“Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?”
“Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” —Book of Common Prayer, p. 305.
“You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” —Deuteronomy 10:17 (NRSV)
Dear East Tennessee Friends,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I write to you as we prepare to gather with family and friends to celebrate the Fourth of July, the anniversary of our country’s declaring independence from Great Britain. The Declaration of Independence is a document that expands the ideals of freedom and liberty and equality. It is an American document that has influenced people everywhere who seek freedom and dignity.
In the Book of Common Prayer, when Episcopalians gather to baptize, we do so with a concern not only for the one to be baptized, but also for the community gathered to witness the baptism. We have expectations for what a baptized life will look like. We believe baptism to be a covenant between God, the person to be baptized, and the community that surrounds them. The communities which surround them are both the baptized and also those who fall outside our circles of baptized individuals. So, in baptism, we make promises to everyone.
The promises we make to everyone include serving them as we would serve the Christ and respecting the dignity of every human being. That is a lofty goal. No doubt, you and I fall short of that goal. That is why it is so important to renew our commitments in baptism, to begin again our common life together. It would be easier to diminish the goal, to make the promises less lofty. But to do so would be to suggest we can limit who and what God calls us to love.
As citizens of the United States of America, we are also a people committed to high ideals and lofty goals. Each Fourth of July allows us a time to celebrate our freedoms and to take stock of where we have fallen short of our high expectations for our country’s experiment. We continue to be a people called to “a more perfect Union.” Again, it would be easier to limit our vision of what our country could be, of what we believe we are called to be. But to do so would diminish and degrade the sacrifices of those who have gone before us, who believed that a people could find common cause around ideals of freedom, equality, and liberty.
We live in a time of great debate regarding our immigration laws and policies. People of goodwill can disagree about law and policy. However, as baptized Christians and as citizens of this country, I believe we are called to hold ourselves to the promises we have made regarding human dignity for all and care for neighbor and stranger. In particular, how we treat children is telling about what kind of people and Christians and citizens we hope and plan to be. Separation of families and inhumane treatment of children in our government’s custody falls far short of our baptismal promises and our country’s ideals. As Episcopalians, we hold ourselves to safeguard children in our care in our churches, schools, and mission offerings. The care being offered to the children in our government’s custody along the southern U.S. border falls far short of what we would expect for ourselves in caring for children, the least of these in our midst.
As we gather this week to celebrate our country’s independence, I would invite all East Tennessee Episcopalians to remember that our baptismal vows include the call to be a blessing to others. The others—refugees, children, elderly, weak, poor, imprisoned, infirm and ill—are a people to whom we have made promises. This is not a season to diminish our vision of what we might be. This is a season, both as members of God’s Church and as citizens of this country to more fully live out the promises of baptism and the ideals of freedom and equality and liberty for all people.