Dear Friends,

For the first time since we moved to this country in 2004, Sandy and I and our kids will be celebrating Independence Day as naturalized American citizens. I’m grateful that the four of us will be able to be together on “the Fourth.” Along with our American-born family members, we plan to head down to Pearson Park in Kinston for a concert and fireworks.

Here are some words that have been on my heart lately, as I have anticipated this national celebration while watching all that has been going on around us in this country and especially at our southern border.

First, from the Book of Deuteronomy, words used by Episcopal Christians in worship on Independence Day:
“For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them with food  and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Deut. 10:17-19)
And, from the Declaration of Independence, these words:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
It would seem to me that we regularly fall short, as individuals, as people of faith, and as a nation. True, both sets of words that I have shared have been lifted out of their respective contexts. Both sets are certainly subject to ranges of interpretations. But both sets also point us to possibilities that we are not presently attaining.

As I witness images of people at our southern border, caged and suffering in so many ways, I am reminded of two of the questions from our Church’s baptismal covenant, “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?”

Some, whom I know, have made their way to our southern border in order to be able to bear witness to all that is going on, to offer relief to those who suffer or to advocate for those who have sought asylum in our country, legally or otherwise. Although we may hold differing opinions about how to properly secure our nation’s borders, surely we can be united in our care and compassion for those who have presented themselves to us in the midst of need. How many more images must we see before our hearts are moved?

Our Church’s Office of Public Affairs has published an article detailing ways that members of The Episcopal Church have responded to this humanitarian crisis. You can find this article by clicking here . Some of us may wish to support these ongoing initiatives. Others may want to become involved closer to home, perhaps through support of the work of the Episcopal Farmworker Ministry .

As we celebrate Independence Day this year, waving flags and watching fireworks, let us neither take for granted the rights we have been given as citizens of this nation nor the responsibilities we bear as citizens of the kingdom of God. May our outrage with what we witness, lead us to God in prayer and then from prayer to action.

May God’s blessings be with us all this Independence Day, and may God’s Holy Spirit lead us to work effectively for justice and peace among all people.

Yours in Christ,

Rob Skirving
Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of East Carolina
A Prayer for Social Justice
Book of Common Prayer (1979)

Almighty God, who created us in your image: Grant us grace fearlessly to contend against evil and to make no peace with oppression; and, that we may reverently use our freedom, help us to employ it in the maintenance of justice in our communities and among the nations, to the glory of your holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.