Dear Parish Family,
There are many religious light bulb jokes: How many Lutherans does it take to change a light bulb? None. Lutherans don’t believe in changes! How many Mormons does it take? Five. One man to change the bulb, and four wives to tell him how to do it. There are also many religious food jokes. The Romans Catholic hierarchy is like Irish stew. The savory chunks of meat sink to the bottom while the fat rises to the top. (That was told to me by a Catholic priest). And what about us? The Episcopal Church is like a fruit cake, a variety of fruits and nuts all held together by the dough! Some say “if you don’t laugh, you will have to cry!” Now is a time in our national life when we must ask the question, “What keeps America together?” Are we one nation just because of the dough—because of economic interdependence, or do we share some basic values and beliefs that are essential to our national well-being? Our national motto on the Great Seal of the United States, E Pluribus Unum, is Latin for “out of many, one.” The traditional meaning and origin of the expression was that out of many colonies, which became states, emerged a unified nation. In recent years, it has acquired the additional meaning that out of many peoples, races, religions and languages a single nation has been created. A London-based Huguenot, Peter Motteau, originally coined the phrase for his eclectic magazine “The Gentleman’s Journal”, (1692-1694).
Following the cataclysmic recent election, however, it has been revealed how deeply divided the country actually is. We are not living up to our motto: we are not one! This is more than slightly the result of two decades of emphasis on political correctness and diversity as cardinal civic virtues. Too many Americans have begun to trumpet the agendas and uniqueness of their own subgroup and what differentiates them, rather than trying to articulate and emphasize what unites us. Thus we have Tea Party Americans, NRA Militias, Black Lives Matter Americans, Latino/Latina Americans, Lesbian, Gay Bisexual and Transgender Americans, Women’s Liberation Americans, Americans with Disabilities, Evangelical Americans, and many more special interest groups. Will we ever be able to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again? America’s founders, largely basing their thought on essential religious and ethical principles, strove to create a new nation where privileged birth and uniform religious affiliation were no longer the underpinning of the social order, but where individuals had equal rights balanced by equal social obligations, where (as in Anglicanism itself), the rule of tradition and scripture was balanced by recourse to reason, debate and peaceful democratic transition and where executive, legislative and judicial authorities were balanced and separate. A just balance of power and initiative was the goal. Some have blamed the elevation of the virtue of toleration to be the highest modern civic virtue as a main reason for our present divided state. And it is true, if we examine the origins and purpose of toleration, that we find it has become a seriously distorted version of what our forefathers intended.
After centuries of decimating religious and territorial warfare, the 18th century “Age of Reason,” led by such thinkers as John Locke, ascribed to a doctrine of peace through toleration of differences UNTIL the divine gift of human reason could provide answers which all disputing parties could accept. Differing religious parties and different political parties would learn to reason together, come to compromise solutions, and avoid the disastrous bloodshed that had engulfed the previous centuries.
The point is that toleration was regarded as a virtue of temporary truce between adversaries, not as the ultimate ethical attitude and solution to all conflict. Therefore, today, the false concept of relativism — that truth is unknowable, therefore that all values and lifestyles are equal and acceptable—is a key factor eroding our objective of unity. Likewise many conservatives believe that toleration means others can have their own “media,” but that one has the right to ignore them and listen only to commentary and news they agree with. We Christians have the additional values of forgiveness, love of neighbor and love of enemies to guide us in reformulating a sense and purpose of national unity. Such virtues are not merely sloppy sentimental attitudes, but the determination to value every person as a child of God and to treat others not just as they demand to be treated, but in light of God’s will as to what is in their best interest and the interest of the whole society. That is the way we must love our own dear children, not merely indulge their individual immediate wants, but to consider the needs of the whole family and its future. This is not easy to do! I suggest that we all begin by focusing our minds on what unites and should unite us, rather than on what divides us. That way—to use an old advertising slogan— “we keep our eye on the doughnut and not on the hole!” That is the beginning of our way back to making E Pluribus Unum a proud affirmation, not a forlorn hope.
Yours in Christ,
The Rev. Dr. Tom Bauer