The Rev. Michael Sullivan: Responding to the Rhetoric

Don't get me wrong: I understand why so many people are condemning the political rhetoric of recent years in light of the shooting in Arizona. When politicians, or those that want to be, place crosshairs on political opponents or actually call for the use of Second Amendment freedoms against their foes, something is deeply, deeply amiss in our society. Such words are not innocent; they are wrong, but the real lesson here hits much closer to home.

The Church has listened to this rhetoric and done nothing. As a priest, I confess my own lack of courage and will. I have failed to call evil, evil. I have failed to stand against violence. I have failed to do what is necessary for the Church's faithful witness. My sermons have been too safe, allowing my worries to focus on those who criticize the hymn or the flowers or the whatever you name it, instead of the evil before all of us. When the prophetic voice called, I turned away. I have stood idly, allowing many to make the terms "political" and "moral" synonyms, meaning if it's "political," "stay away, pastor." I have feared being called liberal, conservative, or in between. I have let my faith be nothing more than a status quo embodiment of the social church, marching through the ages, quite comfortable with herself even as her numbers and relevance in the world declined like a rock cast from a cliff. "O God our help in ages past" has become more descriptive than we want to admit.

I have stood silent in my own state of Georgia as over 800 children died in 2010 at the hands of violence. In my own city, Atlanta, I have failed to raise a voice knowing that over 400 children are sexually traded in our city each and every weekend of the year, most of them multiple times. Their "customers" don't just arrive in airplanes; over 50 percent of them come from our Northern suburbs. When students kill one another in schools, I write a prayer worthy of print for our comfortable services, being careful not to offend. When people arrive from Westboro and demonstrate hatred in the name of religion just a couple of miles from my home, I say nothing because they did not show up on our own property. The threat of "You are being political" has silenced me.

While I too want to find someone to blame, someone at a safe distance that anchors a television newscast or screams into a radio every day, someone conservative or liberal, I cannot. Sarah, Glen, Rush, Howard, Jon, and whoever else is out there are easy targets to avoid my own sin. The end to violence does not begin by blaming them, it begins at home. It begins with you and me.

You and me. It really is that simple. ‘So you that truly and earnestly repent of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbors, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from this day in God's holy ways: draw near with faith, and make your humble confession to Almighty God, devoutly kneeling."

This priest is on his knees. I hope you will join me in confession, and in turn, in changing the world.