Something Happened in America
A Pastoral Letter from The Rev. Dr. Nancy Lee Jose
Rector of St. Thomas’ Parish at Dupont Circle
The Fifth Sunday in Lent in the Year of Our Lord 2014
My Sisters and Brothers in Christ: I bring to you this morning a pastoral letter as your Rector in response to widely reported public comments by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who—deeply moved by attacks upon the LGBT community in Africa and attacks upon Christians there seen as their allies—has stated his conviction that this violence is itself the consequence of the very advances in human rights for gays and lesbians made in recent years by the Episcopal Church in America. He appears to suggest that less concern for justice for LGBTs in our church and country, and in his own, would bring about more justice elsewhere. These claims, I believe—while obviously driven by his concern that we take responsibility for the consequences of our actions—are provocatively unhelpful in a world longing for more, not less, prophetic courage in the face of the rampant violence and intolerance afflicting so many today.
In a broadcast interview this past week; Archbishop Welby stated, “He had seen first hand, at a mass grave in Africa, the lethal fallout from a decision on sexual equality taken by Christians in another country.” He continued: “I have stood by gravesides in Africa of a group of Christians who had been attacked because of something that had happened in America.” His hearers were left to infer that if not for the Episcopal Church’s consecration of Gene Robinson, who is a faithful member of this parish and our honored Bishop in Residence, and Mary Glasspool in Los Angeles, and the same-sex blessings and marriages of many of you sitting in this room, innocent people would not be dying.
Something happened in America, according to the Archbishop—the Episcopal Church’s ordination and consecration of gay and lesbian priests and bishops, and our support and encouragement of marriage equality for all, whatever their sexual orientation—that he does not think should be allowed to happen in other places, such as in the Church of England. In his words, “the impact of that on Christians far from here, in South Sudan, Pakistan, Nigeria and other places would be absolutely catastrophic.” In other words, we should beware actually doing justice, lest it incite the unjust. This is fear-mongering of the worst sort, blaming the victims of intolerance for the intolerant violence of others. As your pastor, I know that each of you deserves more. And while I join you in solidarity with the suffering of the LGBT community worldwide, I do not think that their cause is better served if we waver in our active promotion of justice in our own land.
The Rev. Susan Russell from All Saints’ Church in Pasadena, who sat right here next to Gene Robinson this past Sunday, has written that Archbishop Welby has gone from “the prophetic to the pathetic.” I take his words to be a challenge for us as a congregation to renew our own unwavering prophetic voice and to refuse to be blackmailed into silence or inaction by threats of the costly consequences of proclaiming our Lord to be a God of extravagant love, not violence—a God of compassion who sees us all equally as God’s beloved children and was willing to die that we may live. In Lent we remember a God who went to the cross, and suffered death, in order to defeat the power of violence and death over us. How else can we follow Christ, unless we too, dare to love with prophetic courage in the face of hate and intolerance that must not be allowed to prevail?
Thank you, Bishop Gene, for being a moral and spiritual beacon for us all; now may we find in our own hearts the courage and compassion to be such a beacon of hope for the world, so that future generations may look back at us and say, “Through them, once again, something indeed happened in America.” And it is good!