Thursday, December 27, 2012

Statement on Sandy Hook

It has been one sorrow-filled week since shots rang out in Sandy Hook Elementary School leaving twenty children and six adults dead. In that week, the mourning of a community has been omnipresent in our news as a nation tries to find a way to respond. 
Our president has called for meaningful action and has tasked the vice president to lead that work. And today, the NRA, through its vice president, has called for an armed policeman in every school. To quote: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
Fewer statements underscore the limited thinking and blind devotion to tools made to kill. I wonder what will be the spiritual and psychic cost to a whole generation raised in armed schools. What will happen next? Demented assailants with bullet proof vests followed by a shootout between “bad guys” and “good guys?” Who will fall in the cross fire? Who will be blamed then?  
As followers of the Prince of Peace, we must reject calls for escalation and greater weaponry. We are called to a different mind, the mind of Christ, and to articulate a different vision for the human family: "They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more," (Micah 4:3).
In his book, Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street, Jim Wallis tells of his experience attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in 2008, where the media’s relentless question at daily press conferences was “when will this end?” When will the economic turmoil and the instability end? Wallis, when asked this question, responded that we were asking and answering the wrong question. He suggested that we should ask, “How will we be changed by this?” As we ponder what to do in the wake of a national tragedy that has shaken us to the core, we should ask this same question, “How will we be changed by this?”
We should go to our scriptures, which call us to disarm rather than re-arm. We should go to our values, which move us to seek understanding. We should be a people of forgiveness, which always means giving up something. The families of Sandy Hook have given up way too much. Can we give up a culture that promotes and glorifies violence? Can we give up Rambo, Bourne, and such? Can we please give up our guns? Let us beat our swords into ploughshares and our spears into pruning-hooks. Let us be changed by this in a way that brings the peaceable kingdom closer.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Excommunication of Truth

In an online story published by The Wall Street Journal, titled “Twenty-first Century Excommunication,” and accompanied by a video interview of the reporter, Mollie Ziegler Hemingway, the recent property disputes of The Episcopal Church were grossly mischaracterized. I have served as the Episcopal bishop of San Diego for almost seven years, and in that capacity dealt with three congregations in which the ordained leaders and their followers attempted to leave the Episcopal Church with parish property. In these dealings, I was threatened with death and told I will go to hell by those who claim to love Jesus more than I do. Other colleagues have had similar experiences, from death threats to being spit at during church services. Ms. Hemingway would have you believe that the animus we have received is about scriptural interpretation, but make no mistake: this is about power.

To fully understand this situation, it is important to grasp the canonical (i.e. legal) structure of The Episcopal Church. Parishes are creations of the diocese in which they are situated, in some cases deriving their tax exempt status because they are an irrevocable part of the diocese. As a condition of ordination, clergy vow obedience to their bishop. Congregations begin as mission churches under the direct supervision and financial support of the bishop with property held by the diocese. When such a church becomes a parish, by vote of diocesan legislature, the congregation pledges to be subordinate to the constitution and canons of the Episcopal Church as well as the constitution and canons of the diocese. After becoming a parish, they may incorporate under the religious incorporation statutes of the state in which the congregation is situated. The diocese will usually transfer title to real property to the parish at that time to be held in trust for The Episcopal Church.

When individuals purported to alienate property which had be given to The Episcopal Church, I was bound by my fiduciary role as a bishop to prevent that from happening. Because The Episcopal Church, like so many others, follows state laws of incorporation, I had no alternative but to file suit in civil court to remedy the matter. This is analogous to a landlord finally going to civil court to gain relief from a non-paying renter or an owner using legal means to deal with a squatter. Thus, those leaving The Episcopal Church were catalysts of these law suits by breaking their solemn vows and by attempting to seize property they had no right to possess.

