Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Speaking against Proposition A - a message from the Provost

On Saturday, October 23 and Tuesday, October 26, I will be speaking at rallies against Proposition A, which would pave the way for the potential elimination of the 1% earnings tax for those who live and work in the City of St. Louis. I encourage you to read the official ballot language and an excellent summary of the arguments for and against the measure at Ballotpedia. More information about those rallies is at the end of this piece.

I'm writing here for four reasons:

*To clarify the ability of clergy and the church to take public positions on political issues.

*To clarify my thought process in taking a public stand as provost of Christ Church Cathedral.

*To explain why I have chosen to accept these invitations to speak against Proposition A.

*To describe my hopes for us as a community with diverse political and theological views.

This is a little lengthy, but only because I think it is critically important that I be clear on each of these points and I want this to be a resource. Mostly, I want you to come to me face-to-face so we can have a loving, civil conversation about this or any issue.

The Church and Political Advocacy

Christian churches have a long and proud history of political activism ... back to Jesus himself. There is a lot of misinformation and fear about our ability to be political advocates because of our nonprofit status. In simplest terms, churches and church employees can publicly advocate for or against any political position or ballot initiative. Churches and church employees (in their capacity representing the church) cannot campaign for or provide real or in-kind assistance to any candidate for office. When I was executive director of Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation, I wrote a two-page summary of the "can's and cant's" of advocacy for religious organizations. If you have questions, I encourage you to read it here ... and also to go to the EGR advocacy page and the Episcopal Public Policy Network for more resources (and I hope you will join EPPN ... it is an excellent and incredibly well-run organization).

Speaking as Provost

Only the Dean is authorized to speak for Christ Church Cathedral. This creates a challenging situation for me as provost. I am very clear that I am not the Dean of Christ Church Cathedral. At the same time, I -- through agreement of the Bishop and Chapter -- carry the title Very Rev. and function in much of the capacity as Dean (including serving as Vice President of Chapter and chairing meetings in the absence of the president of Chapter, Bishop Smith).

I have wrestled with this issue and have come to a place that I am mostly, though not entirely comfortable with. But I'm also convinced it's the best I can do.

If we come to a point that we believe God means for us to be together as Dean and Cathedral, part of that will mean you believe that I am the person you want to speak for the Cathedral in the public square. That piece of discernment is incomplete so it would be wrong of me to assume that mantle.

That said, I believe all baptized Christians have a responsibility to speak out when they believe the Gospel compels them to. I also believe that part of the role of being Provost of the Cathedral is nurturing relationships of solidarity with other churches and like-missioned organizations in the City of St. Louis. I also believe that for you as the people of Christ Church Cathedral, hearing my voice and knowing my views will be an important part of the discernment of whether or not I should be your dean.

The balance I have come to is this. As provost, I will not seek out the press, write letters to the editor under the title "Provost, Christ Church Cathedral" or do anything proactive to attach my opinions on political issues to the name of Christ Church Cathedral. I will, however, accept invitations from organizations, and allow myself to be interviewed on political issues when the press requests. I will also accept the request of Bishop Smith to speak as a representative of the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri on his behalf (as is the case with the rally at which I will be speaking on Tuesday afternoon at Keiner Plaza). Because I know the public will perceive me as speaking for Christ Church Cathedral and will not get the provost/dean nuance, I will only do this in cases where I feel the issue at stake has a clear Gospel imperative ... as I did when I was invited last year to speak in favor of health care reform. I will always be willing and eager to have the theological conversation with you.

Should I become Dean, you can expect that I will be more proactive in taking stands on issues in the public square. But you will also know that I will have not just a personal and political but most important, a theological rationale for these positions that I believe is consonant with the theology and mission of the Episcopal Church and Christ Church Cathedral. That does not mean everyone will always agree with me. It does mean that I will always listen and strive to hold the experience of the whole people of God at Christ Church Cathedral in my heart and mind as I speak. More on that in a bit.

Why speak against Proposition A?

I was invited by two different groups, St. Louis Area Jobs with Justice (Rally at 10 am Saturday in Tower Grove Park) and Metropolitan Congregations United (Rally at 5:30 pm on Tuesday at Kiener Plaza). In the case of MCU, both the Bishop and I were invited and the Bishop asked me to speak on his behalf. Both of these organizations are reputable and have good histories of partnering with Episcopal congregations in St. Louis, including Christ Church Cathedral.

I was once in favor of eliminating the earnings tax. I saw it as short-sighted and a barrier to attracting business to the City of St. Louis ... and I still acknowledge that it might be such a barrier (though, as the Post-Dispatch has reported, "St. Louis's tax is neither high nor uncommon. Cincinnati and Cleveland have 2 percent taxes, as do Louisville and Lexington, Ky. New York City's can reach higher than 3.5 percent; Philadelphia's, can go to nearly 4 percent.").

I have been turned around on this issue and see it as a fundamental theological choice for or against loving our neighbor as Christ loved us.

The city earnings tax funds 39.2% of the city's revenues. That is revenue that could not be recouped by any other means short of a huge tax increase in other areas ... most probably a large, regressive increase in the city sales tax. And even in that case, it would result in a massive gutting of city services. While this initiative would not in itself repeal the city earnings tax, it would open that door and require the spending of millions of dollars to fight off an attack against eliminating something that, simply put, the city needs to survive.

The mission of the church is to "restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ." It is a mission of reconciliation. St. Louis needs reconciliation and the last thing we need is more division. We are an incredibly divided city, with divisions of city/county, race, economic class and more. The earnings tax, though burdensome to some, is one tangible way we care for one another ... and particularly where those with means provide basic services for those without. The spirit behind the move to repeal the earnings tax is a spirit of hoarding and scarcity. A spirit of keeping for ourselves instead of giving for the common good. It is a spirit not of increased reconciliation but of increased division antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That is why I have accepted the invitations to speak out against it.

What if you disagree? How do we live together as a diversely believing community?

In Philippians 2:12, Paul exhorts the people:
Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
We are all working out our salvation with fear and trembling, trusting that the God who humbled the divine self into human form in Christ is with us and that it is God's wisdom we are all most imperfectly seeking. Put another way, it means we all can be wrong. And we need to cultivate in our community the humility that allows each and all of us to be challenged lovingly.

The great beauty of Anglicanism is that it is about a process of doing theology (a study of scripture through the lenses of tradition and reason) not about a determined outcome. We have plenty of experiences of faithful people coming to different conclusions about issues. But we also cannot allow ourselves to be paralyzed into silence by our lack of complete certainty ... just able to stay in conversation, stay in prayer, stay gathered around Christ's table as we proclaim the Gospel the best we can and work out that salvation with fear and trembling.

So if I or any member of this Cathedral community -- clergy or lay -- speak out in a way you disagree with, here's what you do:

*Say your prayers. Prayerfully consider what they have said and see if God's wisdom might be speaking to you through it. Pray for them as they sort out their salvation with fear and trembling.

*Talk with them. Lovingly ... not angrily, but lovingly and face-to-face (not in an email, please!) share your concerns or your differing view. And while you should try to make your position known as well, take a page from St. Francis and strive "not so much to be understood as to understand."

*If you feel called, use your voice just as that other person or people have used theirs. As you consider what that looks like, consider Christ's call to love one another as Christ loves us, and let that be your guide.

*Keep coming to the table. Christ's table is the great equalizer. It is where we all lay our lives down in realization that we all are broken and fall short but that in Christ, together, we are one.

I will strive to live by these guidelines with you and I pray you will live by them with each other and with me. I think you will see in them an extension of the Rules for Respect to which we have all pledged. Most of all, I want you to know it is OK to disagree with me ... and I hope you will do it lovingly and to my face. Because that's how I learn and grow. Because I do make mistakes. And because I'm working out my salvation with fear and trembling, too ... and we all need each other to get to the promised land.

in Christ's love,


The Very Rev. Michael D. Kinman
Provost, Christ Church Cathedral

The rally on Saturday sponsored by Missouri Jobs with Justice will begin at 10 am at the Turkish Pavilion in Tower Grove Park. Here is a map of Tower Grove Park. Please see the inset map that shows where the Turkish Pavilion is on Center Cross Dr. off of Arsenal. More information is at their Facebook event page here.

The rally on Tuesday afternoon sponsored by Metropolitan Congregations United will be at 5:30 pm at Kiener Plaza. 

Sunday, October 3, 2010

19th Sunday After Pentecost

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, Oct. 3, 2010  

The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" The Lord replied, "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, `Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you.

"Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, `Come here at once and take your place at the table'? Would you not rather say to him, `Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink'? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, `We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'"

If I’m going to be honest with you, my first reaction to this Gospel reading was to get really annoyed. I don't need this. I don't think you need this. We don't need to be told that we don’t have enough faith. We don't need to be told that we are only worthless slaves. We don't need to work our tails off and try to be the best people we can and turn to Jesus and have him say "What do you want, a medal?" And that’s what this Gospel felt like when I first read it. Like Jesus was berating me and beating me up. And I just wasn’t in the mood.

And then I looked a little closer at the reading, and I noticed a couple things. The first is the Greek word that is translated as “worthless” doesn’t really mean that. It doesn’t mean “having no value” but rather “those to whom nothing is owed.” Now that’s a big difference. Jesus isn’t saying we should view ourselves as worthless … but as not being owed anything. We shouldn’t have a sense of entitlement because of our status or our accomplishments.

