Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Canterbury Inches Toward Making Communion Across Difference An Actual Thing

On July 18th as hundreds of Anglican bishops were making their way to the postponed-from-2018 Lambeth Conference 2022, the news broke that buried in the conference materials in their inboxes -- in the section ironically entitled "Human Dignity" -- was a reaffirmation of the portion of Lambeth 1998 Resolution 1.10 stating that “it is the mind of the Anglican Communion as a whole that same-gender marriage is not permissible.” Furthermore, participants were informed they would be expected to use electronic voting devices to either agree to adopt or adapt the motion -- voting "no" was not an option. 

The reaction was swift and -- to those of us who have been advocating for the full inclusion all the baptized in the Body of Christ for decades -- gratifying. Bishop after bishop issued strong statements condemning the process in general and the content in particular. The TEC LGBTQ Caucus launched a webpage tracking the statements.

I wrote an "Open Letter to Archbishop Justin Welby -- suggesting this edit to solve the problem: 

And then -- against all odds and the expectations of most veteran Anglican Communion Watchers -- things began to change. 

On July 25, an initial response from Lambeth Conference added the option of "I do not add my voice to this Call" to the voting process -- with a promise of updated content to come.

On July 26, that updated content was posted including this edit to the original Lambeth Call to Human Dignity 2.3 posted above:
Prejudice on the basis of gender or sexuality threatens human dignity. Given Anglican polity, and especially the autonomy of Provinces, there is disagreement and a plurality of views on the relationship between human dignity and human sexuality. Yet, we experience the safeguarding of dignity in deepening dialogue. It is the mind of the Anglican Communion as a whole that “all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation are full members of the Body of Christ” and to be welcomed, cared for, and treated with respect (I.10, 1998). Many Provinces continue to affirm that same gender marriage is not permissible. Lambeth Resolution I.10 (1998) states that the “legitimizing or blessing of same sex unions” cannot be advised. Other Provinces have blessed and welcomed same sex union/marriage after careful theological reflection and a process of reception. As Bishops we remain committed to listening and walking together to the maximum possible degree, despite our deep disagreement on these issues.
Just take that in for a minute.

We've gone from "not permissible" -- utterly ignoring the irrefutable data point that in many places in the Anglican Communion such marriages are not just permitted but celebrated -- to:
Many Provinces continue to affirm that same gender marriage is not permissible. Lambeth Resolution I.10 (1998) states that the “legitimizing or blessing of same sex unions” cannot be advised. Other Provinces have blessed and welcomed same sex union/marriage after careful theological reflection and a process of reception. As Bishops we remain committed to listening and walking together to the maximum possible degree, despite our deep disagreement on these issues.
As Bishop Bonnie Perry wrote from Canterbury: "I find this statement to be descriptive and not prescriptive and an accurate representation of the varied positions on same sex marriage and blessings in the Anglican Communion."

This, my friends, is what Communion Across Difference is all about. Acknowledging our differences. Being honest about who we are and what we believe. And committing to walk together -- to the maximum possible degree -- anyway. 

This is what it means to have the DNA of Anglican Comprehensiveness coursing in our veins. It is what it means to be the spiritual descendants of those who refused to settle for the binary choice of being either Protestant or Catholic but to end the cycle of burning each other at the stake by choosing instead to live together in the tension of each thinking the other is wrong.

And this is what we have to bring as Good News to this beautiful and broken world wracked by polarization, division and zero-sum-game calculations: a vision for how bridges can be built across seemingly intractable differences in order to combine forces to address the challenges that call us to unite as members of the same human family.

Now, I don't know what will happen next at Lambeth. The bishops have not yet even begun their work together and many of them are -- as I write this -- still traveling, gathering, napping and looking for lost luggage (from what I can see on social media.) But whatever happens next -- or finally -- what happened today is a sign of both hope and possibility. And I'm grateful to sit for a moment and rejoice and be glad in it


Saturday, July 23, 2022

"Mind the Gap" -- Reprising a Lambeth 2008 sermon on the Eve of Lambeth 2022

In 2008 I had the privilege of preaching at the Eucharist held on the fringe of the Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops. It was sponsored by the Inclusive Communion cohort who had come to witness to God's inclusive love in the face of the toxic systemic homophobia which infects the Anglican Communion in general and the Church of England in particular.

