3/17/2016

The Bishops "Word to the Church" : Glad they did this, but my heart is not strangely warmed.




The Bishops of the Episcopal Church, meeting in Texas this week, published "A Word to the Church." That they did so is to be commended, for religious leaders have not had much to say about the violence in political words and actions in the primary contests this year, much less about where it all might lead. So I was delighted to see this short "Word" published.

The content was a bit of a let down.

Most of us regular paid up Episcopalians live "on the ground" where we are slogging through the season of Lent. In Lent we are made painfully aware of the reality of the broken world. Nothing less than a complete revolution, a turning around, a repentance, and a new creation will redeem us from this mess that we and all our institutions represent. And, it turns out we can't make it happen.
 

Thus when Jesus turns towards Jerusalem and the final confrontations, humiliation, death and then resurrection, he is doing on our behalf that which we cannot do. In Lent we become aware again each year of the reality: that the restitution, renewal and restoration that we seek is possible only by God's grace and action in Jesus Christ crucified. Ushering in the new age is what the Messiah is for. All other leaders spiritual and temporal, are, like the rest of us poor slobs, miserable sinners.
 

We miserable sinners are both convinced that it is not "they" that are responsible for our state, but "we." The arc of our liturgical life in Lent leads us to understand that even the best of us are given to the miseries of humanity groping in half-light for a vision of hope. So it is the time of the year when we read the Ten Commandments, sing the Great Litany, and finally on Good Friday put the cards on the table, showing that we, even the best of us, are indeed people under God's judgment and in need of God's mercy and forgiveness. All of which ought to inform our sense of what is going on out there in political land.

The Bishops, however,did not go there. Good Friday, crucifixion, resurrection...they all are invoked in this message, but become events in the suffering of the innocent, marginal and poor at the hands of those caught up in the web of idolatrous power and wealth. True, but not true enough.

Here is the statement, (the bishops in purple) with some commentary (added by me in italics).

A Word to the Church
Holy Week 2016
(Well,not yet, but working up to it. This was published a full week before Holy Week.)

"We reject the idolatrous notion that we can ensure the safety of some by sacrificing the hopes of others.”

On Good Friday the ruling political forces of the day tortured and executed an innocent man. They sacrificed the weak and the blameless to protect their own status and power.

(That's one way to read the matter. Still, I think that Jesus (the man here) was neither innocent nor blameless, otherwise they would not need to "protect their own status and power" by doing him in. Jesus, I believe, knew exactly what he was doing and was not at all "innocent," "blameless," or weak." Still, however we read it, he was a threat.)

On the third day Jesus was raised from the dead, revealing not only their injustice but also unmasking the lie that might makes right.
(The lie that "might makes right" is not unmasked by the Resurrection. The Resurrection is a confrontation with death, for which the powers and principalities of this world are but pale instruments of implementation. The Resurrection is not an argument that proves that the grinding of Roman justice (or any principality's justice) is wrong. The Resurrection does not show that justice triumphs in the end. The Resurrection, among other things, is a foretaste of the passing away of this age or world.)

In a country still living under the shadow of the lynching tree, we are troubled by the violent forces being released by this season’s political rhetoric.

(The mob action envisioned as an end result of the violence unleashed in political life in America is linked to lynching and thus to racism, not to brown shirt riots, Jew baiting and antisemitism. I find that odd. Lynching is the sign of the old old sin of racism in America, expelling and excluding and branding is the nightmare of extreme nationalism gone viral. A hint of this nationalism gone astray is the massive display of flags behind Trump in his pleasure palace where he has free publicity because his victory speeches are billed as press conferences, and where he can exclude whoever he pleases. "This season's political rhetoric," is a polite way to talk about the obscene "survivor" reality show and its values. But we get the idea.)


Americans are turning against their neighbors, particularly those on the margins of society. They seek to secure their own safety and security at the expense of others. There is legitimate reason to fear where this rhetoric and the actions arising from it might take us.

(An alternative might have been to say "Some Americans" as opposed to "Americans," or better, it being Lent, the bishops might have identified themselves with all other Americans and instead used the phrase "We are turning against our neighbors..." The sins of "turning against" is not limited alone to the radical nationalists.)

In this moment, we resemble God’s children wandering in the wilderness. We, like they, are struggling to find our way. They turned from following God and worshiped a golden calf constructed from their own wealth. The current rhetoric is leading us to construct a modern false idol out of power and privilege.

(I believe this is better phrased, "white male power and privilege." And it may be that that is not the central idol at all, but rather we have again returned to the rhetoric of the savior of the nation, a rhetoric well used by "fathers of the nation" ranging from Hitler to Duvalier. The savior of the nation does not need to spell out a program. He is the program. The Christian counter is of course to point out that we have no Savior except Jesus, who is known to us in breaking bread and the Scriptures and in community.)
We reject the idolatrous notion that we can ensure the safety of some by sacrificing the hopes of others. No matter where we fall on the political spectrum, we must respect the dignity of every human being and we must seek the common good above all else.

(Indeed. This is the crux of the matter and the Bishops got this right, hoping of course that those who read this understand the common good to be the common good for humankind, not for the particular people of this country only. It is at this point that the Bishop's "word" points to the Cross, for what ever else was going on in the minds of the Roman occupiers and the Jerusalem Jewish leadership, surely they were indeed thinking of safety being more important than dashed hopes.)
We call for prayer for our country that a spirit of reconciliation will prevail and we will not betray our true selves.
(An important call for prayer, and yet I wonder what "we will not betray our true selves" means here. Back in parish land we more or less have established that we are miserable sinners, so our true selves are not exactly what we might hope not to betray. I think maybe our prayer should be that "we not betray God, who calls us in community to new creation and life abundantly.")

All in all my problems with the statement are minor. I'm glad they made it, and I hope it finds wide distribution. I do think there was a lost opportunity to speak directly to the matter Resurrection hope and the general condition of humankind which makes us all complicit in the emerging extreme nationalism and the breakdown in civil discourse.

4 comments:

  1. Thanks, Mark, for your comments. The fact that the bishops adopted this statement unanimously is significant and could well be the reason it was not as strong or direct as you, me and others would prefer. It is the first unanimous statement since the invasion of Iraq.
    David Ames

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  2. The best posting I have read at this site. Thank you for it. The other scary thought is that a dozen or so bishops likely agree with you, and yet they have been swept into the Jesus Movement HOB and become faceless representatives of this kind of manipulation of Good Friday and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jim.

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  3. I believe this is better phrased, "white male power and privilege." And it may be that that is not the central idol at all, but rather we have again returned to the rhetoric of the savior of the nation, a rhetoric well used by 'fathers of the nation' ranging from Hitler to Duvalier. The savior of the nation does not need to spell out a program. He is the program."

    I've been in despair this whole primary season because this fervent effort to raise up a false messiah is taking place on the left as well as the right, with the same white male sense of entitlement, and at times I can no longer distinguish between the followers on either side.

    ReplyDelete

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