04 July 2014

Happy Birthday America!

Born in the aftermath of the Declaration and War of Independence one might expect TEC would celebrate the 4th. There are indeed prayers for the State, and there are patriotic songs in the Hymnal. But little happens.

The model of relationship between church and state begins with theocracy. Moses ruled in the name of God, consulted with God, announced God's decisions. His governing council enforced the Law of God, received at Sinai. Kings would eventually be chosen by God, anointed by Samuel and other prophets.

The model however clearly distinguishes between the secular authority and the devout. Very early, there is conflict. Saul is replaced by David because as king he disobeyed. David and Nathan forge the arm's length relationship which remains to this day. The state rules, and the church cries "justice" to power.

Nathan is my hero. Consider what he does. He walks into the king's audience chamber, tells the king of an injustice, and when the king reacts by calling for judgement on the perpetrator, calls the king out a as the man. There were almost certainly guards, armed guards, in that space. A single word from the king and Nation is either dead or in custody. Either way he is silenced.

The first Isaiah follows in Nathan's footsteps. He dismisses the alliance with Egypt that the king thinks will protect him from conquest. Be loyal and count on God, not Egyptian chariots is his message, which goes unheeded. The pattern is set. And a good part of it is that prophets are not welcomed by kings.

John and Jesus follow the pattern. John cries for justice when Herod kills to get the wife he wants, and challenges the legitimacy of Herod's marriage. For that he pays the ultimate price. Jesus calls the temple authorities to be just and care for the needy. The response is what we now call the Passion.

In our time the relationship between church and state has been complicated. But for the Episcopal Church, the relationship is one of prophetic distance. We criticize actions and policies that we judge unjust. And as is always the case, we are in the history business.

The history of America is the history of the conquest of First Peoples, the suppression of aliens, especially Chinese coming here to work on our railroads, slavery, and Jim Crow. Yes, it is also the history of our Bill of Rights, blossoming science and technology, and freedom for all with prosperity for many if not all. But we do not like to recall the negative and we must. Humans learn from their errors. And so, the church, quite properly is less inclined to celebrate and more inclined to call us to live the brilliant poetry of the Declaration.

Happy birthday America: may your future be one of justice and freedom. And may we never, ever forget our mistakes, or think we are done. We are and must always be, a work in progress.

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