June 29, 2015

Thinking Personally and Systemically

For the past several days I've spent more time than I probably should following General Convention on Twitter. We're trending! For those who don't tweet, this means our hashtag, #gc78, which basically links all the various tweets about convention, is one of the most popular on Twitter. There are millions of people on Twitter and even more hashtags, so the fact that we’re trending is a pretty big deal. 

That's how I read the news about the election of the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry as the first African American presiding bishop. That's how I saw photos of a hundreds and maybe thousands of Episcopalians marching against gun violence. 

Every now and then I came across a tweet or statement about personal responsibility, however, that I found somewhat troubling. Things like "It is going to take a change of human hearts and not human laws to stop gun violence," or that it would be hypocritical to divest from fossil fuels as a church because “we are not personally committed” to giving up using energy from oil and gas and coal. (I should say here that I'm a proponent of divestment but what I'm going to say is relevant even if you disagree with me.) 

What troubles me is that these sentiments seem to eschew systemic action for personal choice and personal change. I feel strongly that it must and will take both to effect real change. Why should it be hypocritical to address systemic change through laws and policy without making a personal change, but not the reverse? This applies to gun laws and prison reform and climate change and racism and many other things. 

The Episcopal Church has made many great strides in recent years. But let’s not pretend that casting a vote for a female bishop, for example, is enough to do away with underlying sexism that exists in our society and in our church, nor does the fact that most of us don’t harbor racist feelings help the African Americans across the country who are still suffering from the effects of racist policies. 

In our increasingly connected church we have the opportunity to do great, worldwide work. I am so grateful and proud to be a part of this church. When we gather together in community, whether at General Convention or at our local churches, I hope that we can remember that God calls us to both think big and small, locally and globally. Let’s not limit God or ourselves. 

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