Dear Friends in Christ:
I recently saw the video of Brene Brown’s preaching at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. Brene is a writer and researcher who talks about what we need to thrive as humans in the world today and, most especially about the barriers to our own thriving. In the sermon she talked about why she goes to church and what she hopes to find in attending. She said she wants to sing with people she does not know, pass the peace with people with whom she disagrees, and share the rail with a community of faithful worshippers. I agree with Dr. Brown. And yet, as we continue to live in our small worlds of likeminded individuals I worry that we are losing the capacity to live together in community with those with whom we disagree.
The recent school shooting in Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida is again one more example of how hard it is to have a civil discourse about any type of violence in American society. I am deeply aware that when I share with you that I am a member of Bishops Against Gun Violence there are good Episcopalians in Oregon who mark me as too liberal for them. In what follows you will also hear a call to parishes and missions in Oregon to consider using their financial decisions to speak out on issues. If someone in the diocese disagrees with this invitation they may well be labeled too conservative. And we will most likely do all this labeling without any real dialogue with one another. I am troubled about this state of the church.
And yet, we must continue to speak our minds on issues that concern us, we must be willing to engage with each other and I believe we must sing the Lord’s song together, we must pass the peace with people we do not agree with and we must come to the rail together as one Body of Christ. This is good and challenging work.
At the present moment, the student-led calls for legal action, community protests, and economic boycotts highlight that gun violence is one of the most difficult topics we must engage with in our country. Each day, 96 people die from gunshot wounds*; for each of these deaths, two more people are injured. While horrific mass shootings at schools garner the bulk of media attention, seven children and teens are killed by guns every day. Whether due to homicide (13,000 deaths per year), suicide (62% of all gun deaths), or accident, we cannot turn a blind eye to the great tragedy of these lost lives. There is no single cause of gun violence and no simple solution, but as people of faith we covenant to strive for justice and peace among all people, respecting the dignity of every human life.
Part of that, as Bishop Michael points out, is in keeping Christian fellowship that bridges disagreements. Within our parishes, there will be various ideas about the place of guns in our country, and what constitutes responsible gun ownership, and what would be effective in reducing violence. Being in fellowship calls us to hope that, no matter what we each believe about this topic, we are all acting in good faith as we consider the kind of creative steps we might take individually, as parishes, and as the diocese.
On February 26, Christ Church, Lake Oswego announced that they will no longer engage the services of FedEx after that business decided to continue offering discounted rates and other shipping perks to NRA members. For diocesan investments, we follow the Episcopal Church policy, which encourages restrictions to avoid holdings in military/weapons-based companies. The diocese’s Socially Responsible Investment Fund is also designed to help create investment choices for parishes that can creatively reflect the gospel values which as members we prioritized during our 2017 Convention.
While individual actions may not seem to carry the weight of those done by organizations, the Rev. Jaime Sanders, priest-in-charge of Christ Church, St. Helens recognizes in the following reflection the moral imperative on her personally.
Being Called on BS: A Reflection on Investment Choices
In my first year of seminary, there was a weekend retreat at which we were given an art challenge: make a collage of your present relationship with God. There was a corner of my paper with a representation of a wall, and in that walled-off area was money. I was giving my life to the church – but I was keeping back the money in my IRA that I had accumulated through years of private law practice. That was to put my children through college, protecting my family’s standard of living to the extent possible given my loss of income. Of course, it wasn’t really walled off from God – much of it also went to pay seminary tuition, and now, after an M.Div. for me and a B.A. for a daughter, it is much depleted. But I still protect the remnant. I don’t sell it all and give it to the poor, for example, despite Jesus’ fairly clear directive and the example of early followers of The Way.
Money has its own laws, and I have tried to learn them. In my last month at my law firm, when the flow of new work to me had dried up, I made a study of investing, and devised an investment strategy appropriate for our expected needs and my personal appetite for risk. I moved my 401(k) to a Vanguard IRA, and have been proud that my returns matched various indices. Some of the money I put in a Socially Responsible Investing fund – but not all of it. I was hedging risks, as one of the laws of money dictates.
I just sold all of my remaining investment in the Vanguard fund that has done so well for me over the years. As a citizen and a Christian and a priest I believe that we need to put the lives of people above the profits of gun manufacturers. In the voices of the Parkland students, I hear Jesus’ voice. “We call BS” is 2018-speak for “‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” (Mt. 23:27). For me, I can no longer own a fund that might cause me to profit from the manufacture of guns.
In the next week or two I will be researching SRI funds open to individual investors. (ussif.com has a comprehensive list) This change is not make in the expectation that it will, in any way, change the strategies of companies. American Outdoor Brands’ CEO is not going to say, “My God! A small investor in Vanguard’s PRIMECAP Fund just sold her stake because it doesn’t screen out gun manufacturers! We better change our business strategy!” All it will do is move, in a small way, my money choices more in line with my values. To make me a little less of a hypocrite.
People of the diocese have different ideas politically, and different experiences with guns, but we join in prayers. May our prayers, and shared thoughts, lead to understanding, ideas, and action.
*Statistics from Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, http://www.bradycampaign.org/key-gun-violence-statistics accessed March 1, 2018.