The Diocese of the Western States
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for The Synod Consecration Mass for +Scott Mitchell, April 23, 2021
O God, who art the author of peace and lover of concord, in knowledge of whom standeth our eternal life, whose service is perfect freedom; Defend us thy humble servants in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in thy defense, may not fear the power of any adversaries, through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
OUR MORNING COLLECT seems paradoxical: that the service of God could ever be perfect freedom. To submit to the will of another can’t be freedom, and might in fact be bondage. That’s the cry of the human will. And, of course, it’s wrong.
It’s tough being God, a perfect and all powerful Being who has made us for freedom, yet wants us joined with Him, and that may only be done if we’re perfectly in His will. There is a thin line drawn from one edge of the universe to the other, less than an atom wide, and upon that line stretch the arms of our Saviour. How can He make us His own, and still allow us life, and with abundant life, grant us our freedom?
It’s the same problem that faces our nation and political systems, the same issues originally faced by our founders who were attempting to forge a civilization of self-governing people, without kings. Every other nation on earth had been founded on power: whoever had the power, ruled in his own might. Our nation was founded on Truth, and the Truth was self-evident, but could only be seen and held by a people who were by choice Under God. No others could rule themselves. They would always fall to power. As we are seeing today.
It’s merely a distraction to pit Left against Right and cheer for one against the other. The terms liberal and conservative don’t serve us anymore. The mask is slipping. For in both directions, at either hand, the farther you move right or left, the closer you get to the same place, and that place is totalitarianism, a tyrannical rule by absolute power, caring nothing for any of us. Hitler was no different from Stalin, Mao, Idi Amin, or Saddam Hossein. And death followed soon after, death to millions.
The jackboots and iron fists of Nazism, the hammer and sickle of Communism: these stood for nothing in principle, only absolute control of the population. Their rulers were always fearful that such masses might turn and assassinate them. Control by brute force and fear is tenuous. People with nothing to lose may sacrifice their lives for the freedom of their children. The American patriots did so. Tyrants, like Nero or Herod, dread at every moment an uprising of their slaves.
Techniques of mind control are employed to control people’s lives and keep them willfully supporting their own oppression. A science of cult-like psychology uses this simple formula to keep people in line. First, people must be isolated. Social groups, supportive families, churches, or independent schools threaten the supremacy of an all-powerful state. People must feel alone, in need, perhaps fearful for their health or safety before they’ll submit to controls imposed by others. Both manufactured threats or natural disasters may be taken advantage of.
Next comes the big lie. Vladimir Lenin said that a lie told often enough becomes the truth. In the Newspeak described in George Orwell’s 1984, people were taught to mouth the mottos: “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” If you are pressured to repeat a lie that defies your own reason, while yet in order to fit in and be accepted necessitates you to say it: then yours is a terrible choice—to speak the lies, and try to accept them as truth. In time, your mind stops objecting and you will believe anything you’re told.
Today’s Chinese government has the most advanced computer system on earth, geared to monitor every facet of the lives of 1.4 billion people. They watch and score every computer click, every meeting, every place each person goes, on facial recognition, every facet given a plus or minus score. The Chinese people know that their ability to travel, seek work, send their children to good schools, and to live well depends on voluntary compliance. No violence need be done to them. Being a good citizen is mandatory for a good life. Mind control is not freedom. And today, China is offering to set this system up for us. I’m not kidding.
Like human rulers, God has a problem. The problem is us. He needs our obedience, but not for His own sake, rather it’s for ours. He gave us negative and positive commandments and, you know, the very first one wasn’t negative, wasn’t about not eating fruit. He first commanded us to be fruitful, multiply and subdue, or rule, earth for Him. He only sets negative commands at the outer markers, where we could really get hurt or harm others. The positive commands are central. Love God, love others, that’s where it’s really at. But we wander off, lose interest, become alienated, and fall for bad ideas. We’re not standing for Him if we fall for what the world dishes out. The world is dishing out a new kind of totalitarianism.