Thinking about what to say on the Eve of Lambeth 2022 I can't come up with better words than these ... so here they are again:

"Mind the gap" is something we've heard a lot since we've been here in England … and I can’t help but wonder if minding the gap isn’t one of the ways an island people cope with the challenges of gaps that don’t have anything to do with trains or platforms.

It is a mindset that says “gaps happen and we mind them and keep moving along” that is part of the DNA of not only the English people but of the English Church.

It is the essence of an Anglican comprehensiveness that has – up until now – been able to hold together a world-wide communion in spite of the gaps between theologies and polities and languages and liturgies.As this Lambeth Conference begins, I’m wondering if “minding the gap” might not be one of the most important things those of us who love, care about and pray for this Anglican Communion can do.In John 8:32, Jesus promised that “the truth will set you free.” To mind the gap is to commit ourselves to tell the truth about the very real gaps that exist between the experiences, worldviews, and theologies of many members of the Anglican Communion. It is equally to speak the truth that the Gospel we share is stronger than the differences we acknowledge.

And to claim the truth that the church -- at its best -- has not only the potential but the vocation to bridge not only the gaps that separate us from each other within the communion but the gaps that separate the church from the world it has been created to serve as the Body of Christ … as Jesus’ hands and feet at work in the world.
When Jesus said “inasmuch as you did it unto the least of these” the question he asked was “did you bring water to the thirsty, food to the hungry, clothing to the naked?” … not “did you agree on liturgical practice, come to consensus on a biblical hermeneutic, unravel the mystery of human sexuality?”And it is the opportunity to witness to that truth that will set this church – this communion – indeed this creation – free of the fear of inclusion and open to the Holy Spirit of God calling it to move forward in faith into God’s future.As our bishops gather for this Lambeth Conference, our prayer for them is that the God who has given them the will to do these things give them the grace and power to accomplish them. And our prayer for all of us is that we may go and do likewise. Amen

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Open letter to Archbishop Justin Welby on Fixing "Bait & Switch Lambeth*"

Your Grace, 

As a veteran Lambeth watcher, I have been watching the plans for the upcoming Lambeth Conference 2022 unfold. It has been gratifying to see how much has changed since the days of the Anglican Inclusion Wars when we were literally consumed by the efforts to punish those who affirm the full inclusion of LGBTQ people in the Body of Christ by voting them off the Anglican Island. As Los Angeles Bishop John Taylor wrote:
In the year-long run-up to this summer’s gathering, planners have been cooing in our ears about fellowship and diligent study of 1 Peter, which Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby selected as our text. It would be, we were told, a time of gracious reconciliation and relationship-building.
All of which makes the sleight-of-hand move of inserting the Lambeth 1998 Resolution 1.10 anti-marriage equity language into the Lambeth Calls documents the gathered bishops will be called to affirm all the more egregious.

What can possibly be gained by reopening that battle which had — for the most part — been quelled in true Anglican fashion with an unarguable majority of provinces agreeing with Lambeth 1.10 and a significant minority disagreeing … and all coming to the table anyway?

To force a recapitulation of the portion of Lambeth 1.10 declaring "same gender marriage is not permissible" as "the mind of the Anglican Communion as a whole" pours kerosene on the embers of polarization and division -- turning the clock back rather than leading us forward into God's future.

It does nothing to serve the higher goals of unity around the common message of the Gospel and everything to once again cast LGBTQ people in the role of bargaining chips in a game of global Anglican politics.

The Gospel and the Communion deserve better. And so do God's beloved LBTQ people.

