I get looped in from time to time on topics that seem over the top. For example, I was copied on a long string of emails regarding the placement of the flag in the nave of a church. The writers of these emails had various stances on the flag, whether it should be in the church or not. Over time, these emails progressed from personal opinions to attacks on persons with different views. If you didn’t believe the flag should be in the church, then you were disloyal and ungrateful for the men and women who died in war. If you believed the flag should stand then you were patriotic, the good guy.
I read with interest these comments, but I noticed something missing. None of these comments had anything to do with Jesus, the mission of the church or faith practices. No one mentioned what the buildings we worship in stood for. Some bragged that they had flags at home or in their offices. It was when the position of boasting entered the thread I knew it was time to sign off. The conversation centered on whom was the most patriotic.
Recently, I listened to one of our headmasters speak about students who were coming to terms with their identity. One of the student was transitioning. What went through my mind was how brave the student was who was becoming aware of a deeper understanding of self. How loving were the parents in seeing their child come to this knowing and supporting their child. And how impressed I was with a school that was making plans to support this family in the best, loving, caring way possible. It hasn’t been easy. Some parents were intimidated by such reality and threatened to withdraw from the school and go elsewhere.
The other day I listened to one of my staff members talk about their child being bullied in school. The pain on my staff member’s face told the story of the reality of not being able to protect the child 24/7. Our world is not always kind, gentle or understanding. For some, fear is the driving force behind their actions. They fear not belonging and thus strike at individuals who seem vulnerable, an easy target.
In the baptism service the question “will you respect the dignity of every human being” has always had an impact on me. I think of it often in my work with wounded and broken people. Respecting the dignity of every human being is the work of God’s people. We are told in Genesis that God created every living creature and it was good. If we believe this then why is it we need to be above the other, think of ourselves as more valuable than our neighbor? Why is it we need to belittle someone because they believe or look different than we do? What difference is it to us how a person expresses who they have come to know themselves to be? The question we should be asking ourselves is, will we respect the dignity of our neighbor? If we can’t answer yes, then we have self-work to do. It’s not a matter of our neighbor being out of step, it is us!
Often, I speak of practicing in my sermons. It is because we have to practice being faithful. We can’t just listen to a sermon and think we are being faithful to the gospel. Reading scripture once a week doesn’t help us look deeper into the intensely demanding calling of loving our neighbor. We have to practice.
Let us resolve to respect the dignity of every human beginning today, and when the sun comes up tomorrow let us once again resolve to respect the dignity of every human being and again the next day until God tells us we are free from our sins. For this is the work God has called us to practice.
The Rt. Rev. Morris K. Thompson, Jr.
Bishop of Louisiana