Dean’s Message on Being Christians in the Civic Discourse (July 4, 2024)

with 3 Comments


On Being Christians in the Civic Discourse

 An email to the cathedral parish community, sent July 4, 2024

Dear friends,

The tragic irony is not lost on me that in this week when we observe the 248th anniversary of the signing of this nation’s Declaration of Independence, with its litany of the king's calumny, we have received another document into the public discourse—this time delivered by six Supreme Court justices who have rendered a starkly unsettling decision about presidential immunity. My purpose in writing to the cathedral community is not to levy an ideologically charged response; there are plenty of spinners across the spectrum frantically casting their webs of political response, ranging from full-on glory in the court’s verdict to fearful prognostications of the demise of democracy.

My purpose in writing is twofold: first, in the wake of so many of you confessing your heavy hearts to me in recent days, I intend a pastoral response for a community of faith here. Read on for that if you so choose. I get the weariness, even to the point of despair—the global manifestations of tribal hatred that holds war as the solution to our ills; the societal anguish of inequity in these hard times; the fractious political divide that has cast aside our better angels for a zero-sum game of ad hominem attacks; a perilous future for humanity which seems bent on self-destruction. It is a lot to hold right now. Let us hold it together; let us hold one another in community as we make our way. The Church exists for times such as this!

I am reminded that six months before Thomas Jefferson set his pen to parchment in 1776, Thomas Paine wrote famously, “these are the times that try men’s souls [sic]…” The words resonate across the generations into this Independence Day on which we reflect once more on the gifts of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Of course, we know Jefferson’s document was not scoped to afford every human being with certain unalienable rights, and we continue to come to terms with the pain and suffering he and others caused even while tilling the soil for a democracy we have inherited. Historian Jon Meacham reminds us that “the story of America of slow, often unsteady steps forward. If we expect the trumpets of a given era to sound unwavering notes, we will be disappointed, for the past tells us that politics is an uneven symphony.” We feel the dissonance today. And we have much work to do, as citizens, and especially as citizens who are guided by a Gospel that, quite frankly, is the balm needed to help heal our broken humanity.

Which brings me to the second purpose for writing today: to gently remind us that, in the person of Jesus, we follow One who knew suffering wrought by unjust governments, who knew the weight of war waged to keep the peace in injurious and demeaning ways, who knew intimately the tribalisms of human impulse which convince us that violence must be met with violence if there is to be any justice. Jesus refused such a quid pro quo calculus, offering instead a way of being that bends toward hope while insisting on a non-violent response.

Jesus was, in the span of his short life, a refugee, unhoused, hungry, targeted by his opponents, and ultimately murdered by an unholy alliance of leaders who saw him as a threat to their power. He knew the sharp end of the spear of hatred, and yet he never wavered. When we speak of his Body and Blood every Sunday, we remember this… and we commit to embody such a way of being in our own right.

So how do we translate this into our civic life? Well, (and here is the pastoral exhortation to us all), we pattern our lives after this Jesus we follow. We have truth to speak into the world in which we live, and it must be a just truth, even when that is hard to do or carries consequences. We must be clear not to be guided by ideological impulses that quickly degrade into violence, but by virtues that insistently orient to human flourishing. This is nuanced, to be sure, which is why we form community to navigate the path with care.

I am convinced that Jesus was able to remain non-violent in the face of all that beset him because with great intention he engaged in contemplative practices that were restorative and resolutely grounding in the “still point” of love that dwells deeply within each of us. The center of that love is God, and I am convinced that we must ground ourselves in such contemplative rhythms if our work of justice is to have any lasting effect. It is the both/and enterprise of the Church.

And finally, it is the Christian’s charism to retain hope, not because we ourselves will fix all that is broken in humanity, in this nation, or in our lives, but because we believe that this “still point” of love is the guiding force of the cosmos pulling us into a future that will be made whole in the fullness of time. We hope because we believe God is present in us and to us as we make our way.

Dear friends, be assured of my prayers for you, for this community, and for our nation on this day. I am,

Faithfully yours,

The Very Reverend Steven L. Thomason
Dean and Rector

3 Responses

  1. Otis Howe
    | Reply

    Well said Steve!

  2. Dear Dean Thomason+,
    From the deep well of silence within my heart (even when I cannot seem to reach it as much as I want), I give thanks for your words tonight, July 4th. I have been praying for words from the church, and yours give me hope.
    (The Rev.) Susan Creighton, Anchorite

  3. Kathy Albert
    | Reply

    Well said, well taken. Thank you, Steve.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.