|Episcopalians at the Iowa Statehouse for a hearing on the death penalty bill|
”Well, here we go again! Looks like the legislature will indeed begin considering the death penalty reinstatement within the next few days. I hope you, and your people, will want to join me in expressing our Church’s opposition to this measure.” These were the words of Bishop Epting, sent out to the clergy of the Diocese on January 31, 1997! And yet today, in 2018, they are as applicable as they were twenty years ago.
“Here we go again.” On February 1, members of the Diocesan clergy sought to make the case against the reinstatement of the death penalty at a bill hearing at the Capitol. I am appreciative to hear that the bill seems to be stopped in committee, thanks to their testimony and that of others. Building the kind of society we value is a difficult task. Our efforts are guided by the message and person of Jesus and yet we reach differing conclusions at the implementation level. Each of us also have different elements of human inter-connectedness that grip us as worth more of our energy and commitment than expressing our grocery line opinion.
In 1998, we had at our disposal the legislative watch of the Ecumenical Ministries of Iowa. Through that organization we could share our passionate interests and also keep each other from growing weary in our well-doing across denominational lines. I am grateful today for the work of Connie Ryan of Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, and our own Wendy Abrahamson who serves as our eyes and ears on Capitol Hill. I invite you to join Wendy and me for the second annual gathering of Episcopalians on the Hill over breakfast at 8:30am on Thursday February 15th.
About the time, in the late nineties, Iowa was wrestling with the question of the death penalty reinstatement, we in California were talking about the impact of immigration on our culture and the value or not of English only propositions. Even more locally, at my home parish of St Barnabas’, we were engaging in a motion made at a vestry meeting that “the homeless were to be discouraged from our parish functions.” We agreed to spending two months for vestry members to engage church members on the issue, and then we decided that we would take it up again at the third monthly vestry meeting. During the two months the lectionary happened to be from Year C. and we were hearing readings from Luke’s Gospel. Time after time the causes of the poor and the lost, the Prodigal and the Samaritan, were being put forward by Jesus. I was accused of “cooking the books” and yet I was following the Gospel readings of the day.
Luke is above all the gospel written among the Gentiles. It seeks to apply the significance of Jesus words and actions as they find living expression in the expanding world of a Gospel that Jesus sent out through us to the ends of the world. It is about hospitality and welcoming, leaving your own comfort zones and seeking the lost stranger. The parish, I am glad to say, heard Jesus through Luke, and our active ministry with the homeless stretched on for more than thirty years. Nevertheless, there came another generation that raised the same question, and, from what I hear, it seems Luke was not part of the response. Sadly, a different conclusion was reached, and a most significant ministry has been lost.
Good things can be undone quickly by well-intentioned people. We must not stop listening to the Gospel. This Lent, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry is inviting us all to read along with him the Gospel of Luke. Let us join him and find the strength to answer the words “Well, here we go again.”
In the peace and love of Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Alan Scarfe
Bishop of Iowa