Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Fight Evil by Doing the Thing that Evil Hates

Earlier today, on the House of Bishops and Deputies list, a lay deputy from the Diocese of East Carolina posted a piece that I think was designed to be inflammatory. Many took the bait, and so did I.

In the post, Mr. Becker wrote: "We are at war! The enemy is at the very gates!

"They have command of every important battlefront in the culture: the family; the schools; the universities; the legal system; the entertainment industry; and of course, the churches.

"They do not want us to discuss or be aware of the sordid facts of their chosen "deathstyle"; the prevalence of drug and alcohol abuse, diseases of many kinds, the misery caused by hundreds of serial sexual relationships, and an early death."

He goes on to list 13 ways in which, as he sees it " a tightly knit and highly organized clique of Lesbians and Homosexual radical activists ...have run rings around the traditionalists in the church, and have taken over the levers of power...."

The post is finished when he says that "It's time for some of us to stand up fearlessly and say:

"NO! We will not be bullied" and "YES! We will stand up and be counted."

As I said, I took the bait. Here is what I wrote in response...

Mr. Becker's diatribe is a warning to us all. He tells us that we are at war against evil. And he is right.

What he said reminds me of something I saw once five years ago this coming fall.

At that time, I lived in southeast Ohio, along the Ohio River and ministered in the Diocese of West Virginia. About one month after the 9/11 attacks, I was to spend October 10, 11 and 12 in New York City and then in Allentown, PA where along with some other clergy, chaplains and mental health professionals we would run some Critical Incident Stress Debriefings for Salvation Army personnel who, after one month of continuous service, were being rotated out of Ground Zero/World Trade Center. I was driving from nearly a time zone away along with some other Ohio colleagues because nearly every trained CISM chaplain and MHP within hundreds of miles of Washington, NY and Pittsburgh were already up to their eye-balls in post-disaster care.
These women and men, many volunteers, were to be debriefed before going back to their home units (ie congregations) up and down the northeastern seaboard.

Driving through the mountains of central West Virginia on US 50 gave me a long time to think. I had very much on my mind the aftermath and consequences of terror and violence.

I was thinking about what might cause 19 men to choose, in the name of God, to inflict such horror. I wondered if we would (as we did) go to Afghanistan to do battle with the Taliban. I was thinking about what it would be like to rout out bands of committed religious warriors from mountainous terrain every bit as rugged, though far, far less developed, as what I was driving through.

As I was approaching Clarksburg, I saw a billboard which shocked me, and then angered me and then saddened me so much that I actually decided to turn around and go back and photograph the thing so I would never, ever forget.

The billboard pictured an American flag, but the text said:

"Christians! Beware!
Your Schools, Courts, and Government
are
Anti-Christian!"

I stood under this sign and pondered it for a while before continuing on my journey. During that trip, I realized two things about us that exist at one and the same time. The first was, as I said, the capacity for the same violence perpetrated against us can just as easily arise from us.

But the other truth was driven home to me as I drove through Appalachia to New York and then on to Allentown to do the debriefing process and that was the contrast between the terrorists and so many average women and men on that day.

Nineteen men in the name of God chose evil.

But when the chips were down, and and when the moment stripped everyone to our most basic instincts, thousands upon thousands of people, including but not limited to the folks we debriefed, spontaneoously chose the good in thousands upon thousands of ways.

At the moment evil seemed to triumph, good prevailed in a legion of little great ways.

That billboard on US Route 50 was a call to arms every bit as much as Mr. Beckers post earlier today. The illusion of both declarations is that in order to fight evil, we must use the tools of evil. Slander, malice, separation, division, gossip, wranglings and the language of violence, if not violence itself. We tell ourselves that must stand firm, call a halt, take no more, fight and fight some more. This, we are told, is how we promote God's good as we see it.

The lesson from Paul's letter to the Colossians, which was today's eucharistic reading for the Feast of the Visitation, teaches us a very different way to fight evil: do the things that evil hates. Respect. Honor. Listen. Teach. Be gentle. Praise always. Give thanks. Do everything to honor Christ.

The honesty of Mr. Becker's declaration reminds us that violence in the name of God only magnifies the face of evil. But God sees more, and desires more and calls for more from us. Mr. Becker is right: we are at war with evil. Just not in the way that he thinks. We do battle with evil all the time, but evil is overcome when we do the things that evil hates.

And, remember, what we do only drives nails into evil's coffin because God in Christ Jesus has already defeated evil once and for all. Jesus defeated evil by doing the one thing that evil could not imagine nor stand: Christ gave himself up to death on the cross. In the cross evil has already been defeated. In Christs resurrection evil was annihilated for, as St. John Chrysostom says, "It took a body, and met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered Heaven."

And so, as baptized people, we are and we live the very thing evil hates. We don't need to resort to the weapons of evil as tempting as that is. It's not easy, and it looks big, but remember, in the war against evil ours is a mop-up operation. For Christ is Risen from the dead. Alleluia!


See also A sermon for Wednesday in 16 Pentecost A, 9/11/2002. It is way down on the bottom of the "archived sermons" page of www.trinityeaston.org. Keep scrolling, you'll find it.

See the comment by Fr. William Wight from Upper South Carolina who helped me clarify these last two paragraphs. (6/1/06) atg+

2 comments:

revbubba said...

Amen, Andy, Amen

3n1-1n3 Rector said...

This is from an e-mail that was sent to me privately by Fr. William Wight of the Diocese of Upper South Carolina. Of course, he is right. For the Christian, we live in a world where evil is defeated not only because of Christ's death, but his resurrection. The Ascension Day promise is that Christ reigns over a redeemed, renewing Creation and this is where our promise, our goal lies.

thanks!

a

Dear Father Gerns,

I read your letter yesterday regarding Mr. Becker’s earlier diatribe. I was following you completely, and was prepared to shout “Alleluia!.” But at the very end of your posting, I felt immediately set adrift because you denied me that victory shout. What happened?! It’s not just a matter of the cross, but the cross and the resurrection. I reflect upon the words of The Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom which no doubt you are familiar with:

Let no one fear death,
For the Saviour's death has set us free.
He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it.
By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive.
He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh.
And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry:
Hell, said he, was embittered
When it encountered Thee in the lower regions.
It was embittered, for it was abolished.
It was embittered, for it was mocked.
It was embittered, for it was slain.
It was embittered, for it was overthrown.
It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains.
It took a body, and met God face to face.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.
O Death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?

I would take your last 2 paragraphs and alter them as follows (my additions are in bold-if this email programs allows. My additions are the last sentence on each of your two paragraphs following):


And, remember, what we do only drives nails into evil's coffin because God in Christ Jesus has already defeated evil once and for all. Jesus defeated evil by doing the one thing that evil could not imagine nor stand: Christ gave himself up to death on the cross. In the cross evil has already been defeated. In Christ’s resurrection evil was annihilated for, as St. John Chrysostom says, “It took a body, and met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered Heaven.”

And so, as baptized people, we are and we live the very thing evil hates. We don't need to resort to the weapons of evil as tempting as that is. It's not easy, and it looks big, but remember, in the war against evil ours is a mop-up operation. For Christ is Risen from the dead. Alleluia!


Forgive me the presumption to instruct you on the Christian Faith. But in a discussion of evil, how can we possibly have anything worth saying that does not end the matter with affirming the Resurrection? Otherwise, we are left only with the misery and pain of the Cross alone.

I would be grateful if you would post this email to the Deputies/ Bishop List as my effort to contribute to the discussion of Mr. Becker’s comments.

Thank you,

The Rev. William W. Wight
Diocese of Upper South Carolina