Prayer, maladjustment and the national life: A message from Bishop Gates

The Rt. Rev. Alan M. Gates, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, issued on Jan. 14 the following message to the diocesan community:

We enter a deeply important week in the life of our nation, bookended by the national remembrance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday and the inauguration of the 45th president of the United States on Friday.

This dual focus to our week is a dramatic reminder of the twofold obligation we have as Christians, on the one hand to uphold our nation and its leaders with supportive prayer and the exercise of civic responsibility, and on the other hand to maintain a stance toward those leaders and their decision-making which in the tradition of the prophets is relentless in demanding justice and compassion.

While acknowledging the conflicted context of this year's inauguration, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has issued a clear call for prayer this week:

This practice of praying for leaders is deep in our biblical and Anglican/Episcopalian traditions. Psalm 72 prays that the ancient Israelite king might rule in the ways of God’s justice, defending "the cause of the poor," bringing "deliverance to the needy." 1 Timothy 2:1-2 encourages followers of Jesus to pray earnestly for those in leadership, that they may lead in ways that serve the common good.  Even in the most extreme case, Jesus himself said, while dying on the cross, "Father forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing," praying for Pontius Pilate, the Governor of Rome who ordered his execution, and for all who were complicit in it.  In this spirit, the prayer books of the Anglican/Episcopal way have always included prayer for those "who bear the authority of government," praying that they may lead in the ways of God’s wisdom, justice and truth.

[The full text of the presiding bishop's statement is available here.]

I commend to you the Book of Common Prayer resources for such prayer, personal and communal, in its section of Prayers for National Life, pages 820-822.

Meanwhile, we begin the week rededicating ourselves, in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., to the prophetic mission of the church.  We hold ourselves and our leaders accountable to biblical demands for justice, dignity and compassion.  In 1963 Dr. King preached at St. Paul's Church in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, the parish I was later privileged to serve.  Our colleague Jane Gould has reminded me of this portion of Dr. King's 1963 Cleveland sermon, in which he speaks of "creative maladjustment," a timely word for us all:

[T]here are some things within our social order to which I am proud to be maladjusted, and to which I call all [those] of good will to be maladjusted until the good society is realized.  I must confess that I will never adjust myself to segregation and discrimination. I will never become adjusted to religious bigotry. I will never adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many and give luxuries to the few.  I will never become adjusted to the madness? of militarism:  the self-defeating effects of physical violence. … There is a need for men and women to be as maladjusted as the prophet Amos.  In his day, in the midst of injustices, his proud words echo across the centuries, "Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream."  There is a need for men and women today to be as maladjusted? as Abraham Lincoln, who had the vision to see that this nation could not exist half-slave and half-free, … to be as maladjusted as Jesus of Nazareth, who could stand amid the men and women of his day, amid the intricacies of the formidable military machinery of the Roman Empire, to say, "He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword," and cry out, "Love your enemies; bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you."  Through such maladjustment, we will be able to emerge from the darkened midnight of man’s inhumanity to man into the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice. 
[Martin Luther King Jr., May 13, 1963, St. Paul’s, Cleveland Heights, OH]

Dear people of the Diocese of Massachusetts, may this week lead us faithfully into future weeks and months of prayerful citizenship and prophetic maladjustment.

Faithfully and fondly,


The Rt. Rev. Alan M. Gates