Sutton on marriage equality, dream act and other ballot measures

Bishop Eugene Sutton of Maryland has written a pastoral letter on several ballot measures in front of voters in his state this coming Tuesday. While reminding Maryland Episcopalians should vote their consciences, he makes the case for marriage equality (Question 6) and the DREAM Act (Question 4). He explains why he opposes expanded gambling (Question 7).

First, he reassures Episcopalians that he is not telling people how to vote. Their ballot choices have nothing to do with their status as communicants.

I want to assure you that The Episcopal Church considers what and who you vote for in an election to be an act of your personal choice, an expression of your responsibilities as a faithful child of God as well as an informed citizen of the state. We have too much respect for you and your conscience to tell you how you should vote; that to us would be an abuse of power that does not honor the way of Jesus.

Instead, I consider the role of bishop in public issues to be that of reminding the church and the public at large of our Christian tradition of 2,000 years of moral and ethical reflection on matters of social concern. In our Anglican way of moral reasoning, we make use of the resources of Holy Scripture, tradition and human reason, and bring them to bear upon the difficult issues of the day. It is in the spirit of continuing a dialogue with you – not silencing, excommunicating or closing off conversation with you, my brothers and sisters in Christ – that I present this pastoral letter as a communication from me to you, as chief pastor of a diocese seeking to shepherd his flock.

Expanded Gambling in the State

In 2008 the Diocese of Maryland voted in convention to oppose gambling legislation then proposed.

“The Catechism answers the question regarding our duty to our neighbor by defining our duty to be honest and fair in our dealings; to seek justice, freedom, and the necessities of life for all people, to resist the temptations to envy, greed, and jealousy. Gambling always has a detrimental impact on low and moderate income individuals and families…Proponents say that state-sponsored slot machine gambling will be used primarily for public education…in truth, it is a regressive tax on the poor.”

Currently, television ads on the Question 7 referendum tell us that jobs and more money for public education will happen if you vote ‘yes.’ But I ask, at what cost? What will be the effect of more gambling on our poor and desperate brothers and sisters seeking to solve their financial problems by “hitting the jackpot?” And do we really want our children’s educations to be funded by means that we know will cause so much hardship to so many families? The debatable good ends will not justify the costly means if this initiative is passed.

Maryland’s Dream Act:

Sutton refers to a previous pastoral letter on “Welcoming the Stranger.”

The Dream Act was passed by legislators and signed by the governor, but it is now before us for a referendum vote. Bishop Joe Goodwin Burnett and I issued a statement last June when the act was challenged and faced next month’s vote. We said in part: “We welcome with great joy the passage of the Dream Act in Maryland. We are the eleventh state to acknowledge and codify in law that undocumented immigrant children who were brought here often as infants or toddlers, are entitled to attend Maryland state colleges and universities at in-state tuition rates. These children are American in every sense except being born elsewhere. They often excel in their studies, sometimes even graduating as valedictorians in our high schools. This bill, signed into law on May 10, will allow such students to further their education and thus make an even larger contribution to our state and national economies….”

…Jesus reminds us what the Torah tells our Jewish sisters and brothers, that we must love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus identifies our “neighbor” as those who are unloved, scorned and unwelcome. What would Jesus say to us about the children in our midst – especially those innocently brought here not of their own doing? Well, what did he do in the New Testament? He held a little child in his arms, and said, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” (Mark 9:37)

On marriage equality:

We know that our sexuality is a gift from God, and sexual expression is to be celebrated in the context of marriage. We, like our brother bishops in the Roman Catholic Church in the 20th century, have expanded the purpose of marriage to include the mutual joy and love of the couple and not just for procreation – as it had been defined for centuries. Clearly our view of marriage has evolved over thousands of years since the time when women were considered property and men could “own” as many of them as he could afford either as wives or slaves for their enjoyment.

And now we face the question of whether the state should extend marriage benefits to those who find themselves oriented to same-sex relationships. There are fewer than a handful of Bible verses used by those opposed to same-sex relationships, and none spoken by Jesus. What we do know from the life and actions of Jesus is that he practiced a radical inclusion of those who are the “other,” who were marginalized and oppressed. I am one of those who believe our lesbian and gay sisters and brothers have been treated as second class citizens in our society.

Through the marriage equality legislation, our elected representatives seek to correct past injustices by extending the legal benefits of marriage to all citizens no matter their sexual orientation. This goes to the core of what it means to live in a democratic society, and it is an issue of basic fairness. There are theological and ethical differences about the mystery and gift of human sexuality, to be sure, but for me the bottom line is “to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.” (Micah 6:8) Will we do what the Lord requires of us on behalf of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents?

Bishop Sutton recommends a resource from the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, “Christian Principles in an Election Year,” to help inform their votes.

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