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Irresponsible to be silent

June 22, 2018

As I hope you know, both Rev. Kelly and I try to avoid falling into the trap of "chasing headlines" in our preaching and writing.

But like many of you, I've watched and listened in horror this past week as more and more details emerge about our government's family-separation policy. And I feel an obligation to address this.

Frankly -- and at risk of sounding selfish -- with this Sunday being my last Sunday before starting a three-month sabbatical, I'd have preferred to think and write about something else this week. 

  • I would prefer to be writing one of my normal previews of Sunday'supcoming lessons -- especially since coincidentally, the David and Goliath story, which I wrote a whole book about, happens to be the Old Testament lesson!

  • I would rather write about how inspiring last week's Glennon Doyle event was and thank, in detail, all our volunteers.

  • I'd rather be writing a reflection on how wonderful last Sunday's Children and Youth Sunday was, and how say more about how touched Nina was at the thoughtful farewell gifts.

But. But there is government-sponsored, taxpayer-funded child abuse taking place at the borders of our country -- child abuse which our United States Attorney General -- the head of our United States Department of Justice and the chief lawyer of the United States Government -- tried to justify by quoting the Bible.According to The Wall Street Journal,

"Mr. Sessions, a devout Methodist, later quoted the Bible to defend the move, saying, 'I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order.' It was a passage critics said had been used to defend immoral policies throughout history."

I do realize it's difficult to say anything new or different about this. I assume you've already been following the story closely, have read a lot already, and already know plenty of ways to act. But if you don't -- if you're looking for strong stances taken by fellow Episcopalians and other faith leaders, or if you're looking for concrete suggestions on how to act, I would draw your attention to:

  • This statement from Michael Curry, the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church;

  • This statement from Randy Hollerith, the Dean of the Washington Cathedral, titled, "Scripture does not justify separating undocumented families;"

  • This message from my friend and clergy colleague Chuck Treadwell, the Rector of St. David's Episcopal Church in Austin, Texas, who recommends taking action in three ways: 1) contact leaders, 2) pray unceasingly, and 3) live the Christian life. Chuck's article contains, in turn, several links to the Presiding Bishop's statement, statements of other Christian leaders, and to the Episcopal Public Policy Network's Take Action Page.

  • And finally, here is a thought-provoking article about how the language being used to justify these policies is classic language of domestic violence.

What I want to add today are these three points:  

ONE: this matter is NOT over. This government-sponsored, taxpayer-funded, theologically-rationalized child abuse still continues, despite Wednesday'schaotic, political panic-attack attempt at an Executive-Order reversal.

It's not over because there has not been a change in heart at the White House.There will not be such a change of heart as long as the likely architect of these policies, Steve Miller -- as in Steve "the powers of the President to protect our Country are very substantial and will not be questioned" Miller -- remains in his taxpayer-funded position. (For more on him and that, see this Wall Street Journal video.

TWO: this is NOT a partisan issue. It is NOT a conservative or liberal issue. This is a moral issue. (e.g., "Trump officials are defending the policy as a deterrent to illegal entry, but surely they understand that separating parents from children is morally unacceptable and politically unsustainable." (Wall Street Journal Editorial, June 18th, 2018). 

It's a moral issue because there's a frightening tendency of this administration to engage in demagoguery, and to dehumanize the "other" -- especially refugees and immigrants. 

The President's choice of words matter. When he uses phrases like immigrants will "infest our Country," I don't know what's worse: that he is unaware of the "Germany's Third Reich" echo those words have -- or that he's aware, and saying those things anyway

THREE: precisely because words do matter -- we should take heart. 

There is plenty we can say, and more importantly, do. Perhaps serendipitously, I'm spending part of my sabbatical picking up where I left off in 2005 during my last sabbatical, and that's writing a work of historical fiction on four martyrs, one of whom is the Lutheran Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  As I've written before, Bonhoeffer outlines three ways Christians ought to respond to state-sponsored evil. (You can read more about that here.) 

Please know that both Kelly and I will continue to write, teach, and yes, preach about our Gospel imperative to welcome the stranger. That's because it is impossible to keep our Baptismal Covenant promises and also stand silently by in the face of thinly disguised xenophobia and the scapegoating and cruel treatment of immigrants. 

As Elie Wiesel said in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize,  

"And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant.Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must - at that moment - become the center of the universe."

See you Sunday,  John

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