So here. I've fixed it:
Lambeth Call to Human Dignity

23. Prejudice on the basis of gender or sexuality threatens human dignity. Given Anglican polity, and especially the autonomy of Provinces, there is disagreement and a plurality of views on the relationship between human dignity and human sexuality. Yet, we experience the safeguarding of dignity in deepening dialogue. It is the mind of the Anglican Communion as a whole that same gender marriage is not permissible. Lambeth Resolution I.10 (1998) states that the “legitimizing or blessing of same sex unions” cannot be advised. It is the mind of the Communion to uphold “faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union” (I.10, 1998).xxviii It is also the mind of the Communion that “all baptized, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation are full members of the Body of Christ” and to be welcomed, cared for, and treated with respect (I.10, 1998).
You're welcome.

Best and warm,
The Reverend Canon Susan Russell
Canon for Engagement Across Difference
Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles

*Credit for "bait-and-switch Lambeth" goes to Bishop John H. Taylor in this FB post

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Sitting for a minute as the dust settles from the 80th General Convention of the Episcopal Church

As the dust continues to settle from the 80th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, my FB feed is full of posts of friends and colleagues making their way home from Baltimore ... and reviews and summaries of the actions of GC80 are starting to pop up. This great ENS one from the always brilliant Mary Frances Schjonberg gives a very concise and helpful overview of major actions and challenges of what was truly an historic gathering.

This was the 11th Convention I've had the privilege of being part of -- this time from my "non-essential alternate" seat on my couch with my laptop. And so I also want to note -- with some bemused astonishment -- that among the resolutions that did not make the "above the line" commentary in the ENS overview because they were adopted overwhelmingly and engendered little if any debate or discussion were the ones posted below.

I need to sit with that realization for just a minute.

I need to work for a minute
to really absorb the fact that we have evolved 
from a church which was on the verge 
of being voted off the Anglican Island 
for daring to aspire to be a church 
where all the baptized were included in all the sacraments 
and where you could expect at every triennial meeting 
of the General Convention 
to get beat up with toxic theology 
and bad readings of Leviticus 
into a church where a staff position for LGBTQI & Women's Ministries, 
the creation of an LGBTQ+ Inclusion Task Force, 
expansion of our definition of gender identity and expression, 
and advocating for access to gender affirming care 
are among the resolutions adopted by wide consent.

As in with no debate.

As in ... OMG ... I really kind of need a minute.

More later. But for the moment lots of gratitude -- and lots of resolve to keep the work moving forward. La lucha continua.
  • A063 - That the 80th General Convention direct the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society to establish a staff position of Director of LBGTQI and Women’s Ministries
  • D026 - That the 80th General Convention direct the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies to appoint jointly a Task Force on LGBTQ+ Inclusion … who represent the diversity of the LGBTQ+ members of this Church
  • D029 – That the 80th Convention affirm that non-binary as well as binary identified transgender and cisgender people are included in the phrase "gender identity and expression,” and that the provisions of the Canons of the Episcopal Church apply equally to people of all genders.
  • D030 -- That the 80th General Convention of the Episcopal Church direct the Church Center to develop multilingual, multicultural churchwide resources to support our dioceses, provinces, churchwide leaders, and congregations in living into our commitments to welcome and support people and communities of diverse genders, including transgender and non-binary.
  • D045 -- That the 80th General Convention of the Episcopal Church express its full support of the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) and IOM (International Organization for Migration) in their mission to protect LGBTIQ+ persons forced to seek refugee or asylee status because they fear being persecuted based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and/or sex characteristics.
  • D066 -- That the 80th General Convention calls for the Episcopal Church to advocate for access to gender affirming care in all forms (social, medical, or any other) and at all ages as part of our Baptismal call to “respect the dignity of every human being.”
  • D072 -- That the 80th General Convention address the urgent need for gender and sexuality training in our church on all levels.
  • D092 -- That this 80th General Convention express to the Most Reverend and Right Honorable Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, its dismay at the decision to exclude same-sex spouses of LGBTQ+ bishops from participating in Lambeth Conference 2022

Saturday, July 09, 2022

The Time is Now: Support A063

What a difference a couple of decades make.

