What is it that makes a person great, admired by creation,
well pleasing in the eyes of God? Love.
What is it that makes a person strong,
stronger than the whole world? Love.
What is it that makes a person weak,
weaker than a child? Love.
What is it that makes a person unwavering,
more unwavering than a rock? Love.
What is it that makes him soft,
softer than wax? Love.
What is it that is old,
older than everything and everyone? Love.
What is it that is new,
always up-to-date, relevant? Love.
What is it that never dies,
outlasting everything? Love.
What is it that perseveres,
when everything falls away? Love.
What is it that comforts,
when all comfort fails? Love.
What is it that endures,
when everything else changes? Love.
Adapted, abridged and paraphrased from Soren Kierkegaard, “Love Will Hide a Multitude of Sins” (1843), in Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses.
(An excerpt from a lecture on Encountering Ethics, which I taught in the Fall Semester, 2019.)
Anation without law becomes chaotic, even unlivable, with citizens having their rights violated and they, in turn, violating the rights of others. One of the functions of law is to create peace, which is the tranquility of an ordered society. That is why America is a nation governed by law.
The Moral Presupposition of Civil Disobedience
However, there are some laws which a person cannot, in good conscience, obey, because they contradict what he or she believes. To follow such laws would mean that a person is not being true to himself or herself, that is, his or her deepest beliefs and values.
Obedience, then, is limited by the very fact that a human being has a conscience. Civil disobedience presupposes that one cannot obey a law, because it is unjust, not morally right. Martin Luther King, Jr., referring to Augustine of Hippo, writes, “‘an unjust law is no law at all.’”
King believes that laws permitting segregation and discrimination are wrong and, as such, not valid laws. Therefore, they are not morally binding. In other words, a person has no obligation, in conscience, to obey such laws.
The Civil Rights Movement
Such reasoning is behind the protests of the Civil Rights Movement in the late 1950s and 1960s. In Birmingham, Alabama, Martin Luther King, Jr. led a public demonstration, protesting policies of segregation and discrimination in that State. In his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” King defends his doctrine of civil disobedience, saying, “I can urge men to disobey segregation ordinances because they are morally wrong.”
The laws in Alabama promoted discrimination and segregation. But King would not accept the simplistic notion that law, by virtue of the authority of those who made it, was morally right. He writes, “We can never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was ‘legal’” and that “It was ‘illegal’ to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany.” Hence, legally, discrimination and segregation were right but, morally, they were wrong.
The Non-Violent Approach to Civil Disobedience
Civil disobedience is most effective, gains the attention of civil authorities, when it is peaceful or non-violent. Men and women should do everything within their power to resolve a conflict peacefully. Nevertheless, as citizens of the United States, they have the right to criticize local, state and federal branches of government. As Abe Fortas, former Supreme Court Justice, says,
“From our earliest history, we have insisted that each of us is and must be free to criticize the government, however brashly; even to advocate overthrow of the government itself. We have insisted upon freedom of speech and of the press and, as the First Amendment to the Constitution puts it, upon ‘the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.’”
Accepting the Consequences of Civil Disobedience
Since King went to jail for civil disobedience, his words are especially meaningful, because he wrote in the Birmingham jail itself, “One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty.” There is, then, a legal penalty for civil disobedience and those who break the law must be willing to accept its consequences, such as being arrested and going to jail.
What Civil Disobedience Does Not Mean
Civil disobedience does not mean immediately rushing out into the public and protesting a law, because a person or group disagrees with it. There is a political process leading up to civil disobedience and protesters should not attempt to circumvent it. Democracy in the United States presupposes that rational men women will use words (hence, freedom of speech and the press), not resort to violence, to change unjust laws. Violence as a method of civil disobedience begets counter-violence, resulting in social chaos. Therefore, there is neither philosophical nor moral support from Dr. King’s doctrine of civil disobedience and peaceful protests for violent protests and the destruction of property. In reality, such acts are distractions, undermining the legitimate reasons for the public protests themselves.
