Thursday, May 13, 2010

Jim Lewis: A Prophet and A Priest

Jim Lewis: A Prophet and A Priest
Fr. Paul B. Bresnahan

Many of us were stunned to learn that Jim Lewis’ license to officiate has been revoked by the Bishop of West Virginia. I had learned of this action earlier and like many others, have wondered why it was necessary to take this action.

The matter has an unfortunate feel of “overkill” to it. While this is, on the surface, an internal matter between Bishop and Priest, there is another level that is of concern to a wider audience.

Jim Lewis has filled a prophetic role for years in the public arena, providing advocacy for the hungry, the homeless, the poor, and the disenfranchised. He has spoken with courage and resolve for peace and justice. And while many disagree with Jim’s politics, his methods and his rather direct and uncompromising style of confrontation, few have questioned Jim’s right to speak as forcefully as anyone else speaks in a nation where we treasure freedom of speech and vigorous exchange of ideas.

The prophets are like that in Biblical tradition. They were not soothsayers like Nostradamus, but voices crying out in the wilderness for justice. From Amos to Isaiah, from Jeremiah to John the Baptist, the prophet has spoken out with courage, and often to mixed reviews. In our own time, we have been blessed with folk like Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela. Again they often played to mixed reviews. But nonetheless they spoke out often risking life and limb by the courageous use of their voices. By their nature, the prophets are supposed to make us squirm. But they have played a role throughout history in bringing glimpses of the Peaceable Kingdom to earth.

To be sure Jim’s voice has not been silenced. Nothing can do that! But Jim has a few years on him now, and it seems a bit over the top to revoke his license to be a priest for us. That’s what makes this matter so uncomfortable for so many. We hope that this is for a short time perhaps, and that his right to be in our midst as a prophet and a priest will be speedily reinstated. It seems desirable that the principals should come together and reach out for an accommodation as a necessary next step, and among reasonable adults should not be too difficult to arrange. Does the scripture not say; “Come let us reason together”? (Isaiah 1:18). We hope and pray that just such an accommodation will be reached with all deliberate speed.

Jim’s place in the life of the Diocese of West Virginia is of great value. Throughout the area, hearts await the news that this uncomfortable situation can be resolved. We hope these hearts will soon be gladdened with just such news.

Paul Bresnahan is an Episcopal Priest presently semi-retired in the Diocese of Massachusetts. He served for a time at St. Mark’s, St. Albans and was also involved in work with the homeless, the hungry, and vulnerable folk in our society.