Welcoming Dreamers the Obvious Choice

This op-ed piece originally appeared in the Morning Call on January 29, 2018. 

The current political morass in Washington has thrown light on a deep and ugly divide in our country and in our faith communities on the issue of immigration.

More than half of white evangelical Christians — a group that gave 81 percent of its votes to President Trump in the 2016 election — say that immigration is a threat to this country’s “traditional customs and values.”

In the same survey, conducted by Public Religion Research Institute in 2015, 70 percent of Hispanic Catholics say that immigration “strengthens American society.” Other Christian groups fall in between, but only among white evangelicals does the majority report being threatened by immigration.

Proponents of these sharply contrasting views are on center stage as Congress prepares to negotiate what Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York called “a global agreement” that will include the fate of the young people who live in this country under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program initiated by President Obama in 2012 and ended by President Trump last September.

Under DACA, some 800,000 children who were brought to this country illegally by their parents were protected from deportation thanks to renewable two-year deferments. The program also made it possible for these young people, popularly known as Dreamers, to receive work permits.

The politics of immigration are complicated, but as an Episcopal bishop who graduated from Grove City College, a bastion of evangelical higher education in Mercer County, I believe that the teachings of the Christian faith along with those of the world’s other great religious and ethical traditions make it clear that we must protect the vulnerable, provide for those in need, and, when necessary, sacrifice from our own substance to fulfill this duty.

To pick just two of the manifold scriptural examples from my own tradition:

In the 23rd chapter of Exodus we read these oft-quoted, yet seemingly forgotten, words, “You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”

And in the second chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, we read that Jesus and his parents had to flee their homeland to escape a king who wanted to kill the Christ child. We do ourselves and our faiths a disservice if we pretend that these stories and teachings have no meaning for us today.

Dreamers, like every human being, are created in the image and likeness of God regardless of their immigration status or country of origin. They deserve a chance to live full lives in the only country most of them have ever known. They deserve to live free from fear of deportation to a country whose customs they may not know and whose languages they may not speak.

Even as I make this argument, however, I realize that not all hearts are changed by a clergyman’s appeal to our common membership in the family of God. So let me offer another verse, this one from Matthew 7: “Thus you will know them by their fruits.”

Thanks to DACA, about 685,000 people are currently working in this country, paying taxes and contributing to the economic life of our communities. In several Rust Belt cities, DACA recipients, refugees and immigrants have repopulated failing neighborhoods and revived the community’s economic fortunes.

A study last year by the Center for American Progress estimated that the loss of all DACA recipients from the workforce would reduce our country’s gross domestic product by $460 billion over the next 10 years. Pennsylvania, home to nearly 6,000 DACA recipients, would lose more than $357 million each year.

Christians and all people of goodwill are called to do the right thing, even if it hurts. In this case it helps. Our choice is obvious.

The Rt. Rev. Sean Rowe is bishop provisional of the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem and bishop of the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania.

107th Diocesan Convention Wrap-Up

This year’s convention had it all: business, programming, guests from Western New York, some surprises, and even a little dancing (check out Facebook for that!).  The first surprise of the weekend came from the Standing Committee, who issued a proclamation at the start of business that this convention was being held in honor of the Rt. Rev. Sean Rowe’s tenth consecration anniversary.

Guests from the Diocese of Western New York, including the Rt. Rev. William Franklin, joined us for a day and half of programming led by the Rev. Canon Scott Slater, who guided the conversation on the possibility of a shared future using the Daring Way methodology of Brene Brown.  Many delegates remarked that they found the methodology useful in framing the conversation and enjoyed the time getting to know new people both from Western New York and our own diocese.

At the banquet, Paul and Lane Nelson, members of St. Mark’s in Erie, were honored with the Bishop’s Cross, which is given to those in the diocese who have contributed to the diocese over a significant number of years and in a variety of ways.  Also at the banquet, Bishop Sean was surprised with a video honoring his ten years as bishop, with contributions from people in the diocese, as well as outside the diocese including Presiding Bishop Michael Curry.

Elections were held for a variety of offices. The Rev. Jason Shank was newly elected to the Standing Committee, with Jack Malovich being re-elected to the lay seat on Standing Committee.  The Rev. Erin Betz Shank and Ed Palattella regained their seats on Diocesan Council and the Rev. Matthew Scott and Bob Guerrein regained theirs on the Constitution and Canons committee.

The 2018 budget and assessments, as well as the 2018 minimum stipends for clergy were passed as presented.

It was announced that convention next year will be held jointly with the Diocese of Western New York, regardless of any decisions made about a shared future.  Convention will be held October 26-27 at the Niagara Falls Convention Center in Niagara Falls, NY.

A huge thank you to our host committee of St. Mark’s, who did a fabulous job welcoming everyone to Erie and sharing a wonderful worship service with us.

All of the passed resolutions and materials from other presentations can be found on our website.

See you next year in Niagara Falls!

Exploring Our Future

September 22, 2017

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:

Last weekend at a meeting of the clergy of the Dioceses of Western New York and Northwestern Pennsylvania, Bishop Franklin announced that he will retire on April 3, 2019, as required by the canons of the Episcopal Church. His letter, which you can read here, says he has returned from sabbatical “full of energy and ideas that we will explore together over that time.” Chief among those ideas, as we discussed with the clergy of both dioceses, is the possibility of our dioceses sharing a future.

At our upcoming diocesan conventions, we will propose that we spend the next year convening discussions among leaders across our region about how we might create more opportunity for mission by working together. This process will culminate in October 2018, when our dioceses plan to meet together for a joint convention in Niagara Falls.

If our discussions in the next year are fruitful, as we hope they will be, we would anticipate that in 2018, the Diocese of Western New York would elect Bishop Rowe as its bishop provisional for five years beginning in April 2019, when Bishop Franklin retires. During the first three years of the partnership, our two dioceses would work together to deepen our relationships and develop shared mission priorities. In October 2021, we would re-evaluate the partnership and then, in October 2024, decide whether we wanted to continue it beyond the five-year mark.

In proposing a partnership between our dioceses, we are not seeking simply to save money, although we believe that will be possible, and we are not aiming just to share a bishop. We believe that our dioceses have complementary strengths and challenges, and that together we are well suited to respond to God’s call in our region. Our communities share an industrial past, a Rust Belt culture, and a love for the natural beauty of the Lake Erie watershed, and our congregations are home to resilient people who know that by working together and staying focused on mission, we can weather uncertain times and a changing church.

Between now and our conventions—October 27 and 28 in Western New York and November 10-11 in Northwestern Pennsylvania—we hope that you will join us in praying about the opportunity we have before us and thinking about your hopes, concerns, and questions. We look forward to being together soon and to embarking on this year of discernment about the future that God has in store for the people of both our dioceses.


The Rt. Rev. R. William Franklin                               The Rt. Rev. Sean W. Rowe
Bishop of Western New York                                     Bishop of Northwestern Pennsylvania

James Isaac                                                                    Jack Malovich
President, Standing Committee                                 President, Standing Committee
Diocese of Western New York                                    Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania

Christians Must Stand Against Racial Intolerance

This op-ed piece first appeared in the Erie Times-News on August 18, 2017. 

Last weekend, white supremacists marched and then rioted in Charlottesville, Virginia while the country looked on in horror. We have been conditioned to fear terrorists from other countries who speak different languages and practice different religions, but these violent, hateful extremists were mostly young white men, and mostly Christian. Those of us who are Christians need to acknowledge this, and we need to respond.

The League of the South, one hate group that participated in Unite the Right, as the Charlottesville rally was called, advocates establishing a white Christian theocratic state. In February the league called for the formation of a “Southern Defense Force,” a militia to combat the “leftist menace to our historic Christian civilization.”

It is comforting to assume that our faith never truly took hold in the hearts of people who are so hateful and so given to violence. But history makes plain that we are not entitled to such comfort.

In 1493, the church “granted” to Spain the lands where Columbus had landed. The assumptions that this land rightfully belonged to white European Christians and that the church ruled the earth in God’s stead were symptoms of the catastrophic theological arrogance that would have devastating consequences for indigenous people around the globe who would be sacrificed on the altar of Christian empire.

The decree that promulgated what became known as the “Doctrine of Discovery” gave the church’s blessing to colonization which, in turn, brought about the need for slave labor to make the colonies economically viable.

Nearly two years ago, I stood in the slave dungeons of the Cape Coast Castle on the coast of Ghana. Beginning in 1664, the enormous fort was in the hands of the British, who used it to send nearly three million enslaved Africans to the New World. The soldiers and sailors who lived in the castle and traded in human beings built their Anglican chapel directly above the men’s dungeons. My own church, the Episcopal Church, is directly descended from these Anglican slave traders.

There are many more recent examples of the church’s complicity and active participation in racism, prejudice and bigotry.

Most churches in the United States split over the issue of slavery, with southern churches supporting the Confederacy during the Civil War. But even in Union territory, segregation often prevailed. Here in our Episcopal cathedral in Erie, black people were made to worship separately from white people well into the twentieth century.