Abe Fortas, Concerning Dissent and Civil Disobedience (New American Library, New York, N.Y.: 1968), p. 24.
Racism is still racism,
whether it comes from white or black persons.
It is equally wrong for whites and blacks.
No exceptions! Racism is still racism,
whether is directed at white or black persons.
It is equally wrong for persons of every color.
Ultimately, racism is rooted in the human heart,
not in a person’s color.
The heart, not a person’s color, needs purification. Nationalism is still nationalism,
whether its advocates are white or black.
It is equally wrong for whites and blacks.
Ultimately, nationalism is rooted in the human heart,
not in a person’s color.
The heart, not a person’s color, needs purification. Hate is still hate,
whether whites hate blacks or blacks hate whites.
It is equally wrong for whites and blacks.
Ultimately, hate is rooted in the human heart,
not in a person’s color.
The heart, not a person’s color, needs purification.
Neither politics nor government can purify the heart.
Only love can do that,
the love of God and neighbor:
To purify the heart is to “see” black and white persons
with new eyes, the eyes of love.
To purify the heart is to “see” black and white persons
with new eyes, the eyes of human equality.
“Create in me a pure heart, O God.”
For the following article, I am indebted to the insights of The Question of God, by psychiatrist Armand Nicholi (1927 – 2017).
Using the Church for Political Purposes
In Christian theology, the church is both human and divine. It is, of course, an empirical truth that the church is a human institution. As such, she takes on certain cultural dimensions, depending on where she exists. The church also transcends all cultures, because she is a divine, spiritual organism. Therefore, because the church is both in culture and beyond it, the church cannot and should not officially align herself with only one political party.
Using God for Political Purposes
However, Christians, who are members of the church, can and, at times, do politicize God. In other words, because they are staunchly devoted to a particular political and governmental perspective, they are inclined to absolutize it, making it equivalent to God’s will for humanity. That is to say, they project their political views on God. So, for example, if they are socialists, they want to make God into a socialist. Similarly, if they are communists, then God must also be bound up with their commitment. Likewise, if they are committed to capitalism, then God must also be a capitalist.
Because God, the Supreme Being, is infinite, without human limitations; transcendent, not confined to creation, and eternal, not bound by time, he cannot be completely identified with any national, political and ideological perspective. It follows, then, that God is neither a cosmic capitalist nor a cosmic communist; he is neither a cosmic republican nor a cosmic democratic. Nor does God belong only to the people of the United States of America, as if the Supreme Being were a cosmic nationalist and imperialist, favoring America over all nations.
Using Jesus for Political Purposes
The same principle of politicizing is at work when it comes to Jesus of Nazareth. This happens, for example, when communist Christians interpret the Bible from a communist perspective, thus, making Jesus into a champion of communion. But it also happens when capitalist Christians interpret the Scriptures from a capitalist perspective, thus, making Jesus into a champion of capitalism. Both approaches are misguided and so are their respective interpretations. Both commit the hermeneutical error of eisegesis, which is “reading into” the New Testament a meaning that is not intended by the sacred authors.
The Remaking of God
In the Jewish Scriptures, there is a passage in which the Lord rebukes his people for creating him in their image, saying, “You thought that I was just like you” (Psalm 50:21, NASB). While humans do, in fact, form their image of God, there are instances in which that can be dangerous. Psychiatrist Armand Nicholi rightly observes,
“Our tendency to distort and create our own God, sometimes a God not of love but of hate, may explain why, over the centuries, people have committed, and continue to commit, ungodly acts – even acts of terrorism – in the name of God.”1
In other words, finite human beings cannot put the infinite “God in a box” and make him into what they want him to be. According to Nicholi, a person who believes or even does not believe in God, should be careful that his or her concept of the Supreme Being is not a “distortion of Him.”2
Application to Other Religions
I have applied the notion of politicizing God to my religion, which is Christianity, but it can just as easily be applied to other religions, such as Judaism and Islam. My main point, then, is this: Religious people can and, at times, do use God to advance their political interests, thus, creating the Supreme Being in their image.
