Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Not-a-statement on Ferguson

As a bishop, I am a quasi-public figure, occupying a place on the long arc that eventually bends in the direction of celebrity. Within the constricted world of the Diocese of Springfield, and the slightly less constricted world of the Episcopal Church, and in some bits of Anglicanism beyond TEC, there are lots of people whom I do not know, but who know of me and a good bit about me.

Public figures from time to time make public pronouncements on matters that are either presumed to affect them peculiarly, or about which one might expect them to hold specialized information or unique knowledge, or about which their views might be considered generally significant. A few of my colleague bishops in the Episcopal Church, including the Presiding Bishop, have already “issued a statement” on the situation emanating from Ferguson, MO. It is entirely likely that more such statements will follow.

Mine will not be among them.

It’s not that I don’t have thoughts, feelings, and convictions regarding the tragic death of Michael Brown and the decision of the grand jury not to charge anyone with a crime in connection with his death. I have rather passionate opinions, as a matter of fact.

But that’s just the point: They’re my opinions. The opinions of Dan Martins, private citizen. Not the opinions of the Bishop of Springfield. The Bishop of Springfield has a teaching office, but–and I say this with utter respect and affection for my colleagues who have chosen to weigh in publicly on the situation as it emerges–while my teaching office has a great deal to say about the love of God made known to us in Christ, about the redemption of suffering through the mystery of the cross, about the dignity of every human being, about the reconciliation of those who are at variance and enmity, and about the eventual final triumph of justice and peace, it has nothing to say about whether the grand jury made a correct or incorrect decision, or about the conduct of the St Louis County prosecutor, or about the behavior of law enforcement authorities since Mr Brown’s death last August.

Dan Martins might have some things to say about all these matters, but the Bishop of Springfield does not–and, I will go so far as to say, ought not. Neither Dan Martins nor the Bishop of Springfield has any specialized knowledge about what really happened on that fateful afternoon last August. Fortunately, virtually no one cares what Dan Martins thinks, and that is as it should be, because, while he’s a reasonably smart guy, there’s a lot more that he doesn’t and never will know than he actually does know. A few more might care what the Bishop of Springfield thinks, because he is, after all, a quasi-public figure, a microcosmic celebrity. But pretty much all the Bishop of Springfield is either qualified or authorized to say about this or any other matter of public consequence is, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.”

There’s nothing new in that, and even less that is original. Some might consider it a cop-out. I look on it as my job. Christians of goodwill and an informed conscience can and do hold an astonishingly diverse range of views on matters of public policy and concern. The views of Dan Martins lie within that range. The view of the Bishop of Springfield is more singularly focused, and that is to bear witness to the resurrection of Jesus the Christ from the dead, because any aspect of human experience not seen in that light is not really seen at all. The private opinions of Dan Martins pale in significance next to it.

Anyway, that’s my story, and I sticking to it. No statement to follow.

9 comments:

Joe said...

Well said, Bishop Martins. Thanks you.

Fergie said...

"Christians of goodwill and an informed conscience can and do hold an astonishingly diverse range of views of matters of public policy and concern."

In the midst of your thoughts, thank for that statement. It is exactly how I feel. I wish other people, especially clergy (of which I am one) would make room for a diverse range of views, instead of insisting that if I don't hold their view, often a majority view in their eyes, I am somehow less faithful to Christ.

FrAndy said...

So, Bishop Martins, you choose not to make a statement on Michael Brown and Ferguson as it is not part of the work of the Bishop of Springfield. Fair enough. I disagree, but fair enough. Is it the role or part of the teaching office of the Bishop of Springfield to criticize his fellow bishops for making such statements? Or are those criticisms just the opinion of Dan Martins, private citizen? And, if they are just the opinions of Dan Martins, private citizen, then why is it appropriate to air your opinions in such a public way on this matter but not on Michael Brown?

Bishop Daniel Martins said...

No criticism of anyone is intended. I honor the informed conscience of my colleagues who have chosen to issue statements. What I wrote was offered as a explanation of why I have not/will not join them.

David Bailey said...

Well said! We live in a broken world, and what REALLY happened is known only to God and those who were direct eye witnesses. I only ask how we can contribute to reconciliation . . .

Rick Benson said...

Thank you Bishop Martins. Preaching the Gospel, not our agendas, really is what our call is about. God is quite capable of revealing the implications for social issues through the Word truly preached to those who are willing to be transformed by the Gospel.

robbbeck said...

Thanks, Bishop Martins.

I understand you point about distinguishing between the office of the Bishop and your personal feelings.

But I fail to understand this bit: "while my teaching office has a great deal to say about the love of God made known to us in Christ... it has nothing to say about whether the grand jury made a correct or incorrect decision, or about the conduct of the St Louis County prosecutor, or about the behavior of law enforcement authorities since Mr Brown’s death last August."

It has "nothing to say?" Should we take this to mean that the office of the Bishop deals with "spiritual" matters and all else is for the domain of the government?

Perhaps you're speaking about the particular minutiae of the case, but surely the larger issue of what Ferguson represents - systemic racism - does fall under the purview of any Bishop, as injustice is most surely a Gospel issue.

Many thanks in advance,

Robb

Dale Matson said...

"I honor the informed conscience of my colleagues who have chosen to issue statements." And your conscience is not informed? If it is informed and you chose not to speak then you are saying that it is not appropriate to speak. What about them? Why did you mention their names unless you think it was not appropriate for them to speak.

Jane Ellen+ said...

"...to bear witness to the resurrection of Jesus the Christ from the dead, because any aspect of human experience not seen in that light is not really seen at all." So, where is the light of resurrection seen in these events? Where is Christ present amid the violence, and sorrow, and systemic racism, and rage? How is the Holy Spirit living and active in all this? With respect, can you speak to that?