The old style ruled with terror and fear. This new version is serving up pleasure, it’s technological wonders never cease. Young people I see every day outside walk next to others, all of them faced down in a tiny screen. You punish your child by taking away his cellphone for an hour. The world punishes us by taking down our Facebook page. Today’s soft tyranny issues privileges for compliance, and denies access for saying something they don’t like. No agents or guns, yet. But you feel the power, that hideous strength, and you have little say in what you’re being offered. All the time, they gather data on all your habits, to offer you quicker search results, suggested goods to buy, easier ways to pay.
We just found out this past year how unimportant churches are to our government. But the church in America actually suffers from too much of everything, too many Bible translations, too many programs, too much comfort and convenience. During COVID, we invented pajama Zoom church. We’re not feeling oppressed. But we did feel them flex their muscles at us. It may still be against regulations for us to be singing here today. What does code orange mean anyway? Historically, what has brought the Church back alive in other lands and cultures was real persecution.
I have two women in my church who are about my age, one from Yalta in the Crimea, and one from China. They both clearly see America sliding down into what they had escaped from. And they are both vibrant Christians—you couldn’t persuade them away from Jesus, no sir.
We may need to start practicing a kind of gentle Christian dissent and live disciplined lives. A dark time is in front of us. If that’s so, the examples of Christians previously living under tyranny will help us. If it is so, we’re going to have to learn to stand. St. Paul’s Armor of God directs us Christian soldiers to wear protection, and then to stand. To stand is to plant your feet where you are, maintain, defend, and oppose the encroachment of our spiritual enemy. There is nothing he can do to you if you stand, whether for the Creed or the Star-Spangled Banner. No one can move you off your square.
And: don’t live by lies. Great lies are being spoken–-you know what I mean, ‘there is no fixed gender, America was not founded on Christ, mathematics is racist,’ shall I go on? These are the lies we are supposed to repeat, despite our misgivings, that make us liars, knowing liars, just to be approved, to find acceptance. College graduates are indoctrinated in them. Don’t ever repeat lies: just lovingly speak truth to power.
And remember the greatest positive commands that uphold all others, to love God with everything you’ve got. That’s hard, so we must pray to have that. And love people. Then there’s Christ’s new command, to love all Christians just as He loves us, sacrificially. These are your weapons: stand, speak truth and love. When you are armed with these, they can’t conquer you.
Scott: you’ve served your country well in many ways, public safety and law enforcement, and now priesthood: all done for others. No one is a former cop, I know, but a cop who has retired, and is still a cop. It’s that discipline we’re calling out of you that may help us all to stand, to speak and to love. Your backbone will take quite a load.
It’s easy to be right. Jesus was always right. But He was always filled with love, and that cost Him. He gave all and kept giving.
The episcopate may be a surprise for you. We are men under authority first. Being under the authority of God the Holy Trinity, and then of your Archbishop and Ordinary, you will also be empowered to do God’s will. His will is always to benefit us. You will balance your obligation of defending the faith with the care of the wounded. You were the thin blue line. Now, like Christ, you will be stretched on His infinite line across the universe, far thinner than that blue line, and in that line you join His suffering.
Stand where you’re assigned, and nothing can defeat you. We are to fear nothing, even death, for the privilege of loving Christ out loud. Live not by lies, but speak the truth in love, salted with the wisdom that will be given you, at need, from above.
And love all people. Even when they are dead wrong. Love just the same. You have no idea how much power that brings.
The infinite narrow line between our freedom and God’s dominion is found in the God-made-man, Jesus Christ. This insoluble problem has been solved by the One who alone could bridge the worlds apart, and as the gate, He opens wide the doors of our freedom. The firmament above and below become one in Him, and in Him, with Him, we join this world with His kingdom.
You now are to become a prince in that kingdom, and we welcome you, brother.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.