"The Dignity of Every Human Being" (Section a)
Of course you recognize these words as coming from our Baptismal Covenant in the Book of Common Prayer: Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? I used to think, way down deep in my heart somewhere, that striving for justice and peace among all people is an unrealistic, pollyanna hippie dream, ever proven futile by the fact that our country has gone to war roughly every 30 years. While I know that striving and praying for it are basic vows of every Christian, I still believe that the dream is not achievable in this world. We ARE fallen beings, after all. True utopia has proven so far to be a human impossibility. But that does not mean that we don't continually strive for justice and peace among all people. Failure to strive for this yields disastrous results. As my colleague Rick Luoni, Rector of St. George's, always says, "We are sick individuals, man." What he means by that is that people (and he is careful to include himself in this, as am I) are more often blind to themselves, ego-driven, quick to judge, quick to hate, slow to love, slow to forgive, twisted in their motives, and that they like to cover themselves with a micron-thick religious veneer with which they mask un-dealt-with issues and unattended sorrows. They project these things onto others and then seek to punish them for it. This latest 'Ecclesiastical War", in my opinion, is more a result of people jumping to battle mode without first doing their inner work than it is about seeking justice and peace among all people. If you fail to strive for justice and peace (regardless of how hopeless the prospects may seem), you will be too quick to cry foul, circle the wagons, vilify the "enemy" and wish ill upon otherwise good people. This distracts you from the prime directive and severely inhibits your Christian witness. I know this from experience. Until I stopped and took the time to DO my inner work rather than merely TALK about it, I did not see that my ego wanted to "win", rather than to trust, to "be right", rather than to submit, to "arrogate" unto myself, rather than to be humble.
So now let's address the property disputes in terms of "economic justice". Economic justice has to do with the exploitation of the weak by the powerful. This, unfortunately, has a great deal to do with those who found themselves with no choice in the matter of disassociation. Economic pressure has been brought by the few and powerful in this forced disassociation, with little regard for the consequences upon the weaker among us. There are some clergy who have lost their jobs because of this division. There are others who saw the handwriting on the wall and left the diocese before the disassociation occurred. There are many parishes that have been deeply diminished. The fact that so much of our dispute spins around property (and lots of it) is one factor that makes our sad division such a scandal in the eyes of the world. Any individual, even entire congregations of individuals, can leave the denomination for any reason they like without repercussion. But in this case, these same congregants are determined to take the property with them as they leave. This is not unprecedented, but that does not justify the hubris, and so it does not go unchallenged by the larger Body. And the litigation and the rancor and the rationalizations and the justifications and the propaganda and the spin that are used to justify such a move are brought to bear like so many cannon to the gunwhales. I say this as a former mate on the Good Ship "Diocese of SC". But I am quick to add that my designation as "former mate" does not now mean that I command a cannon from the "dreaded" Mother Ship. I feel as though I am on a lifeboat with the loyal few that has been set adrift to fend for ourselves because we refused to bear arms in what for us is a mutiny.
So I say, if you do not want to forfeit the buildings in which you worship, stay at the table and work it out.
But please don't tell me that this is about ideology. I and 35 families left a beautiful piece of property and took up residence in a dilapidated movie theater on the backside of an old mall with dumpsters at every entrance because we believed so much in our "cause".. We did this with the bishop's blessing and at his behest. I am not happy that those remaining at the original church were not willing to work with us, but as for us, I'm pretty sure we never resolved our "holier-than-thou, we're-on-a-more-godly-mission-than-you" pridefulness, either. But at least we were willing, as individuals who left the congregation, to leave the keys on the desk as we departed. We knew we couldn't just kick out those who disagreed with our vision and set them adrift without their buildings. Whether or not we were right to leave, God will judge. In retrospect, I wish we had worked it out. Perhaps I should have resigned. I've done that before, too...at tremendous personal cost. So having been through all this before, I think I am qualified to speak about the cost, about leaving, and property, and "righteousness", and the Body of Christ, and unity, and freedom from "oppression", and all those things. "If it be possible, as much as it lieth in you, live peaceably with all men." Romans 12:18 (KJV) I believe we leave too much of "peaceably" on the table, before we jump to "it's not possible".
This is what the sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel says: "In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.You said, 'No, we will flee on horses.' Therefore you will flee! You said, 'We will ride off on swift horses.' Therefore your pursuers will be swift! A thousand will flee at the threat of one; at the threat of five you will all flee away, til you are left like a flagstaff on a mountaintop, like a banner on a hill." Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; He rises to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for Him!" Isaiah 30:15-18 (NIV)
Next Installment: "The Dignity of Every Human Being" (Section b)