One of the hardest parts of being a priest is creating a community in which we can talk about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, hold widely varying political opinions, and yet still gather at the Eucharistic Table – elbow to elbow, as the imperfect, but beloved body of Christ, determined to stay in community. I say that the work is difficult because I have seen how fragile this work really can be. During my priestly formation at seminary, congregations and Dioceses were walking away from that common table over the issue of human sexuality. Although I was proud of what the Episcopal Church did at the time, I also deeply mourned the loss of diversity at the Table – the creation of a more homogenous Church than a Church who was devoted to staying in the tension while honoring the Gospel.
Because of my high value of the uniting force of the Eucharistic Table, my priesthood has taken a slightly different shape than I might have imagined in my early twenties. If you had asked me then about the primary role of the priest, I might have argued the role of prophet – decrying injustice and leading the people of faith to a more just world. But as I aged, and as I served diverse parishes, I began to see the role of prophet is one of many roles, one that needs to be used judiciously so as not to alienate parishioners and create an exclusive community of like-minded people. And so, my priesthood has been marked with great caution around politics. While many of my colleagues will beat the drum for justice, I find myself trying to carefully walk with my diverse congregations as we discern together how to interpret politics in light of the Gospel – not in light of Democrats or Republicans, but in light of the witness of Jesus Christ. That doesn’t mean I don’t have strong political opinions; it just means that I try to take focus off the politician or political issue of the moment and try to create disciples who can see and follow Christ.
That being said, this past week, the issue of what is happening to families seeking asylum on our southern border, and the separation of children from parents as a punitive, purportedly deterring action has shifted my normal practice – not because I changed my mind about politics and the Church, but because two agents of our government utilized Holy Scripture to justify those actions. Here’s the thing: if this were just another issue where we are divided about policy, where we had a debate about the extents to which we value national security over other values, I would have happily encouraged our parishioners to be faithful Christians in dialogue. But when Attorney General Jeff Sessions invoked Holy Scripture to justify separating children from parents, he stepped into my area of authority, leaving me no other option but to speak.
Now I could layout a Biblical defense against the small portion of Romans 13 that Attorney General Sessions quoted, giving you the context of the chapter, giving you the verses immediately following what he quoted as a counter to his argument. I could quote to you chapter and verse for countless other scripture lessons that tell us to love one another, respect the dignity of other human beings, care for the outcast and alien, tend the poor, and honor children. I could also tell you about how that same bit of scripture was used to justify slavery, Nazis, or apartheid in South Africa. But the problem with a scripture quoting war is that no one wins. What is more important is what we know of the canon of Scripture: that our God is a God of love, that Jesus walked the earth showing us how to be agents of love, healing, and grace, and that the Holy Spirit works through us today to keep spreading that love.
Knowing what I know about the Good News of God in Christ, in my baptismal identity as one who seeks and serves Christ in all persons, respecting the dignity of every human being, I cannot stand idly by or be silent when the Holy Scriptures of Christians are being used to justify political actions that are antithetical to our Christian identity. As a priest, I invite you this week, especially when a governmental leader is invoking our faith, to reflect on how the Gospel of Christ is informing your view on this issue. Not as a Republican and not as a Democrat, but as a follower of Christ. Fortunately, prominent politicians on both sides of the aisle seem to be coming to agreement on this issue – a rarity these days – but also an example to Episcopalians who hold a high view of coming to the Eucharistic Table across our differences. I am not saying we need to agree on this – in fact, I suspect we will not. What I am asking is that you live into your identity as a disciple of Christ, as an agent of love, and then respond in conversation, in political advocacy, and in worship as one holding in tension both our American and Christian identities. I support you in this difficult, hard work. I love you as you struggle. I welcome you to the Eucharistic Table.