On Being “Too Political” (353)

My last eCrozier addressing the massacre in Las Vegas prompted a lot of responses from those who received it via email and those who read it on social media. I’m used to this. The responses were as varied as I’ve come to expect leading a diverse diocese. I’m very appreciative of people who engage in a thoughtful “give and take” over the profoundly complex moral issues we face as Christians today (I try also to be appreciative of the less thoughtful remarks that tell me I’m an “idiot,” which happen regularly).

One recurring concern people share is that what I write sometimes is “too political.” They suggest I “stay in my lane” limiting my writing to things purely religious. While I understand their concern, it’s impossible to avoid the issues of our common humanity without driving a bit in the “political” lane. I agree that as a bishop I should stay away from political partisanship (I try to be careful to avoid it). I don’t belong to any political party (I confess that I’m not deluded enough to be a Democrat while I’m not rich enough to be a Republican). I also try to avoid ad hominem criticism of elected officials, but I believe it’s imperative that I challenge public policies when those elected officials advocate something that will create an injustice for the poor or fail to “respect the dignity of all people,” to which our Baptismal Vows call us. Of course, I could be wrong about a particular topic I address. That should hardly be a news flash. The potential for any of us to get things wrong is, as the Bible might say: “legion.”

Bishops have a public role as part of their ordinations. There’s a long tradition of this being “political” (look up St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, and his excommunication of the Emperor Theodosius for his violent excesses in Thessalonica in 390 AD). At the 1966 Annual Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia, Bishop Albert Rhett Stuart, the 6th Bishop of the Diocese, said these words: “Is the Church sent to be a refuge from the world or to transform the world? Is the Church sent to maintain the status quo or to protest evil in this culture or any other? The Church is not a religious club organized by man for pious sentimentality or personal status.” Amen!

For example, recently when I’ve written about our gun violence epidemic, some people replied: “You’re just a liberal Democrat so of course you’re going to say that.” My reply, which often is ignored, is that “I’m not a liberal Democrat. I’m a Bishop of the Church. I don’t take moral positions based on any political party. Gun violence is a sin. Therefore, I must speak against it and try to prevent it. It’s not about being conservative or liberal (whatever those terms even mean these days). It’s about listening and being obedient to the Scriptures and Tradition of the Church.” They usually have stopped listening by then.

Our Anglican tradition teaches that the Church can’t hermetically seal herself off from what goes on in the world. The Church “is not a religious club,” as Bishop Stuart stated. But it’s not a political party at prayer either. The Church and her bishops then, as our tradition teaches, must speak out clearly from the sources that shape our identity. That may make us appear as “too political” for some observers who believe the Church should remain a “religious club” for “pious sentimentality.” So it goes.

+Scott

 

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