This archival photo from the 76th General Convention in Denver in 2000 is from an initial meeting of an embryonic LGBT Caucus. We had gathered and begun to organize at a time when the risks were great and the rewards were ... to put it mildly ... nebulous.

Nevertheless we persisted -- and with Louie Crew's "Joy Anyway" wind beneath our wings we kept on coming back ... again and again like the Persistent Widow in Luke's Gospel.

Today -- Day Two of the 80th General Convention of the Episcopal Church -- we heard arguments for and against adopting a resolution which would establish a staff position of Director of LBGTQI and Women’s Ministries reporting to the Canon to the Presiding Bishop for Ministry: a position that has received funding from Program, Budget & Finance because it was determined to be such a vitally important addition.

It was a debate many of us who have been at this work for decades could not have even imagined being possible not all that long ago. But even more striking than the fact that the debate was happening was what was being debated.

The arguments were not about the place of LGBTQ people in the church or even about Leviticus. They were not about whether the work was important, necessary, and even vital.

Instead the arguments were about which legislative committee had the authority to make it happen when.

One committee considered the matter and recommended deferring it to 2024 for further study and refinement. The other committee took the language from the deferred resolution and created a substitute recommending adoption and securing funding. 

This was not a question of one committee not "trusting" the work of another. Rather it was the result of having a different opinion of how the work should be accomplished and coming up with a proposal to bring to the Convention for consideration. 

Nobody said it was perfect. In fact, with compelling testimony on the floor, Deputy Cynthia Black offered this perspective:
"Friends, I am a perfectionist. I can tell you story after story of times when I worked and worked and worked on something to get it perfect! And you know what? It was NEVER perfect. And in too many cases, the moment had passed me by. I have served on Committee 13– yes, the committee on Committees. We had to make hard decisions about whether a committee or task force could get its work done in two years and possibly risk not getting continued at the next GC. I look at this through a similar lens.
Here’s the deal with this resolution. It may not be the ultimate in perfection. But the time is NOW. It has been now for a long time, but it is especially time NOW as women’s and LGBTQ rights are at risk. Waiting two years to perfect this resolution would both likely kill it and more importantly miss an opportunity to to do the work that the gospel calls us to do. The time is also now because the hard work has been done to fund this resolution.

It’s never the wrong time to do the right thing and we cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good. I urge adoption."

And Resolution A063 was adopted by a 57-43 percent margin in the House of Deputies. Joy Anyway!

Now it goes to the House of Bishop for concurrence ... which we hope will happen speedily and without arguments about which committee got to decide how to get this important work done.

Because -- as the House of Deputies affirmed today -- the time to get it done is now.

photo one: Cynthia Black
photo two: Susan Russell

Thursday, July 07, 2022

Reflection on General Convention in General and #GC80 in Specific

In 1991 my best friend and I left our grade school age kids with their other parental units and took a four-day road trip bound for the 70th General Convention of the Episcopal Church held in Phoenix -- in July. 

There I discovered -- emerging from the dry heat of the Phoenix desert much like Brigadoon emerged from the Scottish mists -- a village of Episcopalians gathered for 10 days of liturgy, legislation and shopping all under one roof. And I was all in.

We got to hear Sandra Day O'Connor speak at a luncheon (ECW or EWC ... I forget now which.) We got to sit at Eucharist tables with Episcopalians from all over the church who amazingly seemed to both know and enjoy each other! We also got cleared out of the gallery in the House of Bishops when the debate over that-which-could-not-be-named (homosexuality) got so heated Bishop Browning sent us all out so they could duke it out in private.

And the rest -- as they say -- is history.

Over the last thirty-one years I've had the extraordinary privilege of being part of every General Convention since. 

I was a legislative aide to the Bishop's Committee on the Constitution in Philadelphia in 1994 where Bishop Bill Wantland of blessed memory told me I was "ontologically incapable of being an efficacious bearer of a sacerdotal presence" so I could never be a priest -- but he thanked me for my ministry. All of that made possible by the wonderful Jenny Ladefoged who shared her hotel room with me because I couldn't have afforded to go otherwise.

