurance Company requirements and all vestries and bishop’s committees were then required to accept them formally on behalf of the local congregations.” (from A Beautiful Heritage: A History of the Diocese of Iowa 1853-2003; page 123)

I was Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Iowa at the time these policies and procedures were hammered out and put in place. The quotation above highlights several things: First, our document provided detailed definitions of such terms as “sexual harassment, sexual exploitation, sexual misconduct, and sexual abuse.” This was intended to have a proactive dimension helping people understand just exactly what constitutes such behavior and alerting many for the first time about just how unwanted and sometimes unintentional such actions may be.

There was also clarity about the role that power differential plays in sexual misconduct and the unliklihood that “consent” is even possible when a person in a position of power over another (employer/employee, doctor/patient, clergy/parishioner) acts in an exploitative manner. This took a lot of education, but gradually our people began to see the logic.

The document was published in the diocesan newspaper for all to read, was discussed and voted upon at Diocesan Convention, and became a published part of the Constitution, Canons, and Policies of the diocese brought out in a new edition each year. Specific procedures were outlined for those filing allegations of sexual misconduct as well as the steps which would be followed in investigating such allegations, seeking to insure the confidentiality and privacy of all.

Because it was made crystal clear that such allegations would be taken seriously and that (usually) women who brought such complaints were — in the first instance — presumed to be telling the truth, there was a good bit of resistance on the part of some clergy who feared false allegations.

This was an understandable concern. However, in the perhaps half dozen allegations I received during my time as bishop (and the two ecclesiastical trials which stemmed from them) never were the women found to be making a false allegation. And the priests were held accountable.

Finally, although I wish these policies and procedures had been put in place because of our compassionate sensitivity to the plight of abused and exploited women, the truth is we were motivated to work on this issue in the 1990s because of pressure put upon us by the Church Insurance Company which had been forced to pay out millions of dollars in the 80s because clergy were not trained or sensitive to the tragedy of sexual misconduct in their ranks. Therefore Church Insurance threatened to stop covering the clergy for such violations unless training, policies and procedures in every diocese were put in place.

Nevertheless, I am proud that The Episcopal Church was “ahead of the curve” on this issue and that a high level ecumenical meeting was held at our Church Center in New York some years later in which representatives from the Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, and other denominations consulted with us as they worked out their own policies on sexual misconduct on the part of clergy.

Perhaps the entertainment industry; local, state, and national governments; the Congress of the United States; and even our Presidents should take a look at the current iteration of The Diocese of Iowa’s Policies and Procedures Concerning Allegations and Incidents of Sexual Misconduct.

They are on our website http://www.iowaepiscopal.org/safeguarding-gods-people.html

 

 

Summarizing The Law

October 29, 2017

Jesus loved to play theological word games with Pharisees! Often this would happen as a result of the Pharisees asking Jesus a question (usually intended to trip him up, like when they asked him – in last week’s  Gospel — whether they should pay taxes to Caesar or not!). But in this morning’s Gospel, Jesus actually bates them with a question!

So, he asks, “Who is this Messiah you say you’re waiting for? Whose son will he be?”

“The son of David” (of course, you simpleton!) they seem to reply.

“But how then can David in Psalm 110 say, ‘The LORD said to my Lord (the coming Messiah), Sit at my right hand…’ The writer, David, wouldn’t call one of his sons ‘Lord’, would he? That would be against all the customs of our people! Better think again on that!”

And I love the way Matthew closes this little clashing of foils: “No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.” No, I guess not!

Now Jesus knew that the Messiah was to be a descendent of King David. At least that was one of the views of the coming Messiah. But he was also sick unto death of the Pharisees’ obsession with purity laws and cleanliness and having the right family tree:  Respecting people because of their lineage, not because of their being created in the image of God.

The Pharisees loved to parse the Scriptures and prove to everybody that they, and only they, knew the correct interpretation; that is, what God really intended. So Jesus shows them the truth of what many of us know today: You can prove anything you want out of Scripture, provided you pick and choose the proof texts which will buttress your own position!

Jesus wanted to show the Pharisees (and us!) that you can get so lost in dogmatic and doctrinal niceties that you lose the very simple and basic message of the Scriptures themselves. Instead of getting sucked into an argument about taxation and just who ought to pay what to whom, Jesus just says “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s!” And then he lets us decide what the implications of that might be.

And today, when they ask him (in the first part of our Gospel reading) which commandment is the greatest, he astounds them all by saying, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment, and a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets!”

First of all, like many of the prophets before him, Jesus pretty well ignores the vast majority of the 613 laws and commandments scholars have identified in the Hebrew Bible in favor of the 10 Commandments, Decalogue, the Ten Words…. And then he even “simplifies” them into two – love God, love your neighbor. That’s a perfect “summary of the law” because the first four of the 10 Commandments have to do with loving God, and the last six have to do with loving one’s neighbor. If you love God, you’ll keep the first four; if you love your neighbor, you’ll keep the last six!

So Jesus draws from the rich tradition of the Hebrew Bible, but he does it in such a way that the few simple verses he cobbles together truly and accurately summarize what the whole Bible is trying to say! The whole history of Israel tells the story of a people struggling to love their God… and gradually realizing, over many centuries, that that also meant loving their neighbor. The first part of the Old Testament describes their up-and-down attempts to be loving and faithful to God; the later Prophets begin to challenge them to show that love by loving their neighbors (which turns out to be — all people!)

The Summary of the Law – so familiar to us Anglicans from the Prayer Book liturgy – is, of course, simple to remember; not so easy to carry out! So many things compete with our loving God and therefore putting God first in our lives these days. But, loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind means that God has to be considered, indeed put first, in everything we do.

We need to think about God in our business dealings. We need to think about God in our relationships and family life. We need to think about God in our politics! We have separation of church and state in this country, but there really is no separation between religion and politics, between our faith and how we live our public lives together. And that leads us to consider just how we might love our neighbor as ourselves.

Here we have to distinguish between what we might call “goals” and “strategies.” Christians may disagree about how to do tax reform, for example, but we should not disagree that everyone should pay their fair share for the common good. Christians may disagree about how much humankind is to blame for climate change, but we should not disagree that we should all do what we can to protect the planet, God’s good creation.

Christians may disagree about the scope of the Second Amendment to our Constitution, but surely we can agree that something must be done to curb the scourge of gun violence in our land. Christians may disagree about how to fix a broken immigration system, but we should not disagree that we are called to welcome the stranger and the sojourner and to protect refugees fleeing violence and death in the lands of their birth. We can disagree on the strategies. But not on the goals!

The goals are to love God…and our neighbors as ourselves. We can thank Jesus for “simplifying” the law and the prophets for us. But we will still spend our lifetimes learning specific ways to love our God and love our neighbor. It’s simple… but not easy. After all, it’s much easier to argue about who is “orthodox” or “politically correct” and who is not, than truly to get on with the business of loving our neighbors as ourselves!