(Photo of Bishop Paul Jones from satucket.com)
(Originally posted on Speaking to the Soul, Sunday, September 2, 2011)
Reading for the feast day of Paul Jones, Sept. 4:
I Peter 3:8-14a
Bishop Paul Jones, one of the fathers of modern pacifism, is not a universally well known figure in our liturgical calendar, but his story is of interest in light of today's highly polarized political messages in the news and on the Internet.
Bishop Jones was elected Missionary Bishop of Utah in 1914 as the outbreak of World War I ensued. Although the United States did not enter the war until 1917, Jones was publicly outspoken against the war, as well as war in general, stating that war was un-Christian, and that war could not be reconciled with the teachings of Jesus. He clearly opposed Germany and alternatively lobbied for other means by which to show this opposition. However, his views cost him his see. Despite the fact that many laypeople and clergy were on record defending his right to speak his mind on the topic, even if they disagreed, in 1917, vestry members from two large Utah parishes, allied with the District Council of Advice, organized a campaign against Jones. A convoluted investigation ensued, and the commission's recommendation was that he resign. Jones did indeed resign in 1918. This, however did not deter his zeal for the Social Gospel, and he was instrumental in the formation of what is now the Episcopal Peace Fellowship.
Our reading from Malachi describes the refining effects of when we are called to speak the revealed truth. We may well have to endure the consequences of being unpopular, whatever the subject, but we are assured that we will live these consequences as a transformed person if we can only endure, with God's help. Our Epistle calls us to a spirit of non-retaliation in the face of evil--to avoid repaying evil with evil or abuse with abuse. Our Psalm reminds us that no evil is too great to be transformed into peace and reconciliation by God, and finally, our Gospel reading, short tidbit that it is, gives us words of assurance that the truth, no matter how unpopular, no matter how icky or painful, frees us to be unbound in the presence of God.
This message, and the message of the life of Bishop Paul Jones, is just as important today as it was at the time of World War I, and as it was in antiquity. The Internet has given any of us the power to be an instant pundit (and an anonymous one at that) through blogs, Facebook, and the comments section of news sites. How many times have we shied away from what we feel in our bones about the truth God has revealed to us about war, the Federal budget, poverty, or the right to hold unpopular opinions, because the majority voices surrounding us are so vitriolic or strident? How many times do we launch an attack on people who disagree with us that throws the issues in the ditch and goes straight for the throat of our worthy opponent?
In short, how many times, when discussing things of a political nature, have we disregarded our Baptismal Covenant, when we are asked, "Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?" and "Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?" Each of us can only answer that one for ourselves, with God's help, but on this feast day of Bishop Paul Jones, it's probably worth spending some time asking ourselves the question.