Armand M. Nicholi, Jr., The Question of God: C. S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex and the Meaning of Life (New York, N.Y.: Free Press/ Simon and Schuster, Inc., 2002), p. 244.
“You who are young, be happy while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth” (Ecclesiastes 11:9a, NIV). In read that text in my class; the students rejoiced at the sacred author’s words. However, I went on to point out that the author also reminds his readers that “youth and vigor are fleeting” (Ecclesiastes 11:10b, BSB). In other words, from the moment a human being is conceived and born, he or she is constantly changing, in the process of becoming older. Once the process has begun, the only way it comes to an end is in death.
Every human being, then, is inexorably aging. Younger people should keep that in mind, because unless their lives are cut short by some kind of tragedy or illness, they, too, will become old. One day, they will long for the respect from the young, just as the older generation now yearns for respect from the younger generation. Thus, whether young or old, human beings, in general, want to be respected and acknowledged as persons.
Wisdom is learned or acquired, primarily, from three sources of information: First, from God; specifically, studying the spiritual and moral instructions of his word; second, from prayer, talking to God, seeking his guidance about how to live well with and among other human beings; and, third, from experience, life itself, learning one’s strengths and weaknesses. In particular, a wise person seeks to be an effective communicator, knowing what to say, where to say it, when to say it, how to say it and when to remain silent.
Content of Communication: Knowing What to Say
The sage or author of Proverbs teaches that it takes wisdom to choose the right words in communicating with someone. As the sage writes, “The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil” (Proverbs 15:28, NIV). The Hebrew word (yehgeh) translated “weighs” may also be translated “considers,” “muses,” “meditates” or even “studies.”1
Impulsivity: Not Thinking before Speaking
It is unwise, being relatively easy, to blurt out words freely, unthinkingly and carelessly. Instead, a person’s words should be filtered through his or her brain. As another sage or wise person, Sirach, who lived in the second century B. C., says,
“Oh for a guard (NRSV) to be placed over my mouth
and a seal of discretion to close my lips,
to keep them from being my downfall,
and to keep my tongue from causing my ruin!
Lord, Father and Master (NRSV) of my life,
do not abandon me to the tongue’s control,
or, because of it (Paraphrase), allow me to fall”
(Ecclesiasticus 22:27-23:1, NEB; cf. 1:29b).
Similarly, Sirach writes, “Be quick to listen, but take time over your answer” (Ecclesiasticus 5:1, NEB). “Knowing what to say” is the content of communication, using the right words to express clearly one’s thoughts or ideas. Listen, first, non-defensively to understand what the other person is saying, not with the intention to debate, proving that he or she is wrong. Then, after an understanding what has been said, a reply or response may be given to him or her. Therefore, a wise person thinks before speaking, choosing his or her words carefully in communicating with others.
There is another reason for wanting wisdom to know what to say, which is “He who guards his mouth and his tongue keep himself from calamity” (Proverbs 21:23, NIV, 1984 ed.). Likewise, Sirach writes, “Honour or shame can come through speaking, and a man’s tongue may be his downfall” (Ecclesiasticus 5:13, NEB). It is not wise, then, to be too wordy, speaking too freely and unthinkingly around others.2 Thus, a person should use words cautiously or carefully, even guardedly, watching out for what he or she says, because those who are listening might use with the speaker’s words against him or her.
Location or Situation of Communication: Knowing Where to Say It
Knowing where to speak relates to the right place or context for communicating with someone. For example, when the religious leaders discover a woman in the act of adultery and bring her before a crowd to punish her, Jesus waits until the crowd disperses; then, in private, he admonishes her to stop her behavior (cf. John 8:1-11). Saying something to a person in the wrong place, say, around other people, may embarrass or even humiliate him or her, resulting in a failure to communicate with him or her.
