This morning, I was privileged to speak at the Pre-session Interfaith Prayer Service. Our new Governor, Mark Gordon, and several legislators were in attendance. Thanks to Matt Potter for the pictures. Below is the text of my speech.
Political division is not new to our country. But the animosity between people with different views has intensified. There is so much fear and people seem less capable of being able to speak respectfully or listen earnestly.
This morning, we have gathered representatives of various faiths and worldviews. It is a wonderful vision to see. Even in our diversity, many of us share the belief that each person is created in the image and likeness of God. This belief means that each person has an immeasurable value, not because he or she is favored by the majority or the powerful, not because he or she can contribute to society. Your inherent value would exist, even if no one on earth wanted you.
As the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams once wrote, “The reverence I owe to every human person is connected with the reverence I owe to God, who brings them into being and keeps them in being. I stand before holy ground when I encounter another person – not because they are born with a set of legal rights which can be demanded and enforced, but because there is a dimension of their life I shall never fully see.” The Archbishop later continues, “It means that there are no superfluous people, no ‘spare’ people in the human world. Everyone is needed for the good of all.”
Many of our brothers and sisters do not share this theological belief but can still see, that if we hold that an individual’s value is not intrinsic, but is instead assigned by others, then we stand upon the ultimate slippery slope.
In such a setting, politics become not just one important aspect of the social realm, they become the most important aspect; whereby, individuals instinctively understand that their only hope for security is power, gaining it and maintaining it. And anyone who enjoys the slightest advantage in power, becomes a threat. In my tradition, such worship of power is called idolatry. As long as security within our country depends upon power, then the tribalism and the animosity within it will only get worse.
We pray for political solutions that will prevent the next act of mass violence. We will continue to preach about the intrinsic value of human persons, but as long as there is a single law that enables the willful destruction of human persons, our young people will notice. They are far more interested in what we do than in what we say. What they have learned from such laws so far, is that the value of individuals can be set by those with power.
But it does not have to be this way.
Mathew Kelly tells a story in one of his books about a man who entertains his son by tearing a picture of a map of the world out of a magazine. He tears the picture into many pieces and tells his son that if he can put the map back together again, he will give him 20 dollars.
He thinks he has just bought himself time to focus on his work. But five minutes later, his son comes back with the map put back together again. He is amazed, and asks his son how he put it back together so quickly. His son said, “I didn’t know what a map of the world looked like. But I noticed on the backside of the pieces, there were parts of a person’s face. I know what that looks like. So, I put the face back together and then turned the puzzle over.
To me, politics seem as complicated as the map of the world was to that little boy. But the dignity of human persons is not so complicated.
If we stay focused on the faces, if we resist euphemisms that veil human dignity or veil the violence being perpetrated against them, we stand a far better chance of getting the world right.
The intrinsic value of human persons provides a solid foundation to build upon. It prevents a government from coming to the false conclusion that it has the power to bestow human dignity. A just government merely protects what has been there from the beginning.
So my prayer is that all of us present this morning will recognize, that regardless of circumstance, everyone has a right to be. And because of this, we are all responsible for each other. May the Lord grant us the grace to always speak respectfully, listen earnestly, and seek to see the immeasurable value of every person, including those who happen to disagree with us. Amen.