Homily for Congressional Episcopalians June 21, 2018

This is the homily I offered at the Morning Prayer Service on Capitol Hill this past Thursday. 

In the name of our loving God. Amen.

In a week when the shouting from all sides has been deafen-ing, I invite you into a moment of holy silence.

We are no longer a nation that listens to one another. Our na-tional conversation has become a shouting match and a smear campaign. No slur is too coarse to go unuttered, no language too vile to be spoken. We demonize those who look or think or vote or worship differently. We live in a world of yes/no, right/wrong, for or against, of MSNBC or Fox, of raw emotion without nuance.

I invite you into silence where we may listen to each other.

Our Gospel reading today invites us to listen, and listen, and listen again. And if those who disagree with us refuse to listen — or if we refuse to listen to them — Jesus charges us to treat them as if they were “a Gentile or a tax collector” — in other words, people in need of our special attention and care as we help them see how God is already active in their lives.

The goal is never to say to each other, “Listen and do what I tell you.” The goal is always: “Listen to how God is speaking to us.”

I stand here in the shadows of one of the most famous figures in American history: Bishop William White of Pennsylvania. I know the question of who the House of Representatives Chaplain should be, should the Chaplain be a Roman Catho-lic, or should the Chaplain be a mega-Church pastor, was an issue here on Capitol Hill a month or so back.

Actually, I am proud to say that the first chaplain was an Episcopalian. White was the first Chaplain of the Continental Congress, and later he was the first Chaplain of the United States Senate. He was also the first Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the newly-liberated American colonies. In many ways he was our George Washington.

White was literally present at the creation of both a new na-tion and a new church.

White knew that there was a time to listen, as the founders struggled to design a country and then govern it according to the sacred documents they drafted.

He was a talented reconciler and brilliant political organizer, highly skilled in bringing together sparring factions. Would that Bishop White were with us today!

As a bishop, he knew the dangers of a church that was part of the political establishment, as the Church of England was part of the British government.

White knew that our strength as a church is in our independ-ence. He knew that we cannot let our prayers be dictated by our politics. He knew that our moral voice must not be used to deliver campaign speeches. He knew that it is at the name of Jesus that every knee should bow — not at the name of a human ruler, whether king or president — and that we serve God best when we serve others first in God’s name.

White believed that as Episcopalians we look to the Bible as our authority. But how could Scripture speak to a new nation with new conditions? It would happen by reading the Bible through the twin lenses of tradition—how people have read the Bible before, but also reading the Bible through the lens of reason—by which he meant, as a good friend of Benjamin Franklin—science. And how do you bring the Bible, tradition, and science together? You do so by listening to others. And so he created a Constitution for our Church very similar to Congress—a House of Bishops like the Senate, and House of Clergy and Lay Deputies like the House of Representatives, and both elected by the people of the Church. He believed that the Holy Spirit was present as these two Houses worked together and listened to one another to map the path to our future, and that the Holy Spirit was likewise present in the Senate and the House of Representatives to guide our nation in the right path. Listening to the Spirit, not shouting, but moderation and reason were to be the hallmarks of The Epis-copal Church, and so why not now?

But White knew also that there was a time to act. On July 4, 1776 — the day the founders signed the Declaration of Inde-pendence — it was White, as their Chaplain, who omitted the mandatory prayers for the British monarch from their daily worship — an act of treason that could have got him hanged. White the man of moderation, listening, and balance, when confronting fundamental issues, stood on the side of Revolu-tion, in the name of our freedom.

We have seen this week what happens when people of con-science move from listening to action.

The outrage of a wide range of Americans — liberal and con-servative, Republican and Democrat, red state and blue state, immigrants and native-born, people of faith and people with-out — their outrage finally persuaded the President to rethink his policy about separating parents from children at our bor-ders.

Watching the appalling images of children being ripped from their parents’ arms and warehoused in Wal-Marts, people have been saying, “This is not what America stands for. This is not who we are.”

We have said to those in power: If we allow this behavior to continue, this IS what America stands for, this IS who we are. We will have to own that.

