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Saturday, April 05, 2008

"Those who cannot remember the past . . .

. . . are condemned to repeat it."
George Santayana.

Fifty-seven years ago today, on April 5, 1951, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were sentenced to be executed in the electric chair having been found guilty of conspiracy to commit espionage in relation to passing information on the American atomic bomb to the Soviet Union.

The couple was executed at sundown, before the beginning observation of the Sabbath (so as not to offend their Jewish heritage!), in the electric chair at Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Ossining, New York, on June 19, 1953.

Reports of the execution state that Julius died after the first application of electricity, but Ethel did not succumb immediately and was subjected to two more electrical charges before being pronounced dead.

The chair was designed for a man of average size, and Ethel Rosenberg was a petite woman. This discrepancy resulted, it is claimed, in the electrodes fitting poorly and making poor electrical contact. Eyewitness testimony (as given by a newsreel report featured in the 1982 documentary film The Atomic Cafe) describes smoke rising from her head.

While controversy still swirls, in some circles, around their innocence or guilt, Ethel Rosenberg's charge of conspiracy to commit espionage, it is clear, was used as a leverage to try and get the names from her husband of others who were involved. If anything, she was guilty by association with her husband.

While their devotion to the Communist cause was well documented, the Rosenbergs denied the espionage charges even as they faced the electric chair. Nevertheless, their conviction helped to fuel Senator Joseph McCarthy's investigations into anti-American activities by U.S. citizens - one of the most tragic and shameful chapters in American history.

The Rosenberg's case stands as a powerful parable of what can happen when fear informs and rules our judicial and governmental process. We live in a Age of Anxiety, fueled by the memories of September 11, 2001. The War on Terrorism is being waged at significant cost to our freedom. The resultant Patriot Act is an insult to the constitution and citizens of these United States of America, whose freedom it claims to protect.

The church can learn a great deal from the Rosenberg's as well. Fear is a powerful, blinding force.

We have been facing fear of schism. Not to worry. The time of the Great Schism has come and now is. Witness the diocese of San Joaquin, Pittsburgh, and Fort Worth.

What? Did you not see the sky fall? Right. That's because it hasn't. And, won't. Honest.

We are facing fear of protracted, costly legal battles. The legal battle in the Diocese of Virginia is now estimated to have exceeded the obscene number of $4 Million, which has only gotten us to arrive at the place where the State of Virginia has recently ruled that the case of the CANA congregations may now proceed.

Really, that's all that has happened, despite the shouts of "Alleluia's" from the Right side of the church. It's akin to the judge denying a motion to be dismissed. Let those who have eyes, see.

We are facing fear of the changing nature and character of Anglicanism and, some might add, the very future of the Anglican Communion. Some see the establishment of an Anglican Covenant as the antidote to the problem. In truth, it is a band aid solution to the rift caused by the Evangelical petulant insistence on the imposition of its agenda on the Church.

As we move toward Lambeth in July of 2008 and General Convention in Anaheim in July of 2009, it is important to remember that fear is a debilitating force.

"Perfect love casts out fear," St. Paul reminds us.

It is important to keep our present troubles in context. Those who do not remember the history of the first Reformation are condemned to repeat it.

This is the second wave of the Reformation of the Church. We are finally dealing with "things left undone" from the first round.

The presenting issue of our day may be one of human sexuality, but we must remember that it was the same issue, in terms of a male heir and the matter of marriage and divorce, which was the catalyst that prompted the first Reformation in England.

It was so for Jesus in his day. Mark's gospel reports that one of the first issues the Sadducees questioned Jesus about was not so much about the resurrection, as the resurrection draped in the issue of human sexuality.

See: Mark 12:18-27: "In the resurrection, whose wife will she be? For the seven had her as his wife."

Jesus says to them: "Is not this why you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God?"

It is this living God, this resurrected Jesus, whom we meet on the all the roads to all the Emmauses of our life. This is the One who is Perfect Love, who will cast out fear, if we only open our eyes.

It's an important lesson on this day in history, remembering the story of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, and what fear can do to the human heart and mind and soul.

As I reflect on our journey toward Lambeth, which is not exactly the Road to Emmaus, I pray that it will be, nevertheless, a place were our eyes will also be opened to see Jesus in our midst - even in the bishop who has not been invited to attend - as well as in the LGBT people from around the world who will be present there, casting out their fear for their personal safety and seeking only to embody Perfect Love.

If you haven't already done so, I urge you to scroll back to the top of this blog and click on the video of the four-fold Franciscan blessing from Bishop Gene Robinson. May we be so blessed that we may be a blessing to the church.


Paul Davison said...

I think this was the weakest part of TEC's case. It will fade from memory when the courts find that the statute is an unconstitutional intrusion by the state into the affairs of a church.

Essentially, the statute says that every church in Virginia is to some extent congregational. Logically, what if St. Swithin's Catholic Church decided by congregational vote that it didn't want to follow Rome? The same principle would apply. That's why the statute is unconstitutional. The courts have said that the First Amendment prohibits state interference like this in religion.

michael.hartney said...

Correction re: what court has ruled. It was a Commonwealth of Virginia court, not a federal court. Eventually it will be heard in a federal court but not until it has been appealed through the Virginia courts.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thank you, Michael. Duly noted and corrected.

Jim of L-Town said...

As a pro-life, anti-death penalty individual I agree that no one, but God, has the right to determine who lives and who dies.
How one can be anti-death penalty and pro abortion is beyond me.


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I am pro-life: I value the life of every person and respect the dignity of every human being - especially women- in compliance with our baptismal covenant, to choose what is best for their own lives and those they care for and love.

Anonymous said...

The law in question is the Virginia Division Statute (~57-9). It states:

57-9. How property rights determined on division of church or society.

A. If a division has heretofore occurred or shall hereafter occur in a church or religious society, to which any such congregation whose property is held by trustees is attached, the members of such congregation over 18 years of age may, by a vote of a majority of the whole number, determine to which branch of the church or society such congregation shall thereafter belong. Such determination shall be reported to the circuit court of the county or city, wherein the property held in trust for such congregation or the greater part thereof is; and if the determination be approved by the court, it shall be so entered in the court's civil order book, and shall be conclusive as to the title to and control of any property held in trust for such congregation, and be respected and enforced accordingly in all of the courts of the Commonwealth.

B. If a division has heretofore occurred or shall hereafter occur in a congregation whose property is held by trustees which, in its organization and government, is a church or society entirely independent of any other church or general society, a majority of the members of such congregation, entitled to vote by its constitution as existing at the time of the division, or where it has no written constitution, entitled to vote by its ordinary practice or custom, may decide the right, title, and control of all property held in trust for such congregation. Their decision shall be reported to such court, and if approved by it, shall be so entered as aforesaid, and shall be final as to such right of property so held.

(Code 1919, § 40; 1972, c. 825; 2005, cc. 681, 772.)

Paul, the Virginia statute says that every church is Virginia is congregational when there is a recognized division in the church. That is why 815 is doing its best to say there is no division. But the initial ruling is that there is a division. Hence the case goes forward.

This will all make an interesting constitutional battle. The Episcopal Church will certaily hope the Catholic Church joins its side to say 57-9 violates the 1st Amendment.

But there are also a slew of churches that have split under the guidelines of 57-9 that will stand by CANA's side.

As for the 1st Amendment, does it violate the 1st Amendment when parties to a religous dispute ask the government to resolve their dispute?