Timing of Communication: Knowing When to Say It
The sage teaches that it requires wisdom, which is the proper insight into a person’s situation or need, to speak the right words at the appropriate or right time, saying, “A person finds joy in giving an apt reply – and how good is a timely word!” (Proverbs 15:23, NIV; cf. 10:32). A similar proverb says, “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” (Proverbs 25:11, NIV, 1984 ed.). Speaking the right words at the right time is satisfying, both to the speaker and the person to whom they are spoken.3
Likewise, Sirach writes, “The wise man is silent until the right moment, but a swaggering fool is always speaking out of turn” (Ecclesiasticus 20:7, NEB). Therefore, it requires wisdom to know when to speak words that are fitting to a person’s situation or problem.
The Manner of Communication: Knowing How to Say It
Knowing how to speak refers to the right manner of delivery, that is, the way a person comes across in communicating with to others, being, for example, respectful and gentle, as opposed to, say, being condescending and angry. The apostle Peter, for example, instructs believers on how to communicate with others, namely, “with gentleness and respect” (I Peter 3:15, NIV). Similarly, the apostle Paul refers another manner of communication, which is “speaking the truth in love” Ephesians 4:15, NIV).
Knowing How to Answer an Angry Person
The sage teaches that arguing or yelling at a person that is already mad is the wrong way to address him or her, saying, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1, NIV). The wise person learns not only to control his or her passions or desires but also his or her mouth. For instance, in a moment of anger, being offended or hurt by someone’s comment or action, a person should not speak. Rather, he or she should, first, wait for the emotion to subside, becoming calm; then he or she can think rationally or clearly to communicate with the offender.
In Proverbs 15:1, the Hebrew word translated “harsh” literally means “hurtful.”4 Responding to an angry person with offensive, hurtful words, evokes or provokes him or her, adding, as it were, “fuel to the fire,” making his or her anger even worse and prolonging it. In a similar proverb, the author writes, “A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but the one who is patient calms a quarrel (Proverbs 15:18, NIV). It takes wisdom, then, to know how to answer or address a person.5
The Silence of Communication: Knowing When to Refrain from Saying It
The author of Proverbs teaches that it is wise to refrain from speaking, especially when an “argument” or disagreement becomes “heated,” highly charged emotionally, saying, “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise” (Proverbs 10:19, NIV, 1984 ed.). In a similar proverb, the wise person author writes, “Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent” (Proverbs 11:12, ESV). Still another proverb says, “It is to one’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel” (Proverbs 20:3, NIV).
Sirach writes, “Answer a man if you know what to say, but if not hold your tongue“ (Ecclesiasticus 5:12, NEB). Similarly, the sage says, “A reproof may be untimely, and silence may show a man’s good sense” (Ecclesiasticus 20:1, NEB). Silence “speaks!” In other words, not saying anything is “saying” something; no communication is communication; or no response is a response, namely, a non-verbal response. It takes wisdom to know when to remain silent.
A prayer to communicate wisely might be as follows:
Grant me the wisdom to know what to say, where to say it, when to say it, how to say it,
and when to remain silent,
which itself is a form of communication.
Allen P. Ross et al. “Proverbs,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 5: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids, MI.: Zondervan, 1991), p. 1000. Also, to convey the wrong words to someone prevents communication from occurring. They “shut down” the conversation, with the him or her refusing to listen any further.
John G. Snaith, The Cambridge Bible Commentary on the New English Bible: Ecclesiasticus, eds. P. R. Ackroyd, A. R. C. Leaney, et al. (New York, N.Y.: Cambridge University Press, 1975), p. 69.
Allen P. Ross et al. “Proverbs,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 5, op. cit., p. 998.
Sid S. Buzzell, “Proverbs,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, eds. John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck et al. (USA, Canada and England: Victor Books, 1985, 5th printing 1988), p. 937.
Allen P. Ross et al. “Proverbs,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 5, pp. 992, 997.
What do human beings need now, living in the midst of all the death and pessimism from the Coronavirus pandemic? Edification, which is the up-building of other persons in mind, body and spirit! Edification presupposes, according to Soren Kierkegaard, “possibility,” the latent or hidden human potential in persons to change for the better.