This week Americans took back their power and said NO. They cast a vote for dignity and justice. How appropriate that yesterday — World Refugee Day — the President and his advi-sors listened. We will wait to see if their actions match their words.

Our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, has been very clear about this: “This is not a Republican issue or a Democratic is-sue,” he said. “It is a humanitarian issue.” The Episcopal Church has long supported responsible immigration reform, and we know this is a highly nuanced, controversial issue that is more complex than it seems.

Bishop Curry continues: “Our work with and for refugees be-gan when we began to follow Jesus, to follow the way of love, of compassion, of human decency and kindness.”

This week we said no to raw power and yes to love. That is the way of Jesus.

The actions of recent days should inspire us all to keep speak-ing, marching, praying and listenin: to insist that our country reflect the values embraced by our founders that once made us great. A nation that does not protect the most vulnerable can never call itself great. A nation that uses children as polit-ical pawns can never call itself great.

In two weeks we will celebrate Independence Day — that day when William White risked his life for freedom, the day our nation was born. I offer you a prayer for that day:

Lord God Almighty, you have made all the peoples of the earth for your glory, to serve you in freedom and in peace: Give to the people of our country a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in ac-cordance with your gracious will; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

And I invite you to remember the words of a song we will sing that day, and to make this patriot dream a reality:

America! America! God shed his grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!


The Right Reverend R. William Franklin
Bishop of Western New York
June 21, 2018

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A Statement by The Rt. Rev. R. William Franklin on the Forced Separation of Children from their Parents

Children separated from their parents, tagged with numbers, herded onto vans and buses, transported to “detention centers.”

Consider that scene. Taken from the only parent they have ever known. Branded with a number. Transported to large facilities where they are herded like cattle.

In America.

My friends, this is not a political issue, this is a moral issue.

As Episcopalians, as Christians, as people of faith we must stand up and speak out when we witness immoral, abhorrent, and ruthless behavior. These children are being taken from their parents in our name, the United States of America.

It is time we say “enough.”
It is time I, as your Bishop, say “enough.”

It is common for us, in the shadow of dreadful events in our world, to say that Jesus weeps.
But I don’t think Jesus is weeping.
I think Jesus is shouting, “No!”
I think Jesus is furious, heart-sick and disgusted.

Furious that children are treated as pawns in a political fight.
Heart-sick at the terror these children are experiencing.
Disgust at us for allowing this to happen to children. Precious, innocent children.

What can we do? What must we do?
Obviously, we must pray. But we also must speak up.
Call your representatives. Call every single day. Demand that the children be returned to their parents immediately. Demand that our elected officials make this their first priority.
This “zero-tolerance” policy is wrong. It is immoral, unethical, cruel and it is not who we are as citizens of the USA.

This may be a political issue for the politicians, but for me, and I hope for you, it is much, much more.
It is a human issue. It is a dignity issue. It is a love issue. It is a Jesus issue.

Call your elected leaders. Pray for them, pray for us but above all else, pray and ACT for these precious children.

Remember that when the disciples wanted to remove the children Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.” (Luke 18:16)

As we look forward to Independence Day weekend in two weeks, I offer you this Prayer for the Nation, which holds profound significance for me in light of this crisis:

Lord God Almighty, you have made all the peoples of the earth for your glory, to serve you in freedom and in peace: Give to the people of our country a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

May we all stir up our zeal for justice and use our liberty to rescue these children now.


Bishop Franklin is traveling to Capitol Hill Wednesday and Thursday of this week. He will preach on Thursday June 21 at an 8 am Morning Prayer service for Congress. He will then offer prayers at a Vigil on Capitol Hill scheduled for Thursday at 9 am. The Bishop will spend the rest of his time in Washington D.C. lobbying as many Members of Congress as possible. He is praying AND acting.


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Our Seminaries Are Crucial For The Future Of Our Church

Remarks On The Eve of Commencement at The General Theological Seminary

Receiving an honorary degree

Thank you to the President and Dean, Kurt Dunkle, to the faculty, and the Board of Trustees of The General Theological Seminary for awarding me an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree tomorrow at the Seminary’s commencement ceremony, and thank you for all General Seminary has meant through the years to me and to my family.

