This city appreciates, very much, that this great Cathedral sets aside a day and a service dedicated to the city where the Cathedral is sited. And we particularly appreciate District of Columbia Day this year, the two hundredth year of the founding of our city. But this is not only a great Cathedral of our Church. This is not only a wondrous monument of our country and our city. This Cathedral is an important part of our community.
Your recognition of four outstanding organizations, whose records are among the strongest in our city in work with our children, shows your deep understanding and appreciation of the work of our own residents.
We, in the District, deeply appreciate and acknowledge the work of the Alliance of Concerned Men, Holy Comforter St. Cyprian Community Action Group, the Latin American Youth Center, and the Youth Empowerment and Transformation Program who receive your awards today.
This morning, I want to pose a question about leadership in our city today, and the role of the church in that leadership.
In Matthew 5:13 we read, “A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid.” Now, we who live in the District of Columbia on sweltering days like this know that the District of Columbia is built on a swamp! If course, there are hills in the District–Capitol Hill, Howard University sits on a hill. There is a hill between Ward 8 and Ward 6 where our Lady of Perpetual Help is located from where one can virtually see the entire city. Although the city itself is built in the lowlands, it truly is the nation’s City on a Hill, which cannot be hid. It is world’s most visible city. Therefore, a city built on the highest of hills!
Yet, the leadership of the country is not the leadership of this city. Who will claim this city? The city of four quadrants? The city of government workers and hotel workers, the city of the descendents of white hillbillies from West Virginia? Black sharecroppers from North Carolina and peasants from El Salvador? The city of my great-grandfather, Richard Holmes. The city that grandfather was glad to claim for our family when he walked off a slave plantation in Virginia four generations ago, to come to the capital, and found work on the city streets. The city where my beloved parents, Vila and Coleman Holmes, christened me as an infant at St. George’s Episcopal Church at 2nd and U Streets, NW. Whose city is it?
Who will claim it? Who will lead the residents of the city on a hill?
Will it be the mayor, or the members of the City Council? Must it be your congresswoman? Will it be the residents, the ones who pay federal income taxes and don’t have full voting representation in the House and no representation in the Senate and don’t always have full democracy in the city when the Congress decides it is not entitled to it?
Actually, modern societies suffer from a narrow, secular definition of leadership. The ascendancy and visibility of national, state and local governmental leadership quite simply obscures real and multiple sources of leadership necessary to a healthy society.
Nationally, actually, the dominant leadership in our country has changed to meet the times. In the 1930s, the Great Depression made governmental leadership most important because of the need to reinvent many governmental institutions to save the economy of the country. In the 1960s, with the upsurge finally of racial equality on the national agenda, the Civil Rights leadership perhaps was most important. That leadership pressed a great movement that moved the government to eliminate law-based segregation and discrimination. And by leading a non-violent revolution, it prevented what might have been a race war.
Whose leadership do these times call for in our country and in this city?
I believe, as an elected official who goes to the Congress everyday to meet the problems that are presented to me by my own residents and by my fellow Americans, I believe that today’s problems simply do not sound like classic governmental problems. Pass a law, and expect it, in time, to go away. Many of today’s problems sound more like church problems than government problems. They are not the kind of problems that traditionally have been on the agenda of the president, members of Congress, mayors or local legislators.
Listen to our problems. The problems you will hear every elected official in this country talk about more than any other problems today, whatever the party or whatever the background, these are the problems: family breakdown, children routinely born to women who do not even expect marriage, children having children, sex and drugs and HIV-AIDS at earlier and earlier ages, youth, gun violence, little children with guns culminating in this city at the National Zoo on a children’s fun day, Easter morning where seven children were shot, and the suspect is a child!
Government, my friends, is not in its element when left alone to cope with these problems, deeply rooted in the disarray of society and its most fundamental values. In this city these problems were central in bringing the city to insolvency in the 1990s. For there is not enough money in this city or in the vast treasury of the United States government to make up for what parents and neighborhoods and churches have traditionally done for free.
Who then is the rising leadership for these times?
History may well look back and say that this time it was not government. This time it was not a great movement. This time it was the church itself that was called. The great spiritual return and revival we see today throughout American society gives every indication that the people are turning to religion and religious institutions to anchor them in our enduring values. I believe it is the church’s moment for that special leadership. This time it is the church that is called even more than the rest of us.
I do not believe that the church can meet its mission from the pulpit alone. The problems are too deep. Too distant from the church’s doorstep, yet as close as the corner on which the church stands. Nor am I laying the problems of this city or our country at the church’s doorstep, I know what I have been elected to do. I know what only the mayor and the City Council can do. And I know that we must do much better.
It is also clear that government and all of us have clearly fallen short. We need help. We need the help of an institution older than government itself. We need the help of the church that will be here as governments fall. We need the help of the church that has seen governments rise and governments fall, and expect always that that will be the case. I believe profoundly in the separation of church and state. I go on the Floor to argue that point often. But the church must not be divorced from the state if it is to help the people of the state cope with problems that are rooted in the society of which the church is a part.
Today’s crisis in our city that is now rising from the ashes to become a new city is testing us all. It is testing the elected officials. It is testing the government. And yes, it is testing even the church. The church is a quintessential and fundamental part of the leadership of this beautiful city on a hill. The mayor and the City Council are building a new city. They cannot build a new city alone. They recognize that what they do is under the people’s microscope. But they also know that a city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Yet, someone must claim it.
The nation, long ago, claimed the nation’s capital. My good friends, my fellow Americans, my fellow Washingtonians, those of you who come from all over the country and all over the world, this morning, I ask my city, Who will claim the city where the nation does its business but where the people live?