How ennobling, how worthy of human dignity, it is to see the good, perhaps even in the best, in others, calling them up to be more than what they are. How easy, how weak, how jaded in mind and spirit, it is to see only the negative things about others, underestimating and, thus, degrading their value as persons.
To underestimate others, then, is to think less of them, to make less of them as persons. To overestimate them is to make them into better persons or the best they can be. Thus, a person, by his or her attitude toward others, may be an occasion to bring out the best or worst in them, or, perhaps, nothing at all.
Edification Draws upon the Divine Potential in Others
A person’s view of others is often shaped by his or her world view. In other words, if a person believes that others are destined by God to be great, then he or she treats them according to that belief, raising them up, that is, requiring more of them, the best they have, at the moment, to offer. But if he or she does not have faith in the positive potential of human beings as divine-like creatures, viewing them as “nobodies” or, even worse, indifferently, then he or she has no expectations for them and, thus, simply settles for how they are.
Edification Makes a Meaningful Difference in Others’ Lives
Now, it is certainly not wrong to accept others for whom they are. But persons are not only “human beings” but also “human becomings.” In others words, they shape and, hopefully, change their lives for the better by someone’s encouragement and the choices they themselves make.
Here, then, in a nutshell, is my philosophy of edification:
If I can encourage others; if I can build them up; if I can refresh their discouraged souls; if I can bring out the best in others; if I can see the good in them, despite their faults; then I have, in some small way, changed the world, for to change other persons for the better is to make a meaningful mark on the world.
Every day I read from the Book of Psalms. The reading appointed for today is Psalm 72, which describes government under an ideal king. However, by way of application to people living today, the sacred text may refer to the ideal leader of a nation, such as a king, queen or president, even a governor or senator. “For,” writes the poet,
“he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight” (Psalm 72:12-14, NIV).
Thus, a leader, such as anyone who has been elected or appointed to an office of government, should be interested in social justice, that is, in caring for the economically vulnerable, so that their needs are not trampled upon by the economically advantaged.
With so much racial injustice and economic oppression of the poor today, it is well to ask: What are our nation’s leaders doing about those moral-economic issues? If those in positions of authority are not doing anything, then it may be concluded that they are not interested in social justice. There can be no true, lasting peace in a nation without justice. Thus, if leaders want peace, they must work for justice.
In the Prayer Book, there are references to the word “Catholic.” For instance, in the Apostles’ Creed, Anglo-Anglicans confess their belief in “The Holy Catholic Church.”1 Another example is the Bidding Prayer, which refers to “Christ’s holy Catholic Church.”2 Still another example is the prayer for God’s “holy Catholic Church.”3 The Prayer Book, then, teaches Anglo-Catholics that they are members of the Catholic Church.
Who are Anglo-Catholics? They are Anglicans. The word “Anglican” means “English.” Thus, Anglo-Catholics are Christians who have an English liturgical and theological heritage. They can trace their beliefs back to the Church of England. Anglicans may or may not be Episcopalians, for although Episcopalians are Anglicans, not all Anglicans are Episcopalians.
The Meaning of “Protestant”
The Anglican Church is “Protestant,” but only in the legal, historical sense of its meaning from Maryland in 1780, when the title was proposed and adopted by the Episcopal Church to distinguish it from the Roman Catholic Church. But the word “Protestant” itself is often too simplistic in attempting to describe Anglicans. E. J. Bicknell, an Anglican scholar, explains why:
“The popular antithesis of Catholic and Protestant is often misconceived. All true protest against error is based on a knowledge and love of truth. A Catholic love of truth is bound to protest against all error that limits or denies the truth.”4
The First Meaning of “Catholic”
When the Eastern and Western bishops met together at the Second Ecumenical Council, the First Council of Constantinople (381 A. D.) to write the second part of the Nicene Creed, they used the word “Catholic” to describe the Church, saying, “And [we believe] on one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.”5 In church history, the first meaning of “Catholic” referred to the Undivided Church of the East and West, which was united in a common faith.