What is particularly regrettable about Ms. Hemingway’s piece is confusion about the relationship between The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, which is easily remedied with a simple visit to the Anglican Communion’s official website, . There you will find every diocese of The Episcopal Church in their cycle of prayer; you will not find The Anglican Church in North American on that list. This is not to say they do not need our prayers. It is simply an indicator of who is an Anglican and who has merely appropriated the label. You will not find Missouri Synod Lutherans there either. Thus, The Episcopal Church remains a constituent member of the Anglican Communion. Despite Ms. Hemingway’s interpretations, our leader (called a primate), the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, is a participant in the Meeting of Primates of the Anglican Communion; Robert Duncan, the leader of the breakaway Anglican Church in North America, is not. At our last House of Bishops meeting, a gathering of all bishops of The Episcopal Church, we were visited by the primates of Japan and Central Africa. Like an eclectic extended family, we have our differences, but we regularly gather together.

Ms. Hemingway suggests that The Episcopal Church is depriving these departing Episcopalians of a relationship to Anglican bishops and foreign dioceses. Oddly, these individuals claim to desire a relationship with a bishop of their own choosing. But bishops are those who by definition maintain order and oversight over the church. To put it in historical terms, this is rather like choosing to succeed from the nation when the current leadership is not to your liking. Thus, when the presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church urges her colleagues not to provide aid and comfort to those who would undermine our church, she has history on her side.

In the final analysis, no one has been excommunicated; rather some individuals have left our church. On their way out, they have tried to take what does not belong to them and, in an unimaginative attempt to cover their unseemly behavior, they have pointed the finger at their victim, The Episcopal Church. The Wall Street Journal and Ms. Hemingway have either been duped or shown a stunning lack of care in reporting. The only thing in this story that has been excommunicated is the truth.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

On the Ecuadoran Frontier

The House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church is meeting in Quito Ecuador, which has given us an opportunity to become more familar with the social issues of the region. For Ecuador, one of the vexing problems is dealing with refugees from Colombia. While the U.S. makes war on drugs, average Columbian citizans are caught between paramilitary groups and guerillas. As many flee for their lives, Ecuador finds itself dealing with the largest refugee population in Latin America.

The good news is that The Episcopal Church is working to make a difference. The Dioceses of Columbia and Ecuador Central are working together to provide transitional ministries to displaced persons. On Saturday, a group of bishops learned about this joint ministry, prayed together for this work on the border (see photo below), and gave financial support.

Those of us who live in the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego know something about borders and displacement. As a community that strives to transcend borders, we do well to be aware of what is happening on this border. This fledgling ministry deserves our prayers and support.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Something New Breaks Open

Wednesday in Holy Week

In the midst of this Holy Week, we fully grapple with the enormity of the sacrifice of Jesus as he moved from a parade of palms to the pain of the passion. We are reminded once again that God is not remote and distant from us, but through Christ, enters our lives filled as they are with both sorrow and joy.

In the season of Easter that is upon us, we make an awesome claim that God who relentlessly pursues us in love will not abandon us. We are not left to sin and evil; we are not left to death. The miracle of the empty tomb is a promise of life. Between Good Friday and Easter, something happens to Jesus. Between Good Friday and Easter, something should likewise happen to us. We too are to be changed.

And so as the Easter light breaks, something new should break open in us. There is a new future for the world for which Christ died. The late William Sloan Coffin once said in a sermon,

Christ is risen to convert us, not from life to something more than life, but from something less than life to the possibility of full life itself. Christ’s resurrection promises to put love in our hearts, decent thoughts in our heads, and a little bit more iron in our spines.

In these Great Fifty Days of Easter may you live into our Easter love, have the mind that was in Christ Jesus, and be a courageous Church that dares to follow Jesus Christ in his life of fearless love for the world.

God’s blessing be upon you.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Bishop's Appeal 2011

Dear Friends,

Many of us enjoy God’s abundant blessings every day: families, friends, and food on the table. God calls us to share of our abundance with people in need. Together, we make possible ministries and programs that we could not as sole congregations. Our campus ministry at UCSD is growing with our support. Over 40 youth attended our diocesan convention. Happening and New Beginnings, renewal weekends for youth, are attracting record numbers. We are building up the church through our work in our companion diocese, the Diocese of El Salvador. These are just some ways we can do some good and share what we have.

