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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