Typically, Anglicans, especially Anglo-Catholics, accept the teachings of the Undivided Church, the Church of the first millennium of church history. From the Day of Pentecost, when the Church of Christ was born, to the Great Schism in 1054 A. D., the Church was truly Catholic: one in faith and doctrine, even though there were liturgical differences between the Eastern and Western Christians.
The Second Meaning of “Catholic”
Must Anglicans be under the authority of the pope to be Catholic? Not necessarily! Although all Roman Catholics are Catholics, not all Catholics are Roman Catholics. For example, millions of Christians in the Orthodox Church are not under the authority of the pope. But that does not mean they are not Catholics. In fact, Orthodox Christians are Catholics. But they would not regard themselves as Roman Catholics. Similarly, Anglicans are Catholics but they are not Roman Catholics.
The English Rite of the Church
There are several Rites in the Church. For example, Firmilian, Bishop of Caesarea (circa 256 A. D.), writes,
“[C]oncerning the celebration of Easter, and concerning many other sacraments of divine matters, … there are some diversities among them, and … all things are not observed among them alike, which are observed at Jerusalem, just as in very many other provinces also many things are varied because of the difference of the places and names. And yet on this account there is no departure at all from the peace and unity of the Catholic Church.”6
A Rite, then, refers to a form or worship (liturgy) of a group of people who belongs to a certain ethnic or geographical location. Anglicans are a Western Rite, namely, an American, English Rite, deriving their liturgy from the Church of England. Liturgies from different Rites in the Church can be translated into the English language. But the Anglican Liturgy is truly English, because it comes from English-speaking people in England and America.
The Catholicity of the English Reformers
In the 16th century, there was a Reformation in the Church of England. However, the intent of the English Reformers was not to start a new Church but to return to the faith of the primitive Church, the Undivided Church. Anglican liturgical scholar Stephen A. Hurlbut, referring to the English Reformers, wrote, “Their appeal in matters of liturgy as well as theology was to that which was Catholic as opposed to Roman, and to the early Fathers as opposed to medieval scholasticism.”7 In other words, the basic thrust of the English Reformers was to be Catholic, but not necessarily Roman Catholic.8
In at least two respects, Anglo-Catholics are Reformed Catholics, following the tradition of the English Reformers, not the Continental Reformers, such as John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli. First, Anglo-Catholics “deliberately retained the title ‘priest.’”9 In other words, they retained a sacerdotal ministry, accepting the Catholic teaching on Holy Orders, particularly, an ordained priesthood and apostolic succession.
Second, the center of worship for Anglo-Catholics is the altar, not the pulpit; the re-presentation of the sacrifice of Christ by the priest, not the sermon.10 Of course, reading and preaching the word of God are important to Anglo-Catholic worship. However, the most important aspect is receiving the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ. As Jesus himself says, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:54, NIV).
The Third Meaning of “Catholic”
Anglo-Catholics are constantly reminded that Christ has founded the Catholic Church and that they belong to her when they confess, in the words of the Nicene Creed, “We believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.” Thus, Jesus Christ founded the Catholic Church, because she is “from ever tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9, NIV). The Gospel is to be preached “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8; cf. Matthew 28:19). The mission and ministry of the Church are universal in scope and, therefore, the Church is Catholic.
1The Book of Common Prayer, 1928 American ed. (New York, N.Y.: The Church Hymnal Corporation/ The Church Pension Fund, n.d.), p. 15.
4E. J. Bicknell, A Theological Introduction to the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England, 3rd. rev. ed. (New York, N.Y.: Longmans, Green and Co. Inc., 1955, 1961), p. 247.
5“The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed,” in The Second Ecumenical Council: The First Council of Constantinople (381 A. D.). 2016. Translated by Henry Percival. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 14. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace (Buffalo, N.Y.: Christian Literature Publishing Company, 1900). Revised and edited by Kevin Knight. New Advent. [Web:] http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3808.htm [Date of access: 6 June 2016].
