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Identity, Pilgrimage and Peace

House of Bishops Pastoral Letter, General Convention, 1982

Text from typescript draft, courtesy of the files of the Right Reverend Paul Moore Jr.
Archives of the Episcopal Diocese of New York

And they continued steadfastly in the Apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers. Acts 2:42

Grace and peace in Christ Jesus to the clergy and laity of the Episcopal Church, from their bishops.

Hard work and hope have marked our experience at the 67th General Convention. Signs of new life in the Church are clear. We share with you thanksgiving.

Our Book of Common Prayer, embracing now the old and the new, nourishes worship all across this Church in splendid diversity and depth. At this Convention a revised and enriched hymnal was approved and launched. In our time, renewal movements of many names have touched and transformed our personal lives. These in turn have furnished our congregations with new energies for outreach and evangelism. Encouraged by the $150,000,000 given and pledged in the past six years to Venture in Mission, we have resolved upon new increases in giving.

Under the title of "Jubilee Ministries" we will mount an added outreach to the hungry and aged, to those distressed by sharp changes in public spending priorities and to those disrupted by unemployment.

Under the title of "Next Step in Mission" we have responded to the call of the Presiding Bishop and the Executive Council that each congregation be urged to examine its life together for the renewal of mission and ministry.

[2] We have taken an unprecedented step in behalf of theological education, committing ourselves to enlist support of the Church's seminaries by all our congregations. We hope for 1% of their income each year, given to the seminary of choice.

Such new life is of God, and providential in its very timing. Our social order suffers decayed moral purpose and a dying hope of peace.

It needs nothing more urgently than a Christian presence of fresh vigor. We cannot separate life in a reborn Church from life in a decadent and suffering world, but we can be recalled as Christians to our true and enduring identity. In the power of that identity Christians may add life to the world, refusing acquiesence in its destruction and indifference to its pain.

More and more the superpowers race each other for nuclear advantage. The future looks short for the planet. How shall we confront that stark prospect? How shall we claim hope? How shall we offer hope?

Three truths we hold before ourselves and bid our people join us in embracing.

I. Identity

First, we commend the truth of Christian history that hope was highest when the future seemed shortest. When the earliest generation of Christians gathered in devotion to "the Apostles' doctrine and fellowship, for the breaking of bread and the prayers," they lived in daily expectation of the end. History's quick close, in fire and devastation, was a promise of the Lord. Yet, high-heartedness has never been more keen in all the generations of Christians since.

[3] The young Church demonstrates that hope does not need a sunny future. Hope does not rise from any human power to control. It comes by gift of creation's controlling power, the love of God in Christ. That love, in command of ordinary lives, fashioned heroes, saints and martyrs who will always be the human measure of what it means to be a Christian.

Hope is thus our heritage, a badge of our earliest identity. Hope in the face of impending calamity is what it was to be young in Christ. Hope is what it is to be young again.

II. Pilgrimage

Second, we commend the truth that for Christians life is a journey. Home is not here. Acceptance of that truth is the plain source of the early Church's lilt in the face of doom. Steadfast in "the Apostles' doctrine and fellowship" their hearts were undismayed. The earth, for all its wonder and beauty, offers no abiding place. Christians are here as pilgrims.

Human nature may know this truth, quite apart from Christian belief. Just to be human seems to set us in search of home. Great moments do give us glimpses of what home ought to be, but harsh reality intrudes: restlessness, suspicion, dread of suffering and loss, human cruelty and derangement, the multiplying weapons of hideous violence on which the arming nations squander their riches.

To be especially deplored, since we were certain it would be otherwise by now, is the determined racism that grows and hardens in the world. No less does racism and discrimination seem to yield to our commitment that they be driven from the Church. Racism festers as unfinished business in the very house of God.

All these intruders coil like the serpent into every Eden. They make any paradise partial, soiled, and often sinister.

[4] The human heart is made for more than the earth knows how to provide, but just a moment of Christian belief can break a feverish clutch upon the world. Believing opens the heart to heaven. It sets the believer free for the hopeful pilgrimage of Christian calling.
The whole convention experienced such a moment of release. We were gathered, nearly two thousand of us, in the mammoth cavern of an ornate old movie theater. Isolated at the microphone on stage, under a shaft of light, stood a small black man with a radiant face, Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa. His government had given him a travel document in order that he could come to us, but only long enough to visit our General Convention and a few days longer. In South Africa Bishop Tutu cannot vote. In South Africa the blacks, who are 80% of the population, cannot vote. An 18 year old white male can vote, however, because of "that marvelous biological irrelevance of skin," as the bishop tartly put it.

His courage in confronting injustice comes of knowing his real citizenship. "The government," he challenged, "must know that the Church is not frightened of any earthly power." In ringing sentences he went on to warn his government, and all governments insensitive to justice, what a fearful thing it is to take on the Church of God. "More are for us than can ever be against us. A vast throng no one can count, from every nation and every tribe, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white and bearing palms in their hands, shout together, 'Victory to our God.'"

