January 11, 2011
Dear Friends in Christ,
The flags on the Church flagpole are flying at half-mast in honor of those who were killed or wounded in Saturday’s shooting in Tucson, AZ. Much has been said and written about the contributing factors to the event, and what our country’s political response should be. None of us can get inside the head of the shooter, who by all accounts is a seriously disturbed person, so we can’t know what he thought was influencing him.
What this tragedy should highlight for us, however, is that we live in a country where we believe that along with rights come responsibilities. We are responsible for our words and our use of symbols, as much as we are responsible for our actions. This is an integral part of our right to free speech.
Words have power and consequences. We know this because when we gather for worship we say the words of the prayers out loud, together. We believe and trust that our prayers have good results. The opposite is also true. Rash, hostile, sarcastic language demeans and wounds. Over-exposure to this kind of talk creates a climate of retaliation and violence.
As Christians it is our duty to follow Jesus’ Great Commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind….and you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-40). Jesus has told us that our “neighbor” extends to all people. We affirmed this last Sunday when we renewed our baptismal vows: “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?” and “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” The answer: “I will, with God’s help.” This is part of our basic Christian duty, and it includes speech, as well as actions.
Further, as Episcopalians I believe we have a special vocation to speak peace, reason and good faith in the midst of conflict and strife. Our Anglican heritage crystallized in the late 1500s in the midst of bitter and extreme political and religious conflict in Elizabethan England. Church and state were being torn by the 16th century equivalent of talk radio and cable television on both the right and the left – the pro-Roman Catholic forces and the pro-Puritan forces. Both of them would eventually have brought down the government and the established Church.
Out of this war of words emerged the centrist, comprehensive, tolerant voice of Richard Hooker. He was the priest and scholar who gave us the image of the “three-legged stool” upon which the Anglican tradition rests: Scripture, Reason and Tradition. But even more – Hooker, through his preaching and writing, set forth a clear and strong middle way of being Christian in a larger society that is often referred to as “the genius of Anglicanism.”
This is our particular vocation as Anglicans/Episcopalians: to listen to all competing voices with a reasoned generosity towards true difference of opinion, to speak truth with grace, to act responsibly for the common good of the whole church/community/country. Our society needs voices and ears and hearts like ours if we are to step away from useless, intemperate and damaging rhetoric in ways that will be responsible and beneficial to all.
Let us pray for the healing of Congresswoman Giffords and all who were wounded. Let us pray Judge John Roll, Christina Taylor Green, and all who died and for their families. Let us pray for God’s wisdom and grace and reasonableness for our country and for ourselves.
The Rev. Victoria Geer McGrath