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July 21, 2016
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
Paris last November. Brussels airport in April. Orlando in June. Baton Rouge. Minneapolis. Dallas. Nice. In our own country and abroad, the list of violent killings seems endless. Many go by almost unnoticed. On the evening of July 2nd in Baghdad, for instance, as Muslim families gathered to break Ramadan fast, one suicide car bomb killed more than 200 men, women, and children.
Some of these are acts of terrorism, some reflect deep racial disparities in our society and a continuing racism in our culture, some reveal a societal breakdown of trust. The sniper-style murder of five police officers as they protected protesters and calmly kept the peace in Dallas and the ambush of officers in Baton Rouge that killed three were as unimaginable and horrifying as the live-streamed killing of Philando Castile in a suburban Minnesota traffic stop.
The current volume and degree of violence produce both an emotional burden of fear and a spiritual burden of doubt. We wonder: Can we be safe anywhere? What could happen at the conventions in Cleveland this week and in Philadelphia the following week? Where is God in all of this? Is there any "good" upon which we can ever rely?
It is important that we talk and pray about these things in church. Both consciously and unconsciously, we are carrying them around with us all the time. The names of towns where people no different from us live and work and raise their families - Sandy Hook, San Bernardino, Columbine - forever trigger traumatic images of bloodshed and heartache. There is no vacation from this burden; wherever we go, we take it with us. And if we are not bringing these emotional and spiritual burdens to church, then we are not bringing our whole selves to church. We need a time to hold them in our collective hearts and to place them in God's hands, if only for that hour, and to recognize that we are not alone.
The power of evil, of course, wants us to feel helpless, because then we will be vulnerable to its ways. It wants us to feel isolated, from each other and from God, because that is the only way it wins.
Helplessness makes us susceptible to violence and to the excessive exercise of power, ourselves. Witness the colossal arming of the American public with both legal and illegal firearms. The United States has 113 guns for every 100 Americans. Even as a gun owner myself, I find this a shocking figure. It is the highest guns-per-capita ratio in the world, and it goes up every day.
Helplessness leads to the demonization of those who are different, to ostracizing the other. It results in the dehumanization of everyone, victims and perpetrators alike, and to the general devaluing of all life.
And helplessness leads us to a paralyzing cultural disrespect of one another, as seen in the contemptuous tone of campaign rhetoric in our own country, and globally in the xenophobic tendency of protectionist populism.
But we are not helpless. Our help is in a God who is greater than all this. As the 124th Psalm proclaims, "Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth." And it is in church and in our prayer lives that we connect with that help.
In worship and in prayer we are reminded that we are not helpless, but are beloved of God, and in being loved by the divine without condition, we are empowered to love in response. In Matthew 5 Jesus says, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven." To be children of God means to be godly, to be invulnerable to the power of evil. Praying for our enemies is not about condoning their actions, it is about emboldening ourselves to resist participating in them. In the words of St. Paul's letter to the church at Rome, it emboldens us to "cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light."
The armor of light is not a garment of passivity. It is the uniform of advocacy, justice, compassion, accountability, and truth. And it is anything but helpless. This is what Jesus offers and demands of us, whether we come to church seeking it or not - the companionship and hope of a loving and just God who empowers us to be the very body of Christ, the human manifestation of divine love in our perilous but not helpless time.
So when we pray for that peace that passes all understanding, let us do so with a bold hope and a willingness to go to whatever length it takes to achieve it. That is what our savior Jesus did; that is what it will take for us to be his body today. No matter who you are or how you got here, no matter how great is your conviction of inadequacy or guilt or shame, no matter what you think of yourself or what you fear others might think of you, you are exactly what God needs to heal the world, not because of who you are, but because of who God is.
In the face of even the greatest evil, we are not helpless. "Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth."
May God clothe you in the armor of light, empower you to be healers of this broken world, and keep you safe.
The Rt. Rev. Mark Hollingsworth, Jr.
Bishop of Ohio
The Church Office will be closed Mondays during the months of July and August.
Office Hours (July/August) - Tuesday through Friday 8am to 4pm
[June 28, 2016] Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop and Primate Michael Curry and President of the House of Deputies the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings have written the following letter to the Episcopal Church.
June 28, 2016
Dear People of God in the Episcopal Church:
We all know that some things in holy Scripture can be confusing, hard to understand, or open to various ways of understanding. But some essential teachings are clear and incontrovertible. Jesus tells us to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves, and he tells us over and over again not to be afraid (Matthew 10:31, Mark 5:36, Luke 8:50, John 14:27).
