It's normative in The Episcopal Church to talk about political & social issues in the context of the Gospel. So let's talk.
This email is long but has VERY IMPORTANT things to say about why and how we in The Episcopal Church and thus at Good Shepherd talk about SOCIAL and POLITICAL issues.

Read this entire email on this Saturday morning, when you have more time, and, as always, share your reactions with me.

What Does "Normative Episcopal Christianity" Mean & Look Like at Good Shepherd?

I've been talking since my return this summer about the need for us at Good Shepherd to affirm the normative (normal) practices of The Episcopal Church. In unusual times, in other words, we ground ourselves in usual Episcopal beliefs and practices.

In September, promoting normative Episcopal Christianity meant returning quickly to safe, sanctuary-based Rite 1 and Rite 2 Eucharists. It also meant continuing the new Zoom services because online worship services support the pastoral needs of people (another normative Episcopal principle and practice), especially in a global pandemic.

In October, promoting normative Episcopal Christianity means we shall talk about social issues and the Gospel. Specifically, it's reading together How to Be an Antiracist in the diocesan book group heavily promote by our bishops. In the views of our three bishops, our presiding bishop, and almost every Episcopal clergy person I know, wrestling with racism in ourselves, our society, and our denomination is a major imperative of Christian discipleship in our times, especially if you, like me, are white. Thus, we shall examine historical, personal, communal, institutional, and societal racism together through the prisms of this book and the Gospel. You are invited to join us. In fact, this is your last chance to join. So if you are interested: email me now because we shall be closing the group and starting very soon!

In November and following, promoting normative Episcopal Christianity will mean processing political issues through the Gospel.

Wow.

Yikes!

Does that make you nervous?

It does me!

Talking about social and political issues is risky; we all know that.

A religious leader, though, who says, "If you would be my disciple, deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow me" (Mark 8:34) doesn't see parish life as essentially easy or comfortable. St. Matthew's gospel -- the one we are reading this lectionary year --ends with these very words: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Mt. 28:19-20). As Christians, our Lord commands and demands that we live out his vision and values as his followers, despite the hardships and challenges (the "crosses") that imposes upon us, and that we bring these same teachings and values to the world to transform the world into the Kingdom of God.

  • That means understanding that the Kingdom of God -- as Jesus repeatedly said -- is "at hand", here, now, and not just or exclusively in some transcendent tomorrow.
  • That means continually transforming the world in front of us according to Christian values.
  • That means we must address and engage social and political issues we confront in the world.
  • That means we must talk about pertinent social and political issues together and process them from our diversity.
  • That means -- gulp, yikes -- engaging in hard, scary practices and conversations that are new for some of us and that require new skills for some of us.
  • Yes it does mean all those things. But we can do hard things together. And we will. Because Jesus expects, demands, and commands it.

So What Does "Talking Politics Together" mean & look like in normative Episcopal Christianity and at Good Shepherd?

Here are some things "talking politics" doesn't mean in normative Episcopal Christianity:

  • We don't tell people who to vote for. You are a Protestant: you take responsibility for your soul into your own hands. You are responsible before God for your life and its choices and it is normative Christian belief that we shall all be held accountable before God at our death for our life and choices. It's not the rector's job, the bishop's job, your partner's job, or anyone else's job but your own to "save your soul". So think and feel and act wisely, and when you find that you have erred (as we all do), repent and get back on the path of integrity, growth, truth, the Gospel, and moral living. God is love (1 John 4:8) and because God is loving, God holds us accountable to be who God created us to be. That involves many things, including making informed Christian political choices. In the normative Episcopal Christian tradition, we make better choices by hashing out the issues together. People also want to know what their pastor and/or denomination think about major issues, and so they should; that's a normative expectation on their part. In fact, it is normative for any group to share with its members what its views are (and why) on the pertinent social and political issues of the day. The Episcopal Church is no different. We just don't endorse candidates; we do, however, promote critical perspectives on political issues for our members' critical and prayerful consideration.
  • We don't promote any political party. No one political party or social view ever encapsulates the Full Truth on any matter and we need one another, liberals and conservatives, to get a fuller truth on any and every issue. That is classic Anglicanism. That is one of the foundational reasons why our denomination is called a theological "big tent" -- favoring a wide spectrum of acceptable denominational beliefs and practices, not promoting only one answer as faithfulness. Indeed, it is our denomination's long experience that diversity favors not only inclusiveness but also comprehensiveness. Diversity of belief, practice, and vote, though, can also be deeply challenging and potentially divisive, especially in these unusual, historic times.
  • We don't demonize disagreement. Others' beliefs and choices may utterly baffle us at times -- and they do me! -- but we nonetheless affirm that the Holy Spirit is in their lives, no less than ours, leading us all into deeper holiness. It is not our place to ultimately judge the other person; that's God's job (Matt. 7:1). Our job is to listen, learn, engage, and live out our values and beliefs, making changes as we grow and mature.
  • We also don't avoid the hard issues in favor of personal, parish, financial, emotional, or other conveniences. There are many temptations for a parish regarding the hard social and political issues: we can deny them; we can avoid them; we can prioritize other things ahead of them and thus deny/avoid them. We can worship a "golden calf" of parish relationships, budget needs, enrollment, or pledging units. All of that fails the demands and expectations of Christ. We are to engage and transform the culture, not avoid it. The Holy Spirit uses us to engage and transform one another, not avoid one another. The way through these challenges is truly through - through engagement, through relationship, through conversation, through prayer and discernment, through commitment to Christ, through common prayer and worship, through our mutual and real love of Good Shepherd... not by avoidance, denial, minimization, and the idolization of personal preference.
  • We don't force, in either direction. We don't force people to participate in anything, whether that's a book group, rally, point of view, or theological perspective. We honor others' sacred journey as a human person and God's ever present, ongoing sanctifying involvement in their life. However, we also don't allow individual or minority views in any parish to silence the normative Episcopal beliefs, values, and practices of one's Episcopal clergy, one's diocesan bishops, the Presiding Bishop, and other denominational leaders, either. We don't excommunicate, but we also don't muzzle the Episcopal views of The Episcopal Church because they are hard and challenging.

  • Here's a helpful tip: you should expect to find yourself out of alignment at multiple points in your spiritual journey with the normative views of The Episcopal Church. That's a good, necessary, and desirable thing! If often feels uncomfortable, but it's a good thing that The Episcopal Church challenges us with its viewpoints and claims. Remember: The Episcopal Church doesn't exist to make us happy. The Episcopal Church exists to make us holy, and one way it does that is by continually interpreting the social and political issues of the day through its understanding of the Gospel, for our spiritual benefit, consideration, and holiness. If the Episcopal Church and its representatives fail to continually challenge us, then they are failing Christ and failing one of their core responsibilities. Our job -- on the receiving end -- is to wrestle with the Episcopal perspectives, especially when we strongly disagree. Also, our job is to contribute to The Episcopal perspectives. Remember: WE are The Episcopal Church! You are the Church! It is US! Contribute to the perspectives and the unfolding understandings for Wider Truth and for the benefit of all.

  • Being out of alignment with The Episcopal Church doesn't mean one is essentially a bad person, a bad Christian, a Bad Episcopalian, or a bad citizen; it means, though, that you are out of alignment with your denomination. Wrestle with that! Struggle with that! Try to figure out why that is. Contact me and talk to me about that. And then make your decisions, before God and humankind, as a Protestant, taking full responsibility for your life, your choices, their effect on others, and your soul. And never forget: God holds us all eternally accountable.

What Does All This Look Like Positively?

  • We faithfully and respectfully relate to one another, whether we agree with one another or not, as The Body of Christ. We have a larger identity than our political affiliations, social positions, race, gender expressions, and parts of ourselves that we value. We are always brothers and sisters in the Lord, no matter our diversities. As St. Paul famously reminds us:

"For as you were baptized into Christ and have put on Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:27-29).

