A letter to the saints
NOTE: Father Karl Burns of All Saints Church wrote the following message to his congregation last week. A parishioner sent it to us and Father Burns agreed for it to be reprinted.
To All the Saints, “I wish it need not happen in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live in such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that has been given to us.” -- J.R.R. Tolkien (a tip of the hat to the Rev. Dr. Kendal Harmon) I find myself sympathizing greatly with Frodo, for he was given a great task in the face of great chaos and conflict.
He desired to live in his town of Hobbiton, in his ancestral home of Bag’s End, and celebrate a carefree life with his friends while enjoying the fruits of his uncle’s labors. Truthfully, I too wish to spend the rest of my days in the friendly town of Florence, pastoring a growing flock, and enjoying my life with those who think and believe just as I do. It would be idyllic to just sit back and enjoy things as they are, but that time has passed.
In the light of the events of Charleston, as well as the ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States, legalizing same sex marriage, I believe that Gandalf’s reply to Frodo is one we must be prepared to answer—and I will place it in the form of a question: “what will we do with the time that has been given us?” On the morning of Wednesday, June 18th, I was in a state of shock and shame on hearing of the taking of nine lives at Mother Emmanuel Church on Calhoun Street in Charleston.
The senseless taking of nine brothers and sisters in Christ engaged in the study of God’s word horrified and angered me, but truth be told I was also embarrassed that this would happen in my state, in a city I once lived, and within the boundaries of the Diocese of South Carolina. God, however, used this sinful pride to convict me of my ignorance, racial slothfulness and acceptance of the status quo. On Thursday, June 19, I was invited to attend an ecumenical service at Mt. Zion AME Church and I found myself having to introduce myself to every African American pastor.
As I write this letter, I am ashamed to tell you that I do not have one single social connection, relationship, or even acquaintance with any clergy in Florence of different skin color. I do not consider myself a racist and was blessed to be taught by my parents that all people are equal and that we are all loved equally by Jesus, but I now realize that I have chosen to be around those who look and act just like me. As the service began, we were told by the pastor, the Rev. Julius McAllister that he was thankful for the Florence Police Department and the chief of police who had swept the church earlier in the morning for weapons and bombs, and my mouth fell open.
I have never been in fear for my well-being while worshiping, studying or having fellowship in a church. When I walked into Mt. Zion the idea of danger or being threatened was not a thought or a concern; yet after this was announced, I realized that those who had welcomed me so warmly at the door, who loved me before I ever loved them, were gathering with considerable more risk than if we had gathered at All Saints. This simply has to change.
I have spent considerable time in prayer and have had several conversations with folks about this and I am convinced that we are not called to do something token or reactionary, but to begin simply by forming relationships with those who live in different neighborhoods, who may attend a different church, or who may look and act differently than we do. It means that we recommit ourselves to walking around our neighborhoods and praying, and it means intentionally planning to be the hands and feet of Christ in the neighborhoods in which we are planted. It means that when we are planning on events or programs at All Saints we begin by asking how we can include others who are different from us.
This idea of forming and maintaining Christian relationships will also be important as we face a new era in our culture because the meaning of marriage has been redefined. On Thursday, June 25th, the Supreme Court of the United States declared that same sex marriages would be legal and recognized in all fifty states. I am greatly concerned about this ruling and I stand with the Diocese and Bishop Lawrence on the view that God has ordained two states of life for His people, singleness or Holy Matrimony – the joining together of one man and one woman into a holy union.
By affirming this position, I believe, as stated in the Diocesan press release last week that I stand firmly under the authority of Holy Scripture, in continuity with the two thousand year history of the church, and in accord with the vast majority of Christians around the world. The Bible envisions Holy Matrimony as the life-long, exclusive union of one man and one woman (Jesus speaks to this in Matthew 19:4-6). While Christians, like others, experience failure in realizing this vision, it is nevertheless the standard we profess and toward which we strive.
I believe that marriage, like all areas of life, can be redeemed, and that by God’s grace all married people can be enabled to live into its unique calling. Therefore, it is clear that while the Supreme Court may be changing the civil definition of marriage, it has no authority over Holy Matrimony and the Church’s blessing of the union between husband and wife. I don’t believe that this ruling will be beneficial to our culture and will ultimately hurt many families. I believe that many will suffer as people become refugees awash in the sea of a sexually charged culture grasping for intimacy and satisfaction that can only be found in Holy Matrimony.
We must be ready to be able to articulate a Biblical view of marriage and embody a Christ-centered marriage culture. We must accept people where they are and love them into a position to hear and receive the Gospel. As much as I disagree with the decision, it gives us an opportunity to serve as a beacon of light in a dark culture. Let us not shy away from others who may think or believe different than us, and let us not hesitate to point to others to what the Bible says about God’s design for men, women, and families.
Let us commit to prayer, to learning more about God’s Word, and considering how we again can reach out to others who are not members of All Saints. Let me close by saying that this letter is not meant to end all conversation on the topic, but to be a beginning of dialog and prayer on these very important issues. I want to encourage you to come and talk with me, especially if you are conflicted or in disagreement. God Bless Fr. Karl Burns