In Indianapolis in 1997 I was part of the press team -- representing our own Diocese of Los Angeles Episcopal News. By 2000 I had joined the Integrity USA team (led by the brilliant Michael Hopkins) and in Denver was part of the Communications squad and in 2003 in Minneapolis (in the vortex of the consent process for Bishop Gene Robinson) served as the Communication Director for Integrity, the convener of Claiming the Blessing and a member of the ECW National Board. (See also "eclectic career.")

As Integrity President in 2006 in Columbus and again in 2009 in Anaheim I had the crazy privilege of working with the inimitable John Clinton Bradley to field arguably the best teams of volunteers in the history of church, as we continued the work of moving the church forward on the full inclusion of all the baptized in all the sacraments against a ton of odds -- including a full-court-press from the Lambeth Conference of Bishops and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

We were back in Indianapolis in 2012 -- and for the first time I ran for and was elected as a deputy from the Diocese of Los Angeles: something that would have been unimaginable back in 1991 when we couldn't even talk about homosexuality -- much less elect out-lesbian Deputies! I served as First Alternate in 2015 in Salt Lake City -- where we celebrated both rites and rights for marriage equality -- and again as a Deputy in 2018 in Austin where we worked very hard on Committee 13 to finish the work of making marriage available to all. 

And here we are in 2022 on the eve of the 80th General Convention. The "Nevertheless, They Persisted" Convention which has been both postponed and abbreviated by COVID will be gaveled into being in Baltimore on Friday, July 8 -- and those assembled will attempt the herculean task of sorting through 400+ pieces of legislation in four days.

May God bless them all in their work and keep them safe in their social distanced, masked, COVID protocoled assembly.

As a non-essential Alternate Deputy this year, I have not made the cross-country trek, but will be watching online with thousands of others as the business of the church continues as it has since the First General Convention convened in Philadelphia in 1785.

Over the last year I've had the privilege of being part of the launch of a new LBGTQ+ Caucus which is taking up the mantle of legislative leadership and continuing the now decades-old work of making full inclusion not just a resolution we adopt but a reality we live in the Episcopal Church -- thanks in large part to the support and leadership of our current PHoD Gay Clark Jennings who midwifed the Caucus into being.

And while of course I'm sorry and a bit sad not to be there in person, it is a gift to be able to participate remotely through the Media Hub set up by the the General Convention Office -- and through creative communication platforms like WhatsApp & TikTok. 

It's crazy how fast these 31 years have gone -- and how quickly one goes from Ingenue to Elder. But it is also gratifying to look back at the work accomplished over those decades even as we board up to continue the work ahead of us -- continuing to call the Episcopal Church into its full stature as a beacon of God's love, justice and compassion in our beautiful and broken world in desperate need of all of the above. 

Almighty and everliving God, source of all wisdom and understanding, be present with those who take counsel in the General Convention of the Episcopal Church for the renewal and mission of your Church. Teach us in all things to seek first your honor and glory. Guide us to perceive what is right, and grant us both the courage to pursue it and the grace to accomplish it; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Now let's do this!

Sunday, July 03, 2022

Declaring Independence from Toxic Patriarchalism: A Sermon for Independence Day 2022

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

These words from the vision cast in 1938 by Langston Hughes 
echo with particular poignancy in this particular moment as we gather on the Sunday closest to Independence Day in 2022 -- a year when the aspirational values he extolled and we strive to live into as a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all people are created equal are under assault -- both literally and figuratively in ways most of us never imagined we would see in our lifetime.

Now make no mistake about it:
A consistent part of our collective story is that
the liberty and justice we espouse as a national value
have always been aspirational values we are journeying toward
rather than destinations which we have at some point arrived.

