Pastoral Letter on the National Election - Bp Cate

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

This comes to you as a pastoral letter. It is not an opinion piece being sent to the editor of the daily paper. It is not directed to the world. It is a word to you, from someone who loves you all, about a situation many of us are finding very painful.

Our Presidential campaign and election has resulted in an outcome which is cheered by nearly half of those who voted in the election, and dreaded by the rest. While we have probably all been disappointed in the outcome of past elections, we have usually been able to assure ourselves that we will find a way to work together. This time it’s different.

The usual disagreements were voiced in this campaign – how to fix the economy and provide more jobs, what to do about trade agreements, how to provide all workers with a just and decent wage, how to repair our infrastructure, whether to intervene militarily in conflicts around the world, how to relate to allies, how to provide health care for our citizens and residents, how to treat refugees and immigrants, how to provide education for our children…..the list goes on and on. We are clear that there are a variety of philosophies among us about how much government is too much, and what the proper role of the Federal Government is. Disagreements over such things are familiar to all of us.

Other things were not as familiar to all of us. In the rhetoric of this campaign some of us were on the receiving end of direct insults. Some of us were ridiculed and demeaned. Some of us were characterized as criminal and dangerous. Some of us had our religious beliefs denounced. Some of us were threatened.

Some of us have been talked about in these ways for a long, long, time, though not always as openly. Some of us have been told for countless generations that we are inherently inferior and unworthy, and should never have expected to be treated as equals where education and jobs are concerned. Some have been told God hates them. Some have heard insulting comments about their religion – as if all followers of their faith were exactly alike. They are well aware that not all Christians are alike….

The open use of such language was touted by some as freedom from ‘political correctness.’ But it is not merely politically correct to refrain from using defamatory and insulting language about others – it is about the mandates of our Baptismal Covenant, which we all renew on a regular basis. “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? I will with God’s help.”

While we have freedom to make decisions about our words and actions, we cannot call ourselves faithful while deliberately disregarding the commandment to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.” And we know that, when asked, Jesus made it clear the definition of ‘neighbor’ has no limits.

We must also reflect on what it means to love neighbor as self. Most of us can identify things we regard as essential in life. I think about things I would not want my own children and grandchildren to do without - healthy food, clean water, a safe place to live, adequate clothing, health care, access to good education, the ability to find meaningful work at a living wage….and when I have this conversation with groups they often want to include the love of family and friends, and respect from others.

Loving neighbor as self, then, would mean that if I claim some things as essential for myself, I must also claim them as essential for my neighbors – for everyone, and if anyone is being denied those essential things they are also being denied the respect I am demanding for myself.

This can be difficult to contemplate, because we are painfully aware that our society falls far short of fulfilling this command, and people of faith and good will often disagree about how to make things right. But doing nothing is not the faithful answer.

So, what can people of faith do? We can remind ourselves that no matter what we currently think we know, we have nothing to fear from listening to others. We can become genuinely curious about their stories and circumstances. We can refrain from making assumptions, we can suspend judgement, lay aside stereotypes, and refuse to jump to conclusions. We can open our hearts and minds and pray, letting our faith inform our response to others. We can remind ourselves that we are stewards of all kinds of resources, most especially the Good News, and that with mutual support we can arrive at the place of holy joy, which is rooted in gratitude and generosity.

We can be willing to acknowledge that none of us has all the wisdom, and be open to hearing from others about things which have caused them pain. Then we can be just as courageous in our own sharing.

When I traveled last year to the Holy Land with Rabbi Sasso and thirty other Jewish and Christian leaders, we encountered places where people were doing the very hard work of becoming open to each other. When Palestinians (Christian and Muslim) meet with Jews for mutual sharing about their fears and hopes, what they dream for their children, what they want in the way of government, education, work, and freedom of movement, they are able to make considerable progress toward a shared vision for Israel/Palestine. The issues they discuss become shared concerns which they can work on together, rather than perpetuating the falsehood that they must always be competitive enemies and that there must always be winners and losers.

We need to find the same courage to enter into conversations among ourselves, and with others, about poverty, racism, and sexism, about how refugees and immigrants are treated, about other religious communities.

We can become open to our Muslim brothers and sisters, seeking to learn from them about Islam, and assuring them of our support and help when they feel threatened and misunderstood. We can open ourselves to learn about the lives of immigrants and undocumented workers. Both of these groups are hurt and angered over being threatened and treated with contempt. What help would we count as essential if we were feeling threatened…how can we provide that help for others?

And we must remember that no matter what others say or do, we cannot faithfully speak one way and act another. Our words and actions must match – and if we are not willing to speak respectfully of and to others, we cannot claim to be fulfilling our covenant with God in Christ. This includes being willing to let others know we find disrespectful language offensive and asking them to stop using it.

A frequently voiced concern is about how to talk with our children about the ugly language the President- elect has publicly used. We can help our children understand that it is possible to respect the office of the President without agreeing with everything that person says and does. No one agrees with a President all the time! We can also openly deplore the use of insulting, degrading and contemptuous language by anyone at any time. Such language is never necessary, it is always gratuitous, and it is legitimate to insist that our elected leaders strive to communicate with candor and clarity, and with respect for all people. That this President-elect has chosen to use demeaning language can make it nearly impossible for some people to trust him. His family and friends claim he is not bigoted or prejudiced; over time we will come to know whether that’s true. In the meantime, I have to wonder what would happen if the President-elect were to receive letters from thousands of children asking him to apologize and clean up his act!

And this brings us to one of the most difficult aspects of our faith - the hard truth that reconciliation cannot occur without forgiveness, and forgiveness does not depend on someone saying ‘sorry.’ Our faith is rooted in the conviction that while we were still sinners God acted in mercy to save us, counting us acceptable in and through Christ - not because we said ‘sorry,’ but because God decided to forgive.

We have learned that the single most powerful barrier to healing of any kind is resentment and unforgiveness. Even though resentment is often justified, we simply must find a way to let go of it. Any resentment and anger we carry over what someone says or does will not harm that person, but it can do considerable harm to us. It can remain as a toxic presence in our own lives, and keep us stuck in our pain.

For our own spiritual health, and for the sake of the Kingdom Jesus proclaimed, we must ask for the grace to forgive. But forgiving certainly does not equal forgetting or swallowing our anger. It does not mean failing to hold our leaders accountable, and it certainly does not mean deciding to do nothing. We can forgive while focusing our anger and fear in order to “strive for justice and peace.”

It is for us to provide an example to our children and the communities around us. It is for us to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves.” A tall order when we feel torn and afraid, but the only way to the peace which passes understanding…..

Please be assured of my prayers for all of you, and my determination to work alongside all of you – all of you – as our future unfolds.

“O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen” (BCP 815)

Blessings, +Cate

  July 2020  
This Week's Events
Bible Search