The following note was written from Kalamazoo, Michigan, but sent to the staff while the Bishop was at Churchwide Assembly.
August 1, 2019
I am writing you this letter from Kalamazoo, Michigan. We are here visiting Nancy Ann’s mother, on our way to the Churchwide Assembly in Milwaukee. And I’m writing out of a feeling of distress and confusion. The most recent political rhetoric in our country has gotten to be even uglier than I had imagined possible (I grew up in the great American city of Baltimore, by the way).
So please excuse the length of this piece. But I’m wondering this afternoon what can be done about all this. How can any of us respond to make our situation better? One response which I believe does not work is to turn up our rhetoric to match what we’re hearing. So many people are screaming right now. It’s a temptation to scream back. But this only plays into the plans of those who want to divide us. And there are plenty of people who want to divide us. The image of a great country composed only of interest groups, easily manipulated, is what drives too much of the political calculation right now. Between now and the elections next year things are certainly going to get worse. I am aware how easily my sort of response to this situation can seem naïve and passive. My
friends are suggesting that we need to read more Bonhoeffer, that we are racing toward a crisis like the one he confronted. I don’t think we are. And yet, remembering the vicious acts of white supremacy acted out in Charlottesville two years ago, with their deadly consequences and their continuing impact, I admit I could be wrong. No matter what, I believe it is time for a conscious plan for living in the world at this particular moment.
So I say first of all, that as people who live in America right now we need to do whatever we can to show that we believe we are all in this together. We need to look for ways to reach out to strangers and to look for allies. Between now and 2020 we need to get involved in the political campaigns of people we respect. We need to support honest men and woman running for office even if this takes us across party lines. We need to use the tools available to us to protect the weak and vulnerable (we will put out more information soon about supporting Lutheran initiatives that touch endangered lives on the U.S./Mexico boarders, for example). We need to speak up, gently but clearly and forcefully, when we hear people say that the American dream was intended for some people here but not for others. And I say that, as Christian people, we need to struggle as always to love our enemies. The current political turmoil did not develop in a vacuum. People disagree with us, and support policy and speech we find hateful, sometimes just because they believe we despise them. Honestly, are they wrong about this? For people like us, a certain kind of right-thinking smugness is hard to resist. It’s not just other people who have issues, you know. Anyway, our Lord says we must pray for our enemies. St. Paul says that we should pray for those in power.
Loving our enemies also must mean talking to them when we get the chance.
I know that I write this as a person of privilege, as a straight, white man old enough to retire. Others, particularly those who suffer more in the present situation, certainly deserve to be
taken more seriously than I am. I’ll be prepared to be guided by what other people say. And I look forward to being an excellent follower when Pastor Leila Ortiz becomes our bishop.
But I believe that our response to the present situation needs to grow from our taking a long perspective. Our country is really only now coming to grips with our original sins of racism and slavery. Centuries of fearing immigrants have influenced the way we act today (read sometime what Benjamin Franklin had to say about the first Germans who came here). The legacy of pretending that the blessings of God are for some of us and not for others still corrupts much of the church life in our country. We didn’t get into this mess just recently. Voices which seek to pretend that this broken heritage can be ignored, or repaired at somebody else’s expense, seem to be dominant just now. They are wrong nonetheless. Yet Jesus Christ is still Lord and Savior. And we are his servants first of all. In this very world, with all its sin and evil in which even we are complicit, Jesus is at work through the Holy Spirit. We are not helpless bystanders. We have been called in baptism and set apart to be signs of God’s will for all creation. We do our work in hope regardless of our immediate situation. And after all, we live and work as we do knowing that this world, as much as we love it, is not our true or lasting home.
So thank you for reading this. I will be glad to hear what you have to say in response. Please pray for your new bishop and for everyone in a position of responsibility in this difficult time.
God bless and keep us all.
Bishop Richard Graham