Author, historian and friend of All Saints Church James Carroll summarized that story with these words:

"America began … as a half-formed and rough idea, but that idea became the meaning against which all life in this country has been measured ever since.  And what is that idea?  It comes to us by now as the brilliant cliché of the Fourth of July, but with stark simplicity it still defines the ground of our being: “All men are created equal.”  That the idea is dynamic, propelling a permanent social transformation, is evident even in the way that word “men” strikes the ear as anachronistic now  …  reminding us that to be an American traditionalist -- and isn’t this what we universally celebrate on the 4th of July? -- is to affirm the revolution."

To affirm the revolution
is to affirm that no one is truly free unless all of us are –
and living into the pledge to “liberty and justice for all”
that began in 1776 continues today
as it has throughout our history ...
two steps forward and one step back.

In this moment we are clearly in "step back" mode.
And the work of the church is to speak to that moment.

Theologian Walter Brueggemann famously said:

"The prophetic tasks of the church
are to tell the truth in a society that lives in illusion,
to grieve in a society that practices denial,
and to express hope in a society that lives in despair

So let's start with the tell the truth part.

Part of the truth in this particular moment
as we gather as All Saints Church  --
either in person here at 132 Euclid
or online via livestream, YouTube or Facebook --
is that we gather bearing the weight
of the ongoing global COVID endemic on our hearts
with the threat of global war in the headlines
while the existential threat
of the global climate crisis continues unabated
in the middle of congressional hearings
into the violent January 6th insurrection
which came perilously close to overturning
the cornerstone of our democratic election process
as White Supremacist Christian Nationalists continue to conspire
to replace the constitutional republic our founders envisioned
with a theocratic oligarchy in alignment with their patriarchal worldview ...
all in the wake of recent Supreme Court decisions
taking away the rights of states to regulate guns,
the right of the EPA to regulate air quality
and the rights of those who can become pregnant
from making health care decisions about their own bodies.

None of this happened overnight.
There are a complex set of factors
that lead to the rise of the populist, nationalist, sexist,
xenophobic, white supremacist, homo/transphobic toxins
that have contaminated our body politic
and dominated our public discourse. 

But incubating those factors
into this particular set of toxins
requires a kind of cultural Petri dish
which will simultaneously provide
the nutrients necessary to nourish the toxic worldview
while protecting it from contaminates
like data, facts, diversity and multi-cultural competency. 

And I am convinced that the biblical literalism
foundational to 21st century American Evangelicalism
does precisely that.

It feeds, waters and fertilizes exclusively male language for God  --
marginalizing women and non-binary people,
fanning the fire of unexamined privilege
of toxic patriarchalism which
prefers a Putin-style oligarchy
over a democracy where brown, black and queer people
have voice and power.

It creates a context where it is a very short journey
from “the Bible said it, I believe it, that settles it” to
“my country, love it or leave it” –
with a direct connection to the rise of nationalism, sexism,
white supremacism and the rest of the litany of isms
that plague our nation and our world:
the rise of the forces we struggle against daily
as we live out our baptismal promise to persevere in resisting evil. 

And it is this fertile environment that becomes
a breeding ground for a population pre-programmed
to believe fact-based science is an enemy of faith. 

It quite literally lays down neuron tracks in the brain
set up to reject as “fake news” the very science
that calls us to come together
to save what we can of this planet we have exploited
and the very evidence that proves the conspiratorial abuse of power
for personal and political gain
which led to the January 6th Insurrection. 

To be clear: the beauty, power and importance of the First Amendment
is that it protects every last one of us
to freely exercise the religion of our choice –
including the freedom to exercise no religion at all.

And including the freedom to reject science,
fact and data and to believe whatever one chooses
about what God wills, blesses or condemns.

However – and it’s a big however – the First Amendment does not protect
the right to confuse the freedom to exercise religion
with the license to impose religion. 

And the job of defending the Constitution against all enemies –
foreign and domestic – requires each and every one of us to do our part.

If we are going to save our nation
from devolving into a kind of theocratic oligarchy,
those who believe that science and data are things –
those who embrace the vision of a nation
where liberty and justice for all literally means all  --
must provide an antidote to the toxins of ignorance and “alternative facts” threatening our constitutional democracy with polarization and division.