There’s no confusion about what Jesus is telling us, but it often requires courage to embody it in the real world. Again and again, we become afraid, and mired in that fear, we turn against Jesus and one another.
This age-old cycle of fear and hatred plays out again and again in our broken world, in sickening and shocking events like the massacre targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Orlando, but also in the rules we make and the laws we pass. Most recently, we’ve seen fear at work in North Carolina, a state dear to both of our hearts, where a law called the “Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act” has decimated the civil rights and God-given dignity of transgender people and, by extension, drastically curtailed protections against discrimination for women, people of color, and many others. We are thankful for the prayerful and pastoral public leadership of the North Carolina bishops on this law, which is known as House Bill 2.
North Carolina is not the only place where fear has gotten the better of us. Lawmakers in other jurisdictions have also threatened to introduce legislation that would have us believe that protecting the rights of transgender people—even a right as basic as going to the bathroom—somehow puts the rest of us at risk.
This is not the first time that the segregation of bathrooms and public facilities has been used to discriminate unjustly against minority groups. And just as in our painful racial past, it is even being claimed that the “bathroom bills,” as they are sometimes called, ensure the safety of women and children—the same reason so often given to justify Jim Crow racial segregation.
But we believe that, as the New Testament says, “perfect love casts out fear.” On June 10, the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church stood against fear and for God’s love by passing a resolution that reaffirms the Episcopal Church’s support of local, state and federal laws that prevent discrimination based on gender identity or gender expression and voices our opposition to all legislation that seeks to deny the God-given dignity, the legal equality, and the civil rights of transgender people.
The need is urgent, because laws like the one in North Carolina prey on some of the most vulnerable people in our communities—some of the very same people who were targeted in the Orlando attack. In a 2011 survey, 78 percent of transgender people said that they had been bullied or harassed in childhood; 41 percent said they had attempted suicide; 35 percent had been assaulted, and 12 percent had suffered a sexual assault. Almost half of transgender people who responded to the survey said they had suffered job discrimination, and almost a fifth had lost housing or been denied health care due to their gender identity or expression.
In keeping with Executive Council’s resolution, we are sending a letter to the governor and members of the North Carolina General Assembly calling on them to repeal the “Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act.” When legislation that discriminates against transgender people arises in other places, we will also voice our opposition and ask Episcopalians to join us. We will also support legislation, like a bill recently passed in the Massachusetts state legislature, that prevents discrimination of all kinds based on gender identity or gender expression.
As Christians, we bear a particular responsibility to speak out in these situations, because attempts to deny transgender people their dignity and humanity as children of God are too often being made in the name of God. This way of fear is not the way of Jesus Christ, and at these times, we have the opportunity to demonstrate our belief that Christianity is not a way of judgment, but a way of following Jesus in casting out fear.
In the face of the violence and injustice we see all around us, what can we do? We can start by choosing to get to know one another. TransEpiscopal, an organization of transgender Episcopalians and their allies, has posted on their website a video called “Voices of Witness: Out of the Box” that can help you get to know some transgender Episcopalians and hear their stories. Integrity USA, which produced the video, and the Chicago Consultation are two other organizations working for the full inclusion of LGBT people in the church. Their websites also have online materials that you can use to learn more about the stories of transgender Christians and our church’s long journey to understand that they are children of God and created in God’s image.
When we are born anew through baptism, we promise to respect the dignity of every human being. Today, transgender people and, indeed, the entire LGBT community, need us to keep that promise. By doing so, we can bear witness to the world that Jesus has shown us another way—the way of love.
The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings
Presiding Bishop and Primate President, House of Deputies
Ever wished you could - just once - read the Bible all the way through? Have you tried before, only to get bogged down in the “begats” or lost in the letters? The Bible Challenge provides a way for entire communities to read the whole Bible in 52 weeks - and we’re going to give it a try this year! Beginning today, the beginning of Advent, we have posted the day’s readings on our Facebook page. Every day but Sunday the readings are listed and anyone who wishes can add a comment, or “like” the page. (Sundays are tagged for hearing Scripture in church) For those who do not use Facebook, we are providing the list of readings (see below). Paper copies will be provided upon request. Need a Bible? We have those, too!
You can go to http://www.biblestudytools.com/ to access these readings.