  • We trust that the Holy Spirit is working in all our lives and uses our conversations together to help us grow and mature into the Mind of Christ. It is essential that we disagree and converse so we can learn from each other, grow from each other's diverse experience, and practice essential Christian virtues like patience, forbearance, active listening, and forgiveness. Doing this, we allow the Holy Spirit to work in and through us for us. When we fail to engage, we fail the Holy Spirit and actually short circuit one of the core processes of our sanctification.

  • Conversations are thus always invitational and respectful, not forcing a point of view but providing a safe space for people to share their thoughts, feelings, and experiences together. This doesn't mean the conversations won't be heated or challenging; how could they not be when people's core beliefs and values are challenged? The conversations, though, should always respect the dignity of the other person, the Holy Spirit in our lives, our common life together in Christ, and the normative views and values of The Episcopal Church.

  • As a process of engagement, we take what we believe are the core values and beliefs of The Episcopal Church and apply them to social and religious issues, to assess what attitudes and behavior are and are not in alignment with normative Episcopal Christianity. We listen to what Episcopal leaders, lay or ordained, have to say on the issues, too. They are certainly not always right, but they are usually a thoughtful place to begin.

  • Finally, we never fail to worship and pray together. We are the People of Common (as opposed to individual) Prayer; it is our very denominational DNA. We never cease to pray and worship together. We are all the Body of Christ, united together in Word and Sacrament, Baptism, Eucharist, and Common Prayer, and we always pray and celebrate together, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, till death do us part. It is our Way. Anything else is not normative in The Episcopal Tradition.

Want To See an Example of How
Normative Episcopal Christianity Critiques Current Social & Political Issues?

Watch this recent video by our Presiding Bishop,
The Most Reverend Michael Curry!
It's normative in The Episcopal Church to talk about political & social issues in the context of the Gospel. So let's pray.
Good Shepherd Shall Join Episcopalians Nationally in A Season of Prayer
October 27-November 4, 2020
Forward Movement and The Episcopal Church Office of Government Relations are calling Episcopalians and all others to join together in A Season of Prayer: For an Election.

"We come together, asking God for courage and wisdom, thanking God for love and joy. As we move toward the election of leaders for the United States, may we all join in a season of prayer, committing to offer to God our fears and frustrations, our hopes and dreams."

Are you familiar with the novena prayer tradition?

A novena is an ancient tradition of nine days of devotional prayers, often with a specific intention. In this case, we pray for discernment in voting and for the well-being of our nation.

Starting October 27 and continuing through the day after the election, we invite all participants to pray for the election of leaders in the United States. Materials from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer shall be provided later as we near the start date. For now, make a commitment to pray for our democracy, the peaceful transition of power, all those running for elected office, and the healing that is necessary in our society. Mark your calendars to pray daily This Season of Prayer: For An Election.

To learn more, watch this video by our Presiding Bishop:
Let's close with a prayer from our

O Lord our Governor, bless the leaders of our land, that we may be a people at peace among ourselves and a blessing to other nations of the earth.
Lord, keep this nation under your care.

To the President and members of the Cabinet, to Governors of states, Mayors of Cities, and to all in administrative authority, grant wisdom and grace in the exercise of their duties.
Give grace to your servants, O Lord.

To Senators and Representatives, and those who make our laws in States, Cities, and Towns, give courage, wisdom, and foresight to provide for the needs of all our people, and to fulfill our obligations in the community of nations.
Give grace to your servants, O Lord.

To the Judges and officers of our Courts give understanding and integrity, that human rights may be safeguarded and justice served. Give grace to your servants, O Lord.

And finally, teach our people to rely on your strength and to accept their full responsibilities to their fellow citizens, that they may elect trustworthy leaders and make wise decisions for the well-being of our society; that we may serve you faithfully in our generation and honor your holy Name.
For yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all.

Amen.
(page 822)
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