To affirm -- rather than subvert -- the revolution we mark
on this Independence Day weekend
is to declare our own Independence
from Toxic Patriarchalism
and to raise our voices as people of faith --
offering a rebuttal to those who have
hijacked the Good News of God's inclusive love
proclaimed by the radical rabbi from Nazareth,
turning it into a Christian Nationalist
weapon of mass discrimination
deployed against anyone who looks, believes, loves, identifies
or votes differently than they do.

And a brief historical note here:
Revolution against patriarachalism isn't something
20th century feminists
came up in some think tank in the 70's!

Patriarchalism is a political theory that arose in England
in the seventeenth century that defended the concept of absolute power
for the monarchy, through language that emphasized
the "paternal" power of the king over the state and his subjects. 

Its defenders used genealogy as a way to legitimize kingship --
tracing the throne's origins back to the original "fatherly rule" of Adam.

I know. Right??? 

Patriarchalism is what John Locke and other Enlightenment philosophers wrote volumes about as they dismantled "the divine right of kings" and inspired the revolution that began with tea in the Boston Harbor and ended with framing of a Constitution ...and the historic exchange between Benjamin Franklin and Mrs. Powell of Philadelphia ... who asked Dr. Franklin what kind of government we'd ended up with to which Dr. Franklin famously replied "A republic, if you can keep it." 

Whether or not we could keep it has -- at times -- been an open question.

And it's pretty clear that this is one of those times
as we face down the dual threats
of biblical literalism and constitutional originalism
deployed in the service of Christian nationalism
which is antithetical to the core Christian values of love, justice and compassion
and the core American values of liberty and justice for all.

But don't just take my word for it. Listen to these words from Tim Whitaker, a founder of the New Evangelicals movement from a recent NPR interview:

"Ultimately Christian nationalism is not about democracy. It's really about theocracy ... White evangelicalism rejects pluralism – completely. They do not see themselves as coexisting with other religious views or other sexuality ethic views. They see it as a spiritual battle and they are on God's side. When they start getting a taste – a small taste – of just making room for other viewpoints, that's perceived as a loss of power. And that's what they run on."

But back to Walter Brueggemann and our job as church:

"The prophetic tasks of the church
are to tell the truth in a society that lives in illusion,
to grieve in a society that practices denial,
and to express hope in a society that lives in despair."

So let's get to the hope part.

For there are both words of hope and an example to follow in the words we heard this morning from President Abraham Lincoln.

With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.

That is the work we are to be about … in our country and in our church. Binding up wounds. Caring for widows and orphans. Working for lasting peace.

That was a tall order for a president trying to heal a nation in 1865 and it is a tall order for us trying to heal the world in 2022.

And yet we belong to a God who tells us over and over again that nothing is impossible ... and as the inimitable Bishop Barbara Harris reminded us over and over again: The power behind you is greater than the challenge ahead of you.

And the good news this morning is that we follow a Lord who loved us enough to become one of us to show us how to love one another.
Even the people we’re not interested in loving.

Listen again to these words from today’s gospel:
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
Let the love you extend be full just as the love God extends is full.

Jesus also said “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me --
for my yoke is easy and my light” --
words of promise that there is nothing we have to bear by ourselves:
nothing too heavy for Jesus to bear with us.

In a few moments we are going to baptize Miranda into the Body of Christ.
In the process we are going to renew our own baptismal covenant
which includes these words:

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people,
and respect the dignity of every human being?

And how we live out that baptismal promise is at the core of how we -- as people of faith -- live out what Walter Brueggemann names as
"hope in a society that lives in despair."

It is how we commit to making
liberty and justice for all not just a pledge we make
and thy kingdom come on earth not just a prayer we pray
but realities we live ...
realities that bring us closer to the unrealized dream
of the world Langston Hughes imagined America could be ...
a dream we claim as our own this morning:

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.


A sermon preached on Sunday, July 3, 2022 at All Saints Church in Pasadena by Canon Susan Russell. For more information about All Saints, visit the church website.