6Firmilian of Caesarea to Cyprian of Carthage. 2016. Epistle 74, 6. Translated by Robert Ernest Wallis. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 5. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe (Buffalo, N.Y.: Christian Literature Publishing Company, 1886). Revised and edited by Kevin Knight. New Advent. [Web:] http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/050674.htm [Date of access: 6 June 2016].
7Stephen A. Hurlbut, The Liturgy of the Church of England Before and After the Reformation (Grand Rapids, MI.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1941), pp. 1-2.
8Edward Lambe Parsons and Bayard Hale Jones, The American Prayer Book: Its Origins and Principles (New York, N.Y.: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1937), p. 29.
9E. J. Bicknell, A Theological Introduction to the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England, op. cit., p. 336. The reason the New Testament did not use the Greek word for priest (hiereis) to describe Christian priests was “… to avoid confusion with the Jewish and pagan priesthood” (ibid., p. 335). Cf. Claude Beaufort Moss, The Christian Faith: An Introduction to Dogmatic Theology (New York, N.Y.: Morehouse-Gorham Co., 1943, reprinted 1949), p. 287: “The Continental Reformation rejected or dropped the principle of apostolic succession (except in Sweden),” that is, bishops, by virtue of their consecrations, are successors of the apostles, tracing a straight link back to them throughout history. But the English Reformation retained apostolic succession.
10Claude Beaufort Moss, The Christian Faith: An Introduction to Dogmatic Theology, op.cit., p. 290.
Introduction: Unequal Treatment of Women under the Law
In the 18th and 19th centuries in America, women were excluded, for all practical purposes, from the meaning of the phrase “all men are created equal.” For instance, only men could vote. Only men owned property. Men, not women, had control of the money they earned. Men, not women, could be educated in college. Women were treated as the property of men. For such reasons, the Women’s Suffrage Movement began in the 1850’s, with Susan B. Anthony (1820 – 1906) as one of its most prominent leaders. She argued that women are not inferior to men and should be included in the meaning of the phrase “all men are created equal.”
On November 5, 1872, Anthony’s belief in equality was tested in Rochester, New York, when she voted in the presidential election. A couple of weeks later, on November 18, she was arrested for voting illegally. At her trial on June 19, 1873 (the third day of her trial), she was found guilty of breaking the law. Before her trial, she would travel, speaking to audiences in Monroe and Ontario counties, arguing for women’s rights, particularly, their right to vote, quoting the Declaration of Independence,
“‘All men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. Among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.’”
Anthony’s Explanation of the Meaning of “All Men are Created Equal”
Anthony explains the meaning of “all men are created equal,” saying,
“Here is no shadow of government authority over rights, nor exclusion of any from their full and equal enjoyment. Here is pronounced the right of all men, and ‘consequently,’ as the Quaker preacher said, ‘of all women,’ to a voice in the government. And here, in this very first paragraph of the declaration, is the assertion of the natural right of all to the ballot; for, how can ‘the consent of the governed’ be given, if the right to vote be denied.”
By the words of the Declaration of Independence, says Anthony, “kings, priests, popes, aristocrats, were all alike dethroned, and placed on a common level politically, with the lowliest born subject or serf.” Thus, the Declaration affirms the equal rights of all human beings. Women, argues Anthony, are human beings and should be placed with men on “the proud platform of equality.”
Arguing from the equality of all human beings in the Declaration, she confirms its truth by quoting the Preamble to the Constitution of the United State, which, in part, says,
“’We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and established this constitution for the United States.’”
In other words, Anthony maintains that the same theme of human equality in the Declaration is affirmed in the Constitution. However, instead of phrase “all men are created equal,” the wording of the Constitution is “We the people of the United States.” As Anthony writes,
“It was we, the people, not we, the white male citizens, nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed this Union.”
According to Anthony, for the United States of America, a democratic-republic, to deny women the right to vote is to change the very nature of the government itself, making it “an oligarchy of sex, which makes father, brothers, husband, sons, the oligarchs over the mother and sisters, the wife and daughters of every household.” Such a government, Anthony asserts, makes “all men sovereigns, [and] all women subjects.”
