Dear Bishop Sutton,
You have suffered a terrible tragedy in your diocese, one that I believe was caused by illness and serious errors in judgement rather than by evil intent. My prayers are with all of you at this difficult time.
I write to tell you my appreciation for how you appear to have handled the publicity of information around this and your pastoral response to all involved.
It saddened me terribly to see the response by your predecessor who felt it appropriate to make a public statement exactly one day before the legal authorities made their public statement. It was a statement in which he felt it appropriate to pass judgement without the benefit of all of the evidence, violating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which affords everyone the presumption of innocence, and predetermining the outcome of the Title IV charges. While the Palermo family themselves respected the police investigation and did not comment, admitting they did not yet know all of the facts, why would a bishop of the Episcopal Church feel free to make such premature public statements?
While the evidence that has since been presented clearly implies that Bishop Cook is guilty of the crimes she has been charged with, we do hold that everyone has a right to be considered innocent until proven guilty. And that proof, whether in the courts of this country or in the courts of this church can only come after a thorough investigation has been completed.
Even if Bishop Ihloff had been privy to information that had not yet been released about the investigation, the charges themselves are still not proof of guilt. Furthermore, whether he has chosen to pre-judge another or if his words came from such confidential knowledge, perhaps his ability “to model a ‘wholesome example’” should be brought into question as well. Both condemnation of another without proof and speaking publicly about information that was confidential at the time violates “the basis of our trust” in the episcopacy.
While I agree that we all have a moral responsibility never to leave the scene of an accident, I, personally, am not willing to pass judgement on someone who may well have been in a state of shock (even if she had not been drinking or texting at the time) and may have acted irrationally for reasons unknown to us. We must wait for all of the evidence to be made known.
I am also appalled by comments I have seen both in response to Ihloff’s blog and on your Facebook page. The comments are so reminiscent of the mob mentality of “Crucify her! Crucify her!” that I despair of our Christian response to tragedy. If Bishop Cook is found guilty, she should be deposed and serve the sentence that is imposed upon her but let us wait until those decisions have been made. Regardless of the outcome, a man has been killed and a family and community have been devastated. Nothing will ever change that, nor will it change the fact that Bishop Cook’s own life and family have been destroyed. We should be praying for peace and healing, not vengeance.
As my friend and colleague, the Rev. Elizabeth Kaeton, has commented elsewhere, now is the time to remember our baptismal vows. We have committed to “strive for justice and peace among ALL people” and “to respect the dignity of EVERY human being.”
None of us can take the moral high ground without having lived in another’s skin. All we can do is seek justice, require accountability, pray and care for all who have been harmed, and leave the rest to God.
Thank you Bishop Sutton.
Peace and Blessings,
After my father died, I found he had kept my “Prayerbook for Little Boys and Girls” from my First Communion in 1965. Being a liturgical scholar and a Roman Catholic turned Episcopalian, I felt compelled to read through it. I didn’t expect to LOL but imagine my surprise when I read that after I receive communion
I return to my pew. I kneel very quietly. Jesus Is in My Heart. These are very holy minutes. They are very important. Jesus is with me. He will stay for about fifteen minutes.
Really? REALLY? You mean to tell me that the little wafer you just put on my tongue may very well stick to the roof of my mouth for a longer period of time than God will stay with me?
I don’t recall the impact this notion had on my seven year old mind at the time but I do recall another teaching that so baffled me I could not accept it, even at that young age.
I was taught that only the baptized would go to heaven and see God after they died. Sinners and those who had died unbaptized would go to hell and would never see God face to face. But there was a special place called Limbo for those poor unfortunate babies who died before anyone could baptize them. These babies wouldn’t suffer the torments of hell but nevertheless, they also would never see God. Really? REALLY? You mean to tell me that if a baby died without having someone splash water on its head and say a few magic words, that baby would never see God?
Although it’s more familiar because it was the church of my youth, it’s not just Roman Catholic theology or doctrine that stymies me. In recent years we’ve seen so many stories of members of the Westboro Baptist Church protesting at funerals of victims – victims of violence, of hatred or war – carrying signs saying things like “God hates fags” or “Thank God for 9/11” or “Thank God for dead soldiers.” Really? REALLY? You mean to tell me that your God rejoices in the loss of innocent lives? That your God hates any human being, or even has the capacity to hate?
Can God really be so small that he comes to you for only 15 minutes in a ritual sacrament, that he would toss aside a child for eternity, that he can hate someone because of who they choose to love (or because of the color of their skin or the way they choose to worship or their gender or their size, or any reason for that matter)? If that’s true of your God, I feel sorry for you because my God is too big to fit inside your tiny, narrow-minded, hate-filled, self-centered legalistic world.
We believe that we are created in the image of God but in fact, we also create God in our image. We must – it is the only way we can even try to comprehend God, to put God in terms that we can understand, relate to, believe in. Whether my image is as simplistic as the old white man with a gray beard (the good father image of an old-time theologian), a God who hates fags (because I hate fags), one who stays only 15 minutes (because that’s as long as I think I need to hang out), or even a big fat black lesbian (because I fit into one or any number of the above categories). Or whether it is something more akin to what we see in nature or something more ephemeral – God as Mother Earth (something that gives me life, that I can touch and experience with the senses) or the ideal all-encompassing image of love that we need to hold onto in order to feel that we are somehow worthwhile.
If I am created in God’s image, I am certain it is not because God is white or female or lesbian or Christian or impatient or rude or angry (all of which I am or can be). But if I am created in the image of God, let it be the love, the empathy, the willingness to give, the beauty, the joy of God that I can image in the world.