When Jesus weeps in the Bible, it is always a weeping in the face of death. The incarnate God we worship wants for all his children life not death, reconciliation with God and one another, not separation and division. As Christians, we too must weep over every death, but we must resist the temptation to hate and seek to restore mutual trust and affection. In the light of the Resurrection, despair in the effort to do this is not allowed.
Our nation is living through a period of weeping; our social fabric is threatened with violence and is responding with violence. But as Gandhi said, “an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.”
● The underlying cause of much of the present violence in our land is that we are all afflicted with the disease of racism, our nation’s original sin.
● The underlying problem whose symptom is the killing of Black men by police officers is the systemic racism laid down in our hearts over three centuries, a weight whose power over us we would like to deny.
● The underlying problem that leads some men to kill policemen just because they are policemen is the deep entanglement of the criminal justice system in the maintenance of our society’s racialized power system.
● The underlying problem is the fear that pervades our society, defining the black body, especially the black male body, as inherently criminal. In the light of the history of race relations in America, we are compelled to admit that our present agony is a consequence of systemic racism, not merely sporadic individual acts of violence. When policies in housing, education, healthcare, and employment favor one group of people over another, we as practicing Episcopalians cannot and should not cross over to the other side in order to “not see” the inequity that hurts all of us – one by oppression, the other by a sense of supremacy. The sin of racism in a time of tension like this even infects the language we use in speaking to one another. We shudder to see a slogan such as “All Lives Matter” used as a counter to the slogan “Black Lives Matter” because such a use is a moral inversion of the language; words that sound like a call for inclusivity are being employed as a rebuttal to the African-American resistance to their experience of racism. And if there is one thing we need, it is to listen to the lived experience of others unlike ourselves. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry shares the story of how his father, a Baptist minister, felt compelled to join the Episcopal Church of Curry’s mother after seeing black people and white people share the common cup at Holy Eucharist. Gathering at the altar with people different from himself was not only transformative but spoke to him as a clear call on his life. It was the real sense that God is present in the Eucharist that convinced him to step outside his comfort zone and engage in a new relationship with people unlike himself in order to see the goodness in “the other”. The Rev. Kenneth Curry eventually became an Episcopal priest and civil rights activist. Gathering regularly at the altar ought to be just as transformative and reconciling for us every time we receive holy communion and respond to the words “serve God in unity, constancy and peace.”
Working for unity, constancy and peace as our nation is divided, volatile, and conflicted, is particularly challenging today. But as Episcopalians we have been gifted with liturgy that draws us together and reminds us what we hold in common. Admittedly, we have all had fleeting thoughts of unconscious bias toward people of another race or ethnicity or considered as true certain stereotypes about other cultures.
However, beginning our worship with the Collect for Purity, we acknowledge that no secrets are hidden from God and we ask God to cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In the Prayers of the People we pray for God’s people throughout the world, the well-being of all people especially for the poor, the sick, the hungry, the oppressed, and those in prison. Aren’t we standing in need of this prayer if we harbor ill-will for certain groups of people? We confess that have sinned against God in thought, words and deed by what we have done and left undone, and for not loving our neighbors as ourselves. The prayers we all pray call us to be vulnerable before God and each other about where we have fallen short implicitly and complicity and to begin anew to be strengthened by the goodness and power of the Holy Spirit.
In an especially pertinent prayer for the whole human family, the Book of Common Prayer reminds us that we are one human family made in God’s image and redeemed through Jesus Christ. We ask that God take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts, break down the walls that separate us, unite us in bonds of love, and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish God’s purposes on earth, and we pray that in God’s good time, all nations and races may serve God in harmony around the heavenly throne.
In this uncomfortable and troubling time, with violence and fear on many sides and competing efforts to validate one kind of fear over another, we urge the members of our Church to pray and work for justice and reconciliation in the spirit of these beautiful words from our liturgies. We urge all to listen to the experience of others different from themselves and to remember that those who are killed and injured in these violent episodes are persons, not abstractions. No person is fully defined by a label such as Black or White or Blue. There is no reconciliation possible among us unless we are willing to listen to and acknowledge as valid the experiences of others different from ourselves. Your Diocesan Commission on Race Relations stands ready to serve you in any way possible. We can provide resources, training, or just have an authentic conversation about race. Also, let us remember and follow the good example of those who have gone before us to show us the way to racial reconciliation.
Jonathan Myrick Daniels felt a renewed conviction to serve God after hearing the Magnificat at an Evening Prayer Service in 1961. This led him to answer the call of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., for people to take part in the march for voting rights from Selma to Montgomery. Jonathan wrote, “I had come to Evening Prayer as usual that evening, and as usual I was singing the Magnificat with the special love and reverence I have always felt for Mary’s glad song. As the lovely hymn of the God-bearer continued, I found myself peculiarly alert, suddenly straining toward the decisive, luminous, Spirit-filled “moment” that would, in retrