Beloved St. John’s community,
About the only thing most Americans agree about is that the January 6 violent events at the Capitol were outrageous and horrifying. What should be done about them remains a subject of debate among members of our Congress and political parties and electorate. Who the Church is called to be in these times is another layer of complexity, and in fact who St. John’s, and each of us, is called to be is also a critical question.
Our Presiding Bishop Michael addressed this question in his January 8 sermon, which I urge all of you to read and listen to, more than once if you are able. He said that we are followers of Jesus’ Way of Love because we truly believe that this Way of Love, which leads to the Beloved Community, is the only hope for humanity. The way of violence, hatred, racism, and lying just creates more and more violence, hatred, racism and lying. We have to get out of that cycle.
But the Way of Love cannot now or ever be a failure to tell the truth. It cannot be that which conciliates and enables abuse and public deception. This Way must be about an unselfish, sacrificial love which truly seeks the welfare of all—the true welfare of all, and not simply the temporary appeasement of all. We must seek, not what is politically expedient for the moment, but the truth which is a precondition of deep healing. Bishop Curry quoted Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who said:
Love, forgiving, and being reconciled to our enemies or our loved ones is not about pretending that things are other than they are. It is not about patting one another on the back or turning a blind eye to the wrong. True reconciliation exposes the awfulness of the abuse, the hurt, the truth. It could even sometimes make things worse for a while. It is a risky undertaking but in the end it is worthwhile, because in the end only an honest confrontation with reality can bring forth real healing. Superficial reconciliation only brings superficial healing.
For this to happen, I truly believe we as a nation and as a Church must come to terms with the full extent of the terrible difference between our highest ideals and our actual reality, from the arrival of the first European on this continent until the present day. Our nation has never truly done this in a comprehensive way—neither with regard to the betrayal, theft and genocide of indigenous lands, cultures and peoples, nor with regard to the enslavement and systemic continued racist oppression of African Americans that continues unbroken to today. We have not yet learned to address wrongs in a way that leads to healing.
I have heard that in South Africa, white and black communities were able to begin the Truth and Reconciliation process because finally, at last, both sides were tired of the conflict and willing to consider an alternative. In our nation, I do not believe “both sides”—indeed there are more than two—are yet ready for this. In the meantime, it seems all too possible, even likely, that things will get worse, and that the forces of lying, fear, racism and hatred may continue.
And in this meantime, while things spiral toward chaos, Jesus provides a Third Way1 between simply returning hatred with hatred, on the one hand, and too great an emphasis on not “inflaming tempers” or passions, on the other. This is the way I believe with all my heart we are called to follow. It is not the middle ground—indeed this Third Way is not on the same playing field at all. This is the Way that neither enables lying by being too conciliatory, nor joins in the hatred and demonization of the Other. It is the way that in the midst of danger makes the decision to eschew violence of every kind, while insisting on telling the truth. It is Jesus’ Way of unselfish, sacrificial love.
At St. John’s, we are a predominantly white, relatively affluent community. By saying this I do not wish to minimize or make invisible those who are not affluent and those who are persons of color among us. But for the remainder of us, we are not 100% “in the right.” We, historically speaking, have enabled and empowered the very situation that is occurring today.
I believe God is calling us to be grounded in humility, and to the unshakable commitment to love and seek the welfare of all persons without exception, which includes a willingness to hold fellow humans in loving accountability. This includes being willing to sacrifice resources and even perhaps some things which we hold dear, if in so doing we can participate in God’s deep healing for our nation and especially those who have been oppressed for far too long. Finally, it includes being willing to put ourselves at risk. Not to seek out danger, but to make the unshakeable commitment to refuse the use of violence in thought, word or deed, even if the nation around us explodes with it, because violence will never end until someone breaks its cycle.
As your Rector, I am committing myself to the Way of Love, with God’s help, for the long haul, and I humbly invite your companionship in this journey, one day at a time. If you’re not sure about “how” to love our enemies, I’d invite you to begin with praying for them genuinely, and asking yourself what would truly contribute to their holistic well-being. But the Way of Love requires prayerful, communal wisdom and discernment. It requires prioritizing, and I believe we must prioritize telling the truth about our own history, and seeking humbly to make amends, repair the breach, and seek to be in solidarity with those who have been wronged. It may require our own Truth and Reparations process. We should certainly speak the truth with love to those who have enabled Donald Trump to falsely proclaim a fraudulent election, thereby disrupting the democracy of our nation, among so many other wrongs and failures of character on his part. But let us prioritize learning the truth about our own history, so that we might begin the listening, amends-making, and repair that are at the heart of God’s kingdom on earth.
I invite you to share your own insights about Jesus’ Third Way, the nonviolent way of resistance, love and courage that may require sacrifice in the short term, so that we may have integrity and healing in the long term.
Faithfully, in Christ’s love,
1 For an excellent exploration of Jesus’ way of nonviolent, loving resistance, see Walter Wink: Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way (Fortress Press, 2003).