To be enthralled by citizenship with angels and archangels and all the host of heaven is to bring to earth on invincible meekness that sets the human spirit free. That spirit prevails at last over all the structures of oppression.

When Bishop Tutu finished his address, the thunder of prolonged applause could have cracked the plaster of the old walls around us. We had heard from a great pilgrim.

[5] III. Peace

Third, we commend the truth that Christians are bidden to righteousness. Between the coming of Christ and his coming again, the credibility of the Christian cause is established and sustained by moral earnestness. Moral resolve understands love as action, not simply feeling.

Your bishops perceive the nuclear arms race as the most compelling issue in the world public order. The arms race summons all morally serious people to action. Christians and Jews and all religious people are joined by multitudes of no religious allegiance.

Thus the voice we raise in this Pastoral Letter mingles with a chorus across the earth, in and out of the churches. The chorus mounts each precious day of life on the planet, warning against the strange insanity that grips the governments of the great nations.

We take seriously the lament of the former American ambassador to the Soviet Union, George Kennan, who writes, "We are losing rational control of weapons. ... We are becoming victims of the monster we have created. I see it taking possession of our imagination and behavior, becoming a force in its own right, detaching itself from the political differences that inspired it, and leading both parties inexorably to the war they no longer know how to avoid."

Most of the passion for arms in America appears to rise from fear of a predatory power. If Russia would slow down, we would slow down. If Russia would stop, we would stop. Who is free? Who is hostage to whom? From whence shall come the moral freedom to break the spiraling thrall of seeking security in instruments that only purchase a diminished safety for both countries and a mounting insecurity for the entire world?

[6] Does any Episcopalian seriously wish at this perilous moment for a muted Church, unready to risk the corrective clarity of a heavenly citizenship? This citizenship transcends in prophetic judgment all political systems. All human freedom finally depends on the value of human life and the freedom from paralyzing fear that a transcendent allegiance bestows.

We urge upon our people the detachment of penitence and forgiveness. Such detachment quiets our worldly fevers. It reveals our true identity. We are pilgrims with first fealty to the crucified and risen Christ. Holding that identity clearly and firmly, Christians may still disagree on the means of peace. We need not disagree, however, on our need for a dedicated military. We recognize that devoted Christians serve in our armed forces, which forces we need lest the United States signal irresolution. Still, we assert that a morally serious people must consider three aspects of American policy.

First, it is our understanding that the United States has never disavowed a policy of deterrence that intends the use of nuclear weapons in a massive first-strike against whole cities and land area, should it serve the national interest in warfare. Two hundred population centers are now targeted for such a strike. We ask, how can this policy be squared with a free nation's commitment to justice when it intends the calculated killing of millions of human beings who themselves are not on trial? We hold such an intention to be evil.

Second, the undiminished production and deployment of nuclear weapons, even if never used, consume economic, technical and natural resources of astronomically rising proportions. The squandering of such resources constitutes an act of aggression against the thirty children who die every sixty seconds of starvation in the world. It is a callous act of indifference to the 500 million people of the world who are underfed. We declare this to be immoral and unjust.

[7] Third, American fever to match the Soviet Union weapon for weapon appears to be damaging the personality structure of a whole generation. Current studies show that our children are growing up with a pervasive sense of fear, menace, cynicism, sadness and helplessness. The effect of these eroding inner sensations is to impair the ability to form stable values, a sense of continuity and purpose, and a readiness for responsibility. Insofar as a belligerent nuclear arms policy distorts the spiritual and moral formation of children, such a policy defeats the free nations from within. The decadence that marks our culture may be of our own making. We believe it can only worsen without a tide of. peacemaking witness, especially the steady protest of Christian people who claim their first allegiance, declare their true identity and recover the bravery of pilgrim people.

We believe it to be the responsibility of the United States to take the bold initiative in nuclear disarmament, and to keep on taking it. The United States is the first to possess a nuclear weapon. The United States is the only nation to have used the weapon in war. If it comes to pass that these weapons, which the United States continues to refine and aim and stockpile, are used in war again, it is difficult to believe that any history a surviving neutral nation might record would fail to fix blame on the United States.

We, your bishops, pledge ourselves and bid our people to the ministry of peacemaking. We pledge ourselves again to weekly fasting and daily prayer for peace. We pledge action in the peace movements that press the world's leaders for swift nuclear disarmament.

We undertake this ministry not because disarmament will save the world. We do it because the world's salvation has already been secured in Christ, and we dare not neglect so great an assurance. From this resource of conquering love the ministry of peacemaking takes its rise, its courage, its dauntless hope, even though we cannot know the future.

[8] Foreknowledge we do not need. The earth is the Lord's. Heaven is his. Both are ours by gift in their due seasons. We make our claim upon them by simple obedience to a pattern of life together laid down long ago.

Our brothers and sisters at the dawning years of the Lord would not have dreamed that pilgrims so long after them would still inhabit a spinning world, history still elaborating the complex drama of contending light and darkness. They would recognize, however, what we do at our best, whatever the language of our liturgy. It was what they did at their best, and life and the future for them were good enough to prompt rejoicing...

"... they continued steadfastly in the Apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers."

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