During the Nazi regime, Christians belonging to the German Evangelical Church supported Hitler and the extermination of Jewish people. Even the Confessing Church in Germany, often lauded for its resistance to Hitler, spoke primarily about the church’s independence from the state and, with few exceptions, did not speak or act in support of Jews being deported to their deaths in concentration camps. And in South Africa, the Dutch Reformed Church actively supported the racist system of apartheid that finally fell in 1991.

It is possible to argue that those whose hearts are filled with racially-motivated hatred have never understood the true teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, but only if one acknowledges that the church itself has misunderstood these teachings. It may, however, be more accurate to say that churches, for centuries, have denied the radical egalitarianism of Jesus’ teaching for its own self-interested reasons.

If contemporary Christians are to oppose the racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia that has asserted themselves with renewed and appalling vigor since the election of President Trump, we must look beyond our self-interest. We must not be as timid as the Peter who denied Jesus on the night of his arrest, but as bold as the Peter who, after the Resurrection proclaimed that “God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”

The President continues to send what can be described, with an excess of charity, as mixed signals on issues of racial, religious and ethnic intolerance.  The church, with a humility born of its own sins, but a boldness born of its faith in Jesus, must challenge any ambiguity with the clarity of the Gospel. It is our duty to speak out, to engage the civic organizations of our communities on behalf of those who are being persecuted, and to name evil where we see it—whether it is in our leaders, or within our own equivocating souls.

The Rt. Rev. Sean Rowe is the Episcopal bishop of the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania. He and his family live in Erie.

Have a question? Ask the Bishop!

The Diocese is getting ready to film the eighth installment of the “Ask the Bishop” video series, which means we’re looking for questions from you!

Unfortunately, Bishop Sean cannot be with every member of the diocese all the time, but he would like to be able to answer questions you may have. If there is something you’d like to hear the bishop’s thoughts on (i.e., Convention, Explorer’s Day, Bible questions, you name it!), send your questions to Megin (msewak@dionwpa.org) by August 30.  You can view past “Ask the Bishop” videos here and see what sort of topics have already been covered.

Please include your name and congregation with your submission, and then watch for ‘Ask the Bishop 8’ on the Forward blog, Facebook, and Twitter!
ask the bishop

Building Relationships

Collaboration and interdependence are keys to the deepening of our Christian life together. We’ve given considerable attention over the course of the last decade to the idea that, as a diocese, we really are One Church.  Yes, we all find ourselves in different contexts, are various sizes, and have different charisms of the Spirit, and still we are united in mission and witness that make us one—all in it together as the Body of Christ.  Our challenge to bring the Good News to the world is more apparent than ever and our ability to rise to that challenge is directly related to our willingness to collaborate with strategic partners and rely more heavily on each other.

This fall we take our collaboration with the Diocese of Western New York to a new depth by sharing our Conventions with each other—we’ll take a large group to their Convention, and they’ll bring a large group to ours.  We’ll have a chance to meet new people, see how another diocese works, and experience new mission horizons.  We’ll also have an opportunity to share our particular gifts and richness of our diocesan community.  If you are interested in attending the Diocese of Western New York’s convention, you can visit our website for more information and to sign up.

Our convention will follow a bit of a different format this year.  Though we’ll conduct the necessary business of Convention, the primary focus of our time will be building relationships and having significant and high impact conversations about the future of our life together.  The Convention this fall will be more important than ever, and I appeal to you as your bishop to make every effort to be present.  Your voice and your perspective are a critical piece of the next phase of mission.

You’ve heard me say many times that no one is going to innovate in mission and ministry for us.  There is no group ‘out there’ in the Church that is going to overcome our challenges and unlock our potential for us.  This is our call—right here and right now.  I have every confidence that God is about to provide for us ‘infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.’

We Need Your Questions for ‘Ask the Bishop’!

ask the bishop

The Diocese is getting ready to film the seventh installment of the “Ask the Bishop” video series, and we need your questions!

Unfortunately, Bishop Sean cannot be with every member of the diocese all the time, but he would like to be able to answer questions you may have for him. If you have something on your mind regarding theology, the diocese, the bishop’s views on current events, summer camp, etc. – send your questions to Megin (msewak@dionwpa.org) by May 29th. We may not be able to answer everyone’s questions due to time constraints, but all submissions are welcome (and may appear in later installments).

Please include your name and congregation with your submission, and then watch for ‘Ask the Bishop 7’ on the Forward blog, Facebook, and Twitter!