Sit back folks, and grab some water. This is going to be a long one.
So, for about 4 years now I've been thinking about a subject that I think is incredibly important. Back in 2010, during my own, personal prayers one day, it suddenly struck me that there was something that I, my parish, the Episcopal Church, and much of Western Christendom seemed to be neglecting, something that Jesus expressly commanded his followers to do that we were not doing.
You see, in the gospel accounts of Jesus' ministry, one finds what may seem to be a surprisingly small number of direct commandments given by Jesus to his followers. We know that the Lord often preferred to speak in parables, providing complex metaphors about the Kingdom of God and how we ought to live our lives in preparation for it. These parables tend to require the Christian to think critically about their meaning and allow us both to navigate situations that may be morally ambiguous, and learn something new upon each encounter with them. The direct commandments that Jesus does give in the gospels form the solid foundation of the Christian faith, a foundation which sets the Church apart from the ways of the flesh that kept us shackled to sin before the coming of our redemption.
It was in this sudden moment of clarity that I thought on the words of Jesus from the iconic Sermon on the Mount: "Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you" -Matthew 5:44. Such a simple command, and one that we were not following at all in our public worship, and that I had made no concerted effort to follow on my own. Aside from one optional petition in one of six different forms of the Prayers of the People, the Book of Common Prayer was extraordinarily lacking in prayers for our enemies and those who persecute us.
At the time I was unsure of what to do about this realization, but I knew that something had to change. In 2011, when the United States Navy successfully carried out a mission that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden, I was filled with a fascinating mixture of relief, knowing that he would not be able to hurt anyone else, and sorrow, that it took violence to stop violence, and even then the reprieve could only ever be temporary.
By some great luck, grace, and no small amount of serendipity, I found myself scheduled to be the intercessor on the Sunday immediately following the man's death. For that morning I had been assigned Form II of the prayers of the people. (For those who are unfamiliar with the form, I highly recommend giving it a look http://www.bcponline.org/HE/pop.htm#Form II ) I particularly like Form II because, unlike the other forms which somewhat passively state our petitions, Form II makes demands of the congregation to pray for very specific things.
When I had reached a point that I thought would be appropriate, right then and there I made something up. I asked the congregation to pray for the cruel, the unjust, the vengeful, and all those who wish us harm. I asked that they pray for those people to be moved, to experience the love of God and turn away from their anger, hatred, and violence. And I asked them to pray for the repose of the soul of Osama bin Laden, that he might find peace in death that he couldn't have in life.
Well, I thought that I was going to be in HUGE trouble. I thought that I had called down a veritable sh*tstorm the size of Idaho on myself. I figured that I would hear about it directly from opinionated parishioners who disagreed with what I'd done, and from the rector - whose permission I had NOT asked - who would have to take the complaints of people who were not comfortable approaching me directly.
Instead, I experienced something that I can only describe as humbling. People from all over the congregation, some with tears in their eyes, many who I knew disagreed with my vehemently on numerous political issues, came up to me after the service, and - wouldn't you know it - they thanked me.
After that, I was sure that what I was doing was right. I still didn't REALLY know what I was supposed to do next, but we can call it a successful trial run.
In 2012 I had the astounding privilege of attending the General Convention of the Episcopal Church (which took place in Indianapolis) as part of a program called the Young Adult Festival, wherein young adults in the church are offered a gigantic discount on hotel and convention admission, special events for our age group, and a chance to meet each other, network, and observe the church's decision making process at work. Little known fact: outside of India the Episcopal Church has the largest democratically elected legislative body in the world, with more than 880 deputies in the House of Deputies and something like 250 total bishops in the House of Bishops (though retired bishops often choose to relinquish their right to vote).
At convention I saw the amazing things that the Episcopal Church is doing in the 21st century being carried out: I saw our advocacy for the respectful and loving treatment of people in sexual minority groups and the development of a rite to bless committed, same-sex relationships; I saw us reaffirm that the call to ordained ministry can be felt by any of God's children, including not just men and women but trans people as well; I saw us considering where our resources ought to be spent to do the most good; I saw us considering our lives of public worship, and how they are changing to better reflect what we believe about God and our place in the world as His children.
I also got the chance to gently toss out my ideas about praying for our enemies to my peers, and I found that not only did they agree with me, they thought the church would to, if only someone were to tell them.
So I started looking into ways that I could make my idea a reality on a large scale. I attended diocesan convention (a smaller version of General Convention) in my diocese as a delegate of my parish in 2013, and at that convention I gauged where my diocese might be in terms of readiness to accept what to some might be the radical step of changing our public worship to pray for people like bin Laden and others. I also got a good look at how church legislation is working under the current bishop and how business at convention is held these days.
Attending convention, and getting up and speaking about issues that year, made me confident enough to take the step of writing a resolution of my own to submit to the floor. After a great deal of work and worry, I have finished that resolution, and I have submitted it to be part of the business at the 2014 diocesan convention in November! Thanks to the wonders of the internet, you can read it below!
The most painstaking part really wasn't the legal language, or even writing the prayers. I have an English degree, after all; might as well put it to some use. No, the agonizing bit was really the explanation. I put it off, and put it off, and spent hours thinking about just those few, little paragraphs. I wanted to be firm, but polite; honest, but not condemning. If I am doing the right thing, as God has called me, and if this resolution takes off and goes on to be considered by the whole church, then those few paragraphs could mean everything. They could affect the prayer lives of two-and-a-half million people or more, and change the way they view themselves as Christians and their relationship to God, their neighbors, and the world.
I will go to convention in November, and there - hopefully wearing the full armor of God - I will present my case. The idea that my words may hold the very power of God in them terrifies me far more than the thought of rejection. It would be so much easier to sit idly by and maintain the status quo, so much safer to let the church continue in its transgression. It's hard to pray for your enemies, and even harder to love them, particularly now, when we see Christians in other parts of the world being gruesomely executed by people filled with anger and hate, but Christ calls us to do the hard thing. To rise up out of the ways of violence, vengeance, and rivalry, and work for peace. That is a difficult, and brave thing to do. Christianity, my friends, is not for cowards.
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