Education in all its forms — public and private, higher and lower, general and specialized — is a critical foundation for the existence of community in any form. Labor, vocation — the using of one’s gifts to create, to build, to serve — is likewise a foundation for life together.
The third matter for consideration — Sept. 11 — reminds us of our vulnerability, of the strength of evil yet remaining in the world, and the need to resist it powerfully, but not in such ways that will destroy the community which we are trying to defend.
The past 12 months have been sobering for all Americans. Suffice it to say, that something happened last Sept. 11 that will change us forever. And the results are all around us — from heightened airport security measures to a new Department of Homeland Security emerging, to ongoing anti-terrorist operations around the world.
Add to this terrible event the crisis of confidence in the stock market and those institutions associated with our market economy, and the crisis in the Catholic Church (and, really, in all of our churches), we know that momentous changes are taking place.
Education, work, security — all critical aspects of our life together. How are we responding to the challenges?
First, educational institutions are responding in new ways to the changing world in which we live, but public education, on which we must place our primary emphasis for inculcating knowledge and civic virtue in our citizenry is in a sad state of neglect. That neglect begs to be addressed.
Second, workers today face great uncertainties, with the rapidly changing nature of the economy and its increasing technological sophistication. Also the loss of benefits — or fewer benefits — for many, and especially the decline of generous fixed-benefit retirement plans, make each one’s future far more uncertain. And then there are those who live on the fringes of the good life, frequently in a constant state of defeat and despair.
Third, the issue of national security: how we protect ourselves not only from those outside individuals, groups and nations who would harm us, but our own people, groups and patterns of life that undermine public morality, and whose actions threaten the well-being of all of us.
For example, the concentration of money and power in the United States is as great as it has ever been, if not greater, and that’s an unhealthy situation. Moreover, the latest warning signals from Enron and subsequent corporate collapses have made us all realize that the capitalist system which has provided unprecedented wealth has critical deficiencies which must be addressed.
How does the church fit into all of this? In the first place, the Presbyterian Church more than any other religious group has historically promoted and been responsible for educational development in the United States and every country in which it has ever been planted. Right now we are challenged to rethink and to rebuild our own internal educational institutions from the home to the theological seminary, at the same time we pour forth effort in mounting a new initiative in higher education and rebuilding the infrastructure of public education, the foundation of a democratic society.
Second, with respect to vocation and labor, Protestants, including Presbyterians, have been in the forefront of providing the biblical and theological basis for each person’s calling in all areas of life and to affirm the value and dignity of all legitimate callings. It is highly important for us to realize that our members are on the front lines of mission every day, wherever they are, and that they need to have opportunities provided by the church and related institutions for training and reflection on each one’s calling. Also, the church in all its manifestations needs to model humane employment practices.
Finally, as for security, Presbyterians are active in this effort at all levels — from high-profile administration officials to pastors and people working in their own communities. But maybe the most important thing we have to offer is our witness during the Communist hysteria of the early 1950s, to promote a public style of discourse that refuses to surrender to fear, but rather understands that lasting peace is based on justice, and that it is our calling to give generously of our leadership and resources to be responsible agents of God’s ongoing reconciliation.
As September begins, we can rejoice in our heritage and our resources to be a servant people to God and to neighbors around the world.