Yesterday marked the beginning of my twentieth (20) year since I was consecrated as a Bishop. It also marked my 39th revolution around the sun. In all that time, I have never seen the kind of hatred, bigotry, and racism that I have seen in the last couple of years. And this week, that hatred, bigotry, and racism touched our sister parish in Flourtown, PA.
Bishop St George, the pastor of Saint Miriam Parish arrived at the parish to find the parish had been vandalized. They had damaged one of the Saint Francis statues and torn up the “Hate has no home here” sign. It is sad that someone destroyed a sign calling for an end to hate because of the hate in their heart. They destroyed a statue of the saint who said, “Let me be an instrument of your peace.”
This person had so much hate in their heart that they could not see the great irony of their actions. They could not see that they were damaging the very church who would welcome them into the fold with open arms and not condemn them for their past.
At Saint Francis we have seen our share of hate. I get hate mail on a regular basis. I even had someone advocate for branding other human beings by tattooing their crimes and sins on their foreheads. And sadly, they did this in the middle of Mass, right in the middle of my homily on forgiveness!
We have allowed hate to overrun our society and it is creeping into our churches. We as a church have a moral obligation to stop it. It is our responsibility to call it out, to shine the light on it wherever it resides. Sometimes we have to turn away people who damage those seeking refuge in the church. It does not mean that we love them any less, it does not mean that we hate them. No, it means that we must protect those in our flock from the hatred and bigotry that resides in them. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 5 Saint Paul tells us that sometimes we have to remove those who are disruptive and dangerous to the church as a whole.
We will continue to love them from afar and to pray for them. Even those who vandalize and damage our parishes. But we cannot give hate a home in our parishes. This is why we have the Covenant at Saint Francis. It is a pledge to build up the community while leaving behind the hatred, bigotry, and damaging behavior that we have all experienced in other churches.
And at Saint Francis we will continue to love everyone while still protecting the body of Christ from hate and violence.