This week I have been preparing for my upcoming meeting with my pastors, the Reverends Cristina Paglinauan and Caroline Stewart. I’ve gotten some materials together to present to them and I have also spoken with Adam Phillips, my supervisor, about the direction in which I should go during the meeting. I foresee that it will involve me “pitching” how the Church of the Redeemer, an Episcopal church, can get involved with ONE. Before I begin this meeting, I think I need to ask myself where I stand as an Episcopalian and how my particular religion plays a role in political engagement.
I will start by examining an essay found in Sandra Joireman’s book Church, State, and Citizen: Christian Approaches to Political Engagement, entitled “The Anglican Tradition: Building the State, Critiquing the State”. A few points mentioned in this piece highlight the comprehensiveness of Anglicanism, its “ability to hold a variety of practices in tension and in unity” (102). This comprehensiveness is largely due to the fact that it is difficult “to identify common theological positions that unite all Anglicans” (101). Without widespread agreement on certain positions, Anglicans have been unable to unite as strongly, say, as Catholics have, for social justice purposes. I realize that this is a generalized statement, but I think it is worthwhile to consider. The author of the essay, Leah Seppanen Anderson, goes so far as to say “Anglicanism has often been a force for conservatism, an acceptance and even promotion of the political status quo” (105). Initially, I took this sentence pretty hard. But, then I took a step back and asked myself, very honestly, “Catherine, has your religion ever challenged you to reject the status quo and engage in political activism for the sake of social justice?” My answer: Not until I started my work at ONE through the Project on Lived Theology.
At this moment in my life, I have never been more aware of how my religion can directly affect the role I play in making the world a better place. I am not trying to downplay how important religion has been in my life. I wouldn’t be where I am today without it. I just don’t think I ever knew how being an Episcopalian would correlate to being a citizen. Church is what I did on Sundays, reciting the Nicene Creed, and following worship through the guidance of the Book of Common Prayer. When I volunteered for two summers at a learning camp for underprivileged children, I didn’t think I was “doing church”. I know now that I was. I also realize now that the feeling I get when I volunteer or help others is not a feeling of self satisfaction or self pride, but rather God’s love. There is no other feeling like it in the world. It is the love of a parent, a mother or father’s love for a child. It is unconditional and eternal. Above all, Jesus commanded, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” and “thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”. I think many Anglicans can forget the presence of God’s love in society. We can get caught up in day to day business and not even focus on God until Sunday church. What if we realized God’s love every second of every day?
This type of love is groundbreaking. It has the potential to unite Anglicans. It just needs to be harnessed.
I was in a meeting earlier this week in which one of the members of ONE’s government relations team came to talk about how to engage Republican candidates on ONE’s issues. He pointed out the way to really reach Republicans on matters such as poverty and disease. His tips were to appeal to their morality, to mention that something almost everyone can agree on is that no one wants a child to die because of lack access to water, sanitation, or food. This is not a partisan issue. It is a moral issue. For Anglicans, this could mean appealing to the universal agreement about God’s love. Can Anglicans not all agree that “God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son”? The question then arises: how should Anglicans put this love into practice? Spreading the word is the easiest answer. Faith congregations hold so much potential in mobilization. There is so much more to be done and so much more love to be shared. This is the message that I want to send when I meet with my pastors on Sunday: if we can all agree on the value of God’s love, how can we truly unite to help the “least of these”?