Today we remember the Reverend Charles Raymond Barnes, according to the Episcopal Calendar of the Church Year. I’ve appreciated learning about our modern saints, such as this good man, added to the calendar over the years by General Convention. The life and death of Rev. Barnes speaks to me right now.
Barnes was raised in New Jersey and graduated from General Seminary. Ordained in 1923, he served stateside and in several Central American countries before going to the Dominican Republic as a missionary and Vicar of the Church of the Epiphany. Rev. Barnes became horrified at the secret massacres of thousands of Haitian innocents within the Dominican Republic at the hands of the Trujillo regime. He authored several articles with the hope of creating international pressure to stop the slaughter. At the same time, he wrote dispatches to contacts at the State Department, hoping for action. Some of his letters were intercepted. Rev. Barnes was murdered, martyred, in his rectory on this date in 1938.
You and I face nothing like Barnes’ choice. Speak up, or just do his best with his flock? He could’ve asked to be reassigned. He could’ve committed himself to caring pastorally for Haitian nationals in his area. But he cried out, reached out, knowing the real risk.
We face smaller choices about using our voice in daily interactions with others, within our church, and certainly within our fractious national and world environment. We may be passionate in our convictions, and yet we know that others are just as passionate. We promise to respect the dignity of every human being and we subscribe to the church as the “big tent,” diverse in its opinions. I was raised to be polite, not offend others, and not insist on my own version of truth. Then I become aware of something that abuses everything I know to be true and just … and I’m conflicted.
Applying the “what would Jesus do?” test: there are times he might erupt in anger, as he did scattering the moneychangers in the temple. I’m not an erupter and not Jesus, so perhaps my own actions are really about discerning how Jesus’ teachings illuminate any situation. Is what I see/hear not loving and just, not healing and forgiving? Does it destroy rather than create? This is where you and I stand; this is when we are called to speak out with all the sensitivity we can muster. To quote a wise friend, we worship the Lord of hard truth, so this can be painful. Courage is needed. I pray for that.
Hopefully, we need not fear a gunshot in the night. Charles Barnes and legions of others, however, have given us the hardest example of what it means to follow Jesus. Let us continue to struggle with finding our voice.
Grant, we pray, merciful God, that your Church standing firm in the witness of your Son and following the good example of your servant Charles Barnes may ever speak boldly against evil and confess the truth before the rulers of this world; through your Son Jesus Christ who with you and the Holy Spirit, live and reign, One God, now and forever. Amen.
[This commemoration was adopted provisionally by General Convention 2015.]
Facts about Charles Barnes were gleaned from the archives of the Episcopal Church USA.