A Pastoral Message to the People and Clergy of the Convocation
Dear Fellow Ministers,
Today brings an anniversary of the sort that perplexes our sense of appropriateness. It is certainly no cause for celebration. It is, to be sure, a moment for remembrance, for holding prayerfully before God those who perished in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania on this date in 2001—and those who have died in all the needless violence that has followed in the wake of that cloudless morning.
The attacks of September 11th were not the first wounds inflicted by the modern scourge of terrorism; and as the unfolding of history since then has vividly demonstrated, they were surely not the last. In the macabre evaluation of these moments, however, they were by a long measure the worst; 2,977 innocent people died on that day. If a fleeting opportunity was set before humanity by this disruptive event to reflect on the costs of the human capacity for violence and to “turn from our wickedness and live,” then that opportunity was woefully missed—and this, too, will be held in the account for which we all must someday answer.
We know, too, that 9/11 was not so much a single event as a pivot toward a new era of violence in the international system, one that has afflicted practically every nation in which the churches of the Convocation are present. That reality moves this day beyond mere remembrance to sober reflection. Seen from that perspective, this day is not so much an American commemoration of an outrage on American shores; it is a moment for people all across the globe to reflect on how we ought to structure our societies so as to acknowledge, and limit, the tendency toward violence and extremism.
Our responses to this challenge have covered a wide range of possibilities in the twenty years now past. Many of us remember churches being filled to the bursting point on the Sunday after 9/11. It seemed then that the hearts broken in that moment had been newly opened to the reconciliation that Christ calls us to. But that moment quickly passed, as the possibility of a unifying tragedy was overwhelmed by attitudes of revenge and a thirst for retribution. The wrenching scenes from Afghanistan in recent weeks make necessary our acknowledging, as citizens of our several countries, that the choices made and the actions pursued by successive governments over the years since that awful morning—in the U.S. and among its coalition partners—have not reflected honorably on the values we claim to uphold.
The world has noticed. Our moment is one in which the false promise of authoritarianism to maintain order and offer protection from extremist violence is beguiling many people to doubt the promise of democracy, and to question the ultimate sovereignty of human rights. As the columnist David Brooks has recently noted, at one and the same time authoritarian regimes seek to constrain and even suppress the exercise of faith, while copying the ideas and social forms of religious belief—doctrines, leaders, scriptures, and the ruthless suppression of heresies. Not surprisingly, we, as Christian believers, are among the heretics—at least if the values we teach our children do not somehow acknowledge the primacy of the state’s “values.” The world has noticed. Our moment is one in which the false promise of authoritarianism to maintain order and offer protection from extremist violence is beguiling many people to doubt the promise of democracy, and to question the ultimate sovereignty of human rights. As the columnist David Brooks has recently noted, at one and the same time authoritarian regimes seek to constrain and even suppress the exercise of faith, while copying the ideas and social forms of religious belief—doctrines, leaders, scriptures, and the ruthless suppression of heresies. Not surprisingly, we, as Christian believers, are among the heretics—at least if the values we teach our children do not somehow acknowledge the primacy of the state’s “values.”
What does this mean for us, Christian believers gathered in churches in Europe—churches that trace a long, complicated path from the first years of Western Christianity through the emergence of the Anglican Church, and the reshaping of Anglicanism by American ideas of governance and discernment?
In the midst of all our memorials, in the midst of all our sorrow and fear, stands the itinerant preacher talking about a different kingdom—the kingdom of God. In the midst of all of our anxiety about the future is the one who strips himself down to a towel around his waist and washes the aching feet of those who have been following him. In the midst of all our calculating about power and position is the one who gives attention first to the people who are on the margins, below concern, and beneath contempt.
And in the midst of all our doubts stands the quiet scandal of the blood-stained linen cloth lying, abandoned, in the empty tomb.
In the twenty years since that awful morning, the world around us has become less tolerant of all religious belief, less able to imagine the possibility of meaning beyond the scope of the human societies we construct. Casting religion as the problem is a convenient and simplistic way of neglecting the real cause of our deepest trouble—which is, of course, human nature itself, the "crooked timber of humanity," as Kant put it.
Our faith has always taught us that human nature is not so much changed as redeemed, and that our task as the community of faith is to work in two ways at once: to hold each other to a higher standard as members of a Beloved Community, and to do it in such a way as to witness to the victory of love over death, and of reconciliation over force, in the societies in which we are set. May God, who has instilled in us the audacity to hope for that world, give us the courage to seek it, and the strength to build it.
O God, you have bound us together in a common life. Help us, in the midst of our struggles for justice and truth, to confront one another without hatred or bitterness, and to work together with mutual forbearance and respect; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
See you in church,
The Rt. Rev. Mark D.W. Edington
Bishop in Charge of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe