Recently the bishops of the Episcopal Church gathered for our annual spring meeting. Our regular conversations about our faith, our dioceses and our ministries in the world were infused with a deep sense of unease about the current state of politics in the United States. Of particular concern was the scapegoating of marginalized peoples for the decline of the middle class.
Middle-class income has been falling for 40 years, but this is not the fault of the poor, immigrants or people of color. Nor is our security as Americans suddenly at risk because people across the globe still see America as a land of opportunity.
There is no reversing the growing diversity of our land. Indeed, all the demographic and economic indicators in Maine suggest that our state will prosper only as we welcome new workers and their families. As the oldest state in the nation, Maine will find new workers not in our current population, but rather from among immigrants settling here in hope for a safe, productive and prosperous future.
You have only to turn your gaze to the natural beauty of creation to see that diversity is what God intended in the world. However human it may be to fear and mistrust those who are different from us, we know the teachings of all major religions, including Christianity, call us to welcome the stranger and to have compassion toward the poor.
In the current polarized political environment, people of faith must exercise their voices of love and moderation and do our best to bring God’s love and compassion to our civic discourse.
The atmosphere of fear and hatred cultivated in the current political climate by those hoping to serve as our leaders is deeply at odds with the values of our country and of people of faith. It becomes even more alarming when millions of Americans appear to support the frightening rhetoric and cavalier declarations of racism and hate that we are now witnessing.
Though the fear we feel may be real, it can be irrational, misplaced and dangerous. Fomenting hatred toward our fellow Americans who are different from us because of race, religion, ethnicity or orientation doesn’t address the problems in our country, but rather makes enemies of our neighbors. Such disrespect does not become us.
The Maine Council of Churches, representing nine denominations with churches across the state, has been a leader in promoting the tone of civil discourse in Maine and beyond. Each election season, the council asks candidates and community organizations to sign its Covenant for Civil Discourse.
Those who sign pledge to “act respectfully toward others, including those who oppose me in public debate, and to attempt to understand others’ points of view; to refrain from personal attacks, while maintaining the right to vigorously disagree; to refrain from making statements which characterize my opponents as evil; to refuse to make untrue statements in defense of my position; and to value honesty, truth, and civility while striving to find workable solutions.”
At the recent bishops’ gathering, the approach of Holy Week was foremost on our minds as we issued a message to the wider church.
In that message we said, in part, “On Good Friday the ruling political forces of the day tortured and executed an innocent man. They sacrificed the weak and the blameless to protect their own status and power … . In a country still living under the shadow of the lynching tree, we are troubled by the violent forces being released by this season’s political rhetoric. Americans are turning against their neighbors, particularly those on the margins of society. They seek to secure their own safety and security at the expense of others. There is legitimate reason to fear where this rhetoric and the actions arising from it might take us.
“We reject the idolatrous notion that we can ensure the safety of some by sacrificing the hopes of others. No matter where we fall on the political spectrum, we must respect the dignity of every human being and we must seek the common good above all else.”
I pray that it may be so: across Maine, throughout United States and to the wider world beyond our shores.