Anthony’s Reply to the Male Pronouns Argument
Next, Anthony replies to the argument that because of the wording of the Constitution and State constitutions in America, only male citizens can vote. She introduces and answers the argument as follows:
“But [if it] is urged, the use of the masculine pronouns he, his and him, in all the constitutions and laws, is proof that only men were meant to be included in their provisions. If you insist on this version of the letter of the law, we shall insist that you be consistent, and accept the other horn of the dilemma, which would compel you to exempt women from taxation for the support of the government, and from penalties for the violation of laws.”
Her reply is a reductio ad absurdum argument, making it evident that the government would certainly not allow women to be exempt from paying taxes and breaking its laws. For Anthony, “he” includes “she” and “his” includes “hers.” Her point, then, is that constitutional documents apply to men and women. Thus, women are persons, citizens of the United States, equal to men under the law and, therefore, have a right to vote.
Justice Hunt’s Verdict at Anthony’s Trial
At Anthony’s trial, Justice Hunt, without a word from the all-male jury, pronounced her guilty of breaking the law. He then gave her an opportunity to speak before the court. She replied, in defiance of the verdict,
“Yes, your honor, … you have trampled under foot every vital principle of our government. My natural rights, my civil rights, my political rights, my judicial rights, are all alike ignored. Robbed of the fundamental privilege of citizenship, I am degraded from the status of a citizen to that of a subject; and not only myself individually, but all of my sex, are, by your honor’s verdict, doomed to political subjection under this, so-called, form of government.
“Your denial of my citizen’s right to vote, is the denial of my right of consent as one of the governed, the denial of my right of representation as one of the taxed, the denial of my right to a trial by a jury of my peers as an offender against law, therefore, the denial of my sacred rights….”
After repeatedly attempting to silence Anthony, Justice hunt imposed on her a fine of $100.00, plus “the costs of the prosecution.” But she refused to pay it, calling it “unjust.” She condemned the government’s “man-made, unjust, unconstitutional forms of law, that tax, fine, imprison, and hang women, while they deny them the right of representation in the government.” Then, in defiance of Hunt’s ruling, she said,
“I shall earnestly and persistently continue to urge all women to the practical recognition of the old revolutionary maxim, that ‘Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.’”
The “Fight” for Women’s Rights to Equal Treatment under the Law
For Anthony, it is one thing for a government to make splendidly abstract statements, such as “We the people of the United States” and “all men are created equal,” but it is quite another for that same government to recognize and apply the inclusive and universal meanings of such statements to all its citizens, including black and white men and women. Women’s rights, of course, are human rights. However, the advancement of human rights often involves much struggle. By her own experience, Anthony recognized that and, therefore, concluded her speech to the citizens of Monroe and Ontario counties, saying,
“[W]e propose to fight our battle for the ballot — all peaceably, but nevertheless persistently through to complete triumph, when all United States citizens shall be recognized as equals before the law.”
Roughly 47 years later, and several years after her death in 1906, Susan Anthony and Women’s Suffrage Movement finally prevailed on August 18, 1920, with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which reads, in part,
“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”
In honor of Anthony’s long, arduous efforts to advance the right of women to vote, the United States Senate calls the Nineteenth Amendment “the Susan B. Anthony Amendment.” Unfortunately, the ratification of the Nineteenth and Fifteenth Amendments did not, once-for-all, settle the issue of all American citizens being able to vote, because in some States, many African-American women and men were still denied the right to vote. That leads me to stress still another point, which is that the advancement of human rights is an ever-evolving struggle to be recognized and treated as human beings. Hence, on August 4, 1965, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act and on August 6, 1965, President Johnson signed it into law, so that citizens of any color, in any State, have the right to vote.
Indeed, all men and women are “created equal,” but they certainly are not treated equally. That is why the struggle for human rights, which is the struggle to be treated as human beings, will continue as long as humankind inhabits the earth.