Luke 7:11-17: Racism, Baptism, and the death of Jim Kelsey

12 June 2007

When I opened my Benedictine Daily Prayer, praying Vigils on Sunday morning, I read a passage from the Gospel I have no recollection of ever having read before.

I’ve read each of the Gospels several times, but this story, for some reason, has never really stuck with me. Most of the selections I read in the Breviary I am familiar with; my approximately twenty years of frequent church going as a child and adolescent has given me the opportunity to hear most of the Bible in church. Add to that religion classes in grade school and theology classes in college, and most every passage in the Gospel rings a bell. This one, however, seemed totally new. As if I had never read it before.

The Raising of the Widow’s Son at Nain follows the healing of the Centurion’s Servant. In a mere 17 verses, Jesus manages to alienate himself from the politics of his fellow Jews by healing a member of a Roman soldier’s household (saying that in Israel there is not so much faith as the Roman’s) and also make himself unclean by touching a dead body. These two passages show us that Jesus goes where there is need, even to the margins and unpopular places, doing what is right and compassionate even in the face of ugliness, impropriety, or unpopularity. The childless widow in First Century CE Galilee, of course, is about as marginalized as it gets.

Later that day, the sermon at All Saints’ dealt, initially, with the death of Jim Kelsey. By all accounts a bishop with an anarchic streak, he asked that no one but the presider and deacon be in vestments, with all other clergy dressed in street clothes, with no assigned seating for anyone. Kelsey’s radical baptismal theology motivated him to make his episcopacy a “collaborative” one, with many lay people assisting him in his role as bishop. While a member of the hierarchy, Kelsey endeavored to make the Diocese of Northern Michigan less hierarchical and more parish based.

Bonnie, the rector at All Saints’, made the argument that the story of the raising of the widow’s son at Nain is the kind of Gospel story that makes a person like Jim Kelsey go out and work. Jesus went to the margins to help those who needed it, and so that’s where Christians ought to go. Jim Kelsey was an advocate for gay and lesbian Christians, Native Americans in his diocese, and full inclusion in the Church.

Emphasizing that even when life is cut tragically short, there is a completion to it nonetheless, and that this is the transformative, redemptive power of the Gospel. Jim Kelsey lived the ministry of the baptized; even though we can’t see how his life is complete, it is, even if it was shorter than we expected or would have liked.

All of this is simply prelude. Clearly, the Gospel is a call to service, and not power. To gentleness, and not violence. To love, and not hate. How some Christians will pledge allegiance and fight for the Caesar of our day, instead of serving the least. I’m prompted to this by this post by someone who lately commented on this ‘blog. Who would Christ serve, honor, and pray for—better yet, who would Christ have us serve, honor, and pray for— the troops or the poor Mexicans?

My answer? Both.

It is unchristian to not love and help “poor Mexicans” who are trying to do the best they can to provide for themselves and their families in an unjust world just because they are “illegal.” After all, the people who volunteer for our armed forces are doing the same thing.

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2 Responses to “Luke 7:11-17: Racism, Baptism, and the death of Jim Kelsey”


  1. I almost never go to the Fr Jake (Fr Terry Martin) blog any more but did leave sincere condolences there on reading of the bishop’s death.

    Jesus went to the margins to help those who needed it, and so that’s where Christians ought to go. Jim Kelsey was an advocate for gay and lesbian Christians, Native Americans in his diocese, and full inclusion in the Church.

    Again, with all due respect, Jorge, that’s apples and giraffes.

    Going to the margins to help people, and understanding and charity regarding same-sex temptations (part of ‘tolerant conservatism’), are integral parts of the Catholic Movement as shown in its history. The ritualist slum priest, often not of the straight persuasion (true of lots of priests I’ve known, not at all surprising) and a well-meaning socialist in politics, yet teaching the faith entire and undiluted, morals and all. (A stock character in Anglicanism!)

    Being a Native American is something you’re born with like your orientation but there the resemblance ends. Of course Native American genes aren’t the same as temptations to sin! (How many Indians would be outraged at this comparison?)

    ‘Full inclusion’? Oh, yes. But not as code for saying sin is OK. All are welcome to come and pray in a Catholic church. Same standards for all, straight and gay, and when you mess up there’s always the confessional, God’s love and forgiveness.

    I agree entirely with your last point.


  2. Being a Native American is something you’re born with like your orientation but there the resemblance ends. Of course Native American genes aren’t the same as temptations to sin! (How many Indians would be outraged at this comparison?)

    True, the resemblance ends in their marginalization due to the way they were born. Native American genes aren’t the same as temptations to sin.

    Thank you, Fogey, for responding to what I write, and not what you think I wrote. We disagree, but we also actually hear what the other said.

    I had a recent commenter who seemed to simply be reacting to a term instead of reacting to what I said. And that is just baffling.

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