In 1880 The New York Times made this editorial comment about General Seminary:  “What people are looking for today is teaching which reverences precedent, and yet is not the slave of precedent, teaching which understands modern thought, and yet is not dominated by it.  If The General Theological Seminary can meet this need by training students to bring religious strength into modern life, it will bring returns that will amply repay a large present outlay in money and staff.”

I found all of that to be true when I first came to teach at General from Minnesota in 1991, first as a visiting professor, then called back again to be a full professor in 1993, and then asked to be associate dean in 1997.

I lived with my family in a wonderful four story house on the Close, which occupied the whole east end of the West Building, which my children were convinced was haunted by Bishop John Henry Hobart.  The Seminary’s grounds provided a magical context for our daughters’ experience of New York City, and the Seminary’s commitment to education provided for their support, as did my wife’s Columbia University position, for them to attend the great Brearly School on the Upper East Side.  They would depart from Chelsea each morning on a tiny bus for that far away  privileged neighborhood.  Some school parents from the Upper East Side even feared for the children to come down to play here in the then unfashionable Lower West Side, long before the arrival of the High Line.


And so when it was our turn to host the cocktail party for the kindergarten class parents at our house down here, and the parents were unfamiliar with this neighborhood and nervous about walking into a Seminary, I hired three charming GTS students, Sean Mullen, and Courtney Cowart, and Peter Grandell to welcome the guests and mix the drinks and win their hearts.  People walked in afraid and left elated with the charms of Chelsea Square.

It was a joy to teach such students of the 1990’s, many of whom have now become outstanding leaders of our Church—among the bishops Allen Shin of New York and Doug Fisher of Western Massachusetts, and among the rectors just to mention those I have worked closely with: Sean Mullen in Philadelphia and Kevin Moroney teaching here at GTS, and Eric Williams, and Susan Williams, and Gloria Payne-Carter, rectors in my own Diocese of Western New York.

What GTS then and now brings together in a unique way is scholarship, surrounded by daily worship, lived out in an urban community of students and faculty, a community, as Augustine would describe it “that tastes the sweetness of God together” on a daily basis.

This ideal of the sweet community of God was the model of what I sought to translate into the setting of a great research university when I became the Dean of the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale, and it is the model of “sweet community” that I have sought to translate as Bishop into the Diocese of Western New York.  My goal as Bishop has been to make a Diocese a “web of grace” that Bishop Hobart, who was so involved in the founding of General, used to describe the sweet community, another way of saying that the diocese can be the beloved community our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, talks about.

But as a Bishop I have learned that we can no longer just go back to the sweet days of the 1990’s or the 1880’s, and just keep making to students yesterday’s promises of permanent full-time employment as clergy, or a constantly rising career path, or regularly increasing income.  The model of one parish, one priest, and one building is fading into the rear view mirror.

The word is different, and I believe they key to a hopeful future for leaders of our Church is that seminaries must involve themselves in shaping that different work, in stabilizing ministry in a rapidly changing Church, not just reacting to the new Church world in despair, but inspiring hope for the future.  How do we make Hobart’s “web of grace”  work today? The seminaries must be the indispensable allies of the People of God in helping us to answer that question.

I went to the Church Pension Group in New York for a meeting last summer, and when I walked in one staff member called out: ”Oh, here comes the bishop who is trying to save the seminaries.”  I am proud of that label.

As a Bishop, I do look to our seminaries to be the irreplaceable upholders of quality.  The Church is damaged by ill-prepared leaders of any order of ministry, and I will always hold out for true standards of scholarship as the indispensable foundation of seminary formation for lay and ordained leaders.

So I believe that what The New York Times said in 1880 is as true today as it was 137 years ago.  That truth is the gift we all received here, and it is the gift we will give these students as they graduate tomorrow: to bring religious strength to modern life.  We cannot teach the faith if we do not KNOW the faith.  The seminaries’ gift to the Church is that this is where we learn to be unafraid to talk about Jesus, as the alternative to the nightmares of this present moment: to discover the power we have, as part of the Body of Christ, to change the world.

Thanks be to God, and heartfelt thanks to you—GTS.



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