Two Prayers, Same Ethic of Jesus

Photo by Kentaro Toma

At a recent zoom meeting of my bishop classmates (all consecrated in 2012) we had a lively discussion around how we are called to lead in this chaotic and politically volatile time in our country. The bishop of New Hampshire, Rob Hirschfeld, pointed out that our Book of Common Prayer has two prayers “For Social Justice.” And they have quite different emphases. One is a “collect” found on page 260:

“Almighty God, who created us in your own image: Grant us grace fearlessly to contend against evil and to make no peace with oppression; and, that we may reverently use our freedom, help us to employ it in the maintenance of justice in our communities and among the nations, to the glory of your holy Name, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.”

The Book of Common Prayer, 260.

“Contend against evil and make no peace with oppression.” It is an inspiring call for courage and fortitude. Does that speak to your soul? It does to mine.

And yet there is another prayer “For Social Justice” and it is found on page 823 in The Book of Common Prayer. (It is on the same page as the prayer “For those in the Armed Forces of our Country”. When I was the Episcopal Chaplain at West Point we used to say both of those prayers on page 823 one after another every Sunday.) Here is the second prayer “For Social Justice”:

“Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart (and especially the people of this land), that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

The Book of Common Prayer, 823.

“Our divisions being healed.” Does that also speak to your soul? It is the work of reconciliation that our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry is always urging us to do.

“Make no peace with oppression.” “Our divisions being healed.” How do bring those two statements together ? We cannot make peace with racial injustice. We cannot make peace with policies of separating children from parents at our borders. We cannot make peace with the public health crisis of gun violence. We cannot make peace with environmental destruction.

And yet we are called to heal our divisions. We are called to respect the dignity of every human being – not just the people who agree with us. In the radical ethic of Jesus we are called to love those who disagree with us.

Those two prayers for social justice are both true. As followers of Jesus we live in that tension. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. did. He said this: “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” AND “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

My prayer for all of us is that we might hold both prayers “for Social Justice” together in our souls. And in our communities. And in our nation.