Here are some concrete ways your donations make a difference:

  • $350,000 develops congregational growth and ministries
  • $120,000 supports redeveloping congregations throughout our diocese
  • $30,000 supports campus ministry at UCSD and SDSU, connecting young adults with the church at a critical time in their lives
  • $8,000 provides youth events for middle-school and high-school students, enriching their walk with Christ
  • $7,000 develops worldwide outreach mission programs in Kenya, Western Mexico and El Salvador

Please share in providing these vital ministries by making a gift to the Bishop’s Appeal. One hundred percent of your gift will support outreach in the area served by our diocese. You may donate today on our secure, convenient web site:, or you may fill out the enclosed response envelope and mail your contribution. Your gift provides help and hope to people in need while it helps to expand our ministry in the world around us.

I am most grateful for your support – past, present, and future. Together, we are accomplishing greater things than any of us can do alone. May God bless you with renewed faith, abiding hope, and deep compassion for all God’s people.

The Rt. Rev. James R. Mathes

Please respond to this opportunity to do good and share what we have by the Day of Pentecost, Sunday, June 12. Make a difference all year long!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Land of the Rising Sun

As we see the pictures of devastation wrought by earthquake, fire and tsunami, our hearts ache for the people of Japan. It remains to be seen the full impact of this catastrophe but it appears to be immense.

I ask you to hold the people of Japan as well as all others affected by this disaster in your prayers. Knowing that financial assistance will be needed I also ask you to make a gift to Episcopal Relief and Development so that our church can respond as Jesus would have us do — as good Samaritans.

Help Japan Here

Japan is a beautiful and resilient country whose gracious hospitality I have been privileged to enjoy. It is often referred to as the land of the rising sun. May God touch this part of God’s creation with a spirit of new life so that out of the ashes may rise new life and new hope.

Monday, February 28, 2011

March Message

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

I want to begin by thanking you for your presence and participation at our 37th Diocesan Convention. I was amazed at the speed with which we attended to necessary business and the general spirit of the event. I am particularly grateful to Dean Richardson for his convention sermon and Diana Butler Bass for her keynote address on Friday and workshop on Saturday morning.

At this Convention, we did important work in moving forward our Strategic Planning process and tested a draft mission and vision statement:

Mission: The Episcopal Diocese of San Diego: a missionary community that dares to follow Jesus Christ in his life of fearless love for the world.

Vision: Undeterred by borders or barriers, we are pilgrims with Jesus in relentlessly searching for others to know, to befriend, and to invite them to Christ's Eucharistic table of reconciliation and sacrificial love.

The initial input from our table conversations on Saturday was positive albeit with helpful suggestions. One comment that caught my attention was that these statements of purpose and direction lacked specificity. It was with that rumbling in my mind that I received an email from Simon Mainwaring, rector of St. Andrew's with the subject head, "so you know people do listen to your address," sharing with me his blog entry for Valentine's Day.

Simon tells his response to our vision statement and "taking the Church beyond the border" in his blog, "Simon Mainwaring PB." Simon tells of his experience in being vulnerable by taking a handful of Valentine cards and walking the streets of Pacific Beach greeting absolute strangers and wishing them a Happy Valentine's Day. Thank you Simon, for helping me respond to the critique that our Mission and Vision are without specifics.

The specifics of Mission and Vision will in the end be found in the intersecting of the Holy Spirit, our imagination and the liminal places that are a whole host of borders around us.

In a world where buildings fall in earthquakes, congressional representatives become targets for assassination, and dictators cling to power with bullets and blood, we can feel powerless and fearful. To follow Jesus is to dare. To follow Jesus is to be fearless. To follow Jesus is to study our spiritual and cultural geography so that we can find that threshold where God's mission happens, that place of borders, imagination and inspiration.

Blessings to you as we enter this season of wilderness wanderings on the way to our true home.