Don't mourn - organize
by Jacqueline Schmitt
November 5, 2004
This morning's headling in the Boston Phoenix is "Mourning in America." Certainly when I woke up on November 3, I was stunned and spent the day kind of in a fog (of course, my children and I had gone to the Kerry rally in Copley Square, so being out late had something to do with it). On that morning and all through the day I also thought: what can we do?
I'm sending these thoughts to a random collection of my friends on the Episcopal left. The early exit polls on election day reported that those voting for "moral values" were making the difference in the election. That gave me this idea: "moral values" are our ground. We are people of faith -- we are preachers, teachers, readers of scripture, tradition and history. We have lived with the 1979 Prayer Book for a generation now, and that has given us, and everyone else who goes to Church regularly, an incarnate and powerful understanding of the sacraments. The Baptismal Covenant has empowered lay people to claim their own calling as the People of God. The normal Sunday morning of most Episcopal parishes is a Rite II eucharist, deepening our collective understanding of the sacrament. Every Sunday we ask God to send us out from that eucharist to the work God would have us do. We are a far more sacramental church than we were 30 years ago, in our communities of faith, in the words we pray and in the hymns we sing.
There was a time when people of faith were ridiculed for participating in the political process. When the issues were nuclear weapons, or welfare reform, or the economy, we were told we were not experts; we were preachers or pew sitters. When we participated as citiizens, we should take our cues from the experts. That never stopped me, and I know that never stopped many of you from political action, but nonetheless that was an argument.
But now, "moral values" is the political battleground, and "moral values" is the territory of people of faith. If "moral values" are assigned to a narrow range of social issues, such as abortion or homosexuality or seen as the exclusive purview of Evangelical Christians, then it is time for the rest of us to speak out and act.
As preachers, teachers, readers of scripture and tradition, we are now challenged to move those "moral values" from right to left. I am heartened by Illinois' own Barack Obama, whose response to the this challenge is to remind us of our public morality, our public responsibility to act. It is time to enter the public debate on religious values grounded in our own sacramental tradition, which has led us to know that God is involved in and blesses the material world, a tradition where moral values advance the common good and not only individual well-being.
It is time for us preach what we believe, and to act on our words. An evangelical theology, where the emphasis is on the believer's personal relationship with Jesus, takes us straight to George Bush and to the theological worldview which elected him. A sacramental theology, which understands the world and humanity as the place where God chose to dwell, and where God continues to dwell through our lives, promotes a morality which values the common good.
Fear, greed, isolation and arrogance were the building blocks of the Karl Rove-engineered Republican success. We can offer a countervailing hope to that despair, a constructive hope for a better world. The media, and even the evangelical wing of the Episcopal Church, make the case that the only religious values are those narrow ones, that the only faith to take seriously is the one in which all the believer needs is a personal lord and saviour. We know there is another religious tradition, which offers a substantial hope to the believer about God's saving action in the world, which inspires all of us, the people of God, to participate in that action. We have the tools, the faith, the wherewithal to move the nation's moral values from the individual to the collective. We are preachers and teachers -- we know how to persuade, to argue, to recover traditions which contribute to a liveable present and a hopeful future.
Debate with me, argue with me, challenge me -- but we must take back that moral high ground from a theological point of view that is individualistic and destructive to one that is collective and constructive and hopeful.
"John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, 'You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, "We have Abraham as our ancestor"; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.' And the crowds asked him, 'What then should we do?' "
What, then, should we do?
Jacqueline Schmitt is Episcopal Chaplain at Harvard University