Jan. 9, 2021
Dear people of the Diocese of Massachusetts,
I want for a moment to share a word as we draw towards the end of this week – a week in which we have been shaken, infuriated, and appalled.
We are shaken by the violence and hatred that played out before us at our nation’s Capitol. We are infuriated by the incendiary, reckless, and seditious rhetoric of leaders, including a sitting President of our nation, in stoking that violence and hatred. And we are appalled by the larger realities of turmoil and bitter division in our nation which this week’s events do not allow us to deny.
Bishop Gayle Harris, in remarks at an ordination she was conducting on Wednesday evening, reminded us of Abraham Lincoln’s famous application of the words from Matthew’s gospel: A house divided against itself shall not stand. [Matthew 12:25] This house, our nation, is bitterly divided, and as Bishop Harris said Wednesday, “We cannot continue in this way, cannot continue with the violence, hatred, and demonization of one another, which is certainly not of Christ.”
Among the numerous evils thrown into high relief by the attack on our Capitol building, we cannot avoid calling out its manifestation of racism and white supremacy. From the Confederate flag carried boldly through the Capitol, to the scaffolding and noose constructed on the plaza outside, to the indisputable contrast between the way invading rioters were treated Wednesday and the way non-seditious protesters have been treated at other points throughout the year past – there is simply no denying the ugliness of racism before us. The work of anti-racism to which we have recently re-dedicated ourselves as a diocese is urgently upon us.
In the past few days many expressions of dismay and outrage have included some version of the cry, “This is not who we are!” I understand this cry as an expression of aspiration: "This is not who we aspire to be." "This does not represent the values we espouse." But if we are to move forward as a nation with determination and hope, we cannot begin with a categorical denial – “This is not who we are!” – which is manifestly not true. Rather, we must look ourselves in the mirror and say, “This is part of who we are; let us repent and change.”
The brilliant Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg puts it this way: “Don’t let people who like the approximate status quo drive the narrative … to be about a few bad apples. We know what they say about the bad apples. We have to talk about the barrel. The orchard. The seeds that were planted. And the soil in which they were sown.” [Instagram post 1/7/21]
Another rabbi long ago spoke endlessly about seeds and soil. We know from our rabbi, Jesus, that God blesses the vineyard which is tended with justice and love. Perhaps all those parables of seeds and vineyards were inspired by this verse from the prophet Hosea:
Sow with a view to righteousness;
reap in accordance with kindness;
break up your fallow ground;
for it is time to seek the Lord
until he comes to rain righteousness on you. (Hosea 10:12 – NAS)
Links to the messages we have received this week from the Most Rev. Michael Curry can be found on the diocesan and Episcopal Church websites:
I commend to you those messages from our Presiding Bishop. I bid your prayers for our nation and its leaders. I invite you, with me, to rededicate yourself to the urgent work of both peace and justice, in our personal lives, our communities, and the structures of our land.
May we, indeed, “sow with a view to righteousness, and reap in accordance with kindness.” May the Holy Spirit, who descended upon Jesus at his baptism, and ours, descend upon us now with the grace and courage we need.
Yours in Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Alan M. Gates
Updated Jan. 13, 2021, to include link to Bishop Gayle E. Harris's Jan. 6 sermon at Grace Church in New Bedford.