You might not know it because the lectionary skipped over it, but this reading follows closely on the heels of the parable of the Prodigal Son … and there is no more poignant story in all of scripture of God’s boundless love for us no matter what we do. We’re not worthless. We are infinitely valuable … but we shouldn’t feel like God or the universe or anybody owes us anything. We shouldn’t think of ourselves as better than anyone else.

In fact if there’s a theme that runs through this section of Luke it’s just that … that God’s love for us is infinite and that it doesn’t fit into human categories. We are the lost coin that the woman searches for, the lost sheep that the shepherd leaves the 99 to go after. We are the prodigal son who told his father “I wish you were dead” and for whom his dad still killed the fatted calf. But lest we think we have any special place because of who we are, what position we held, what family we were born into or where we went to high school, Jesus lets us know in no uncertain terms the answer is no. He does this by embracing and eating with and loving those whom the world rejects the most, the poor, the weak, the sick and the lame.

In Luke, Jesus draws a distinction between how he sees us and how the world sees us. The world measures us by race and class and job and talent. By how successful we are or how productive we are or how much we can contribute. Jesus looks on us and sees only the image of God, infinitely beautiful but also infinitely gifted because the love that is the heart of being the image of God is the most powerful force in the universe. Jesus looks on each one of us and sees someone who really could uproot a mulberry tree or move mountains … if only we could for even a second see ourselves as Christ sees us. If only we could have faith.

And that’s the second thing I noticed … that word, faith. It’s not about believing something up here. The better translation of the word is trust. And so what’s really happening here is that Jesus, who looks at each one of us and sees deep beauty and amazing power, is really just saying, “Trust me.” Trust that the way I see you is who you really are. Trust that you can let go of all the other ways you have of defining yourself. Trust that you can let go of all the labels that other people use to define you. Trust that you can believe you are lovable just for who you are and not for what you produce. Trust me, Jesus says.

And it’s so true. When we trust Jesus just a little bit. When we believe we are the person Christ sees us as and not the box the world tries to cram us into, the possibilities are literally endless. But that “little bit of faith,” that “little bit of trust” is so incredibly difficult. And we’re so afraid to do it.

My friend John Ohmer’s favorite story is of a woman who was out for a hike in the mountains. She slipped, and fell off the path, and started to tumble down a cliffside but at the last second was able to grab onto the root of a tree. She was hanging there swinging back and forth … a couple hundred yards below her jagged rocks, everything above her smooth rock face, no way to climb back up. She didn’t consider herself particularly religious, but she was in a terrible spot, so she looks up to heaven and says, “IS ANYONE UP THERE?”

Much to her surprise, the clouds part and she hears a voice say, “It is I, the Lord God of the Universe, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. You are my beloved child; have no fear. You need only to let go.”

She looks back down at the rocks, looks back up to heaven and says, “Is anyone ELSE up there?”

I don’t care whether you’re 8 years old or 80. We’ve all been shaped by powerful messages that tell us that our worth is tied up in how much we produce or how beautiful we are or what color our skin is or how much money we make or what gender we’re attracted to or, yes, where we went to high school. We all had the music teacher who told us we couldn’t sing or the coach who told us we couldn’t play or the boy or girl who wouldn’t go out with us if we were the last person on earth. And those messages – good and bad – defined us and in many ways became self-fulfilling prophecies. We became who they said we were. Because we believed them, we trusted them. And because we’ve spent our whole life trusting those voices, we are convinced they are all there is. And that if we let go of them, if we stop listening to them, we will be rejected and ridiculed and bullied and all those things that we have been carefully trying to avoid all our lives that make those jagged rocks at the bottom of the cliff seem like a pit full of feather pillows.

And yet in this place, in this community, we hear another voice. We hear the voice of Jesus, who sees us as God sees us … as not owed anything, as not any better or worse than anyone else, but also as infinitely worthy, infinitely lovable, and infinitely capable. And that voice says, “Trust me!” “If you could trust me even this much …. If you could see yourself even this much as I see you … if you could let go even a little bit of those other voices that have shaped you and of which you live in such deep fear … if you could do that, you would not believe what amazing things you could do.”

That is the community we get to be for each other. A community that looks at each other as God sees us. Who sees the extraordinary and the beautiful that the world cannot or maybe simply just will not see. A community that knows the truth of what our friend Becca Stevens says, that the love that is in each one of us is the most powerful source for social change in the world, but more than that, that love heals … and that we are not called to change the world. We’re just given the gift of the chance to love it.

What message are you holding onto that is holding you back from letting God love you and letting you love the world? How can you turn to the person next to you and help them see themselves as God sees them, as amazing and beautiful and gifted? How can we together have the courage to trust that the only social category that matters is child of God, and that because that’s what we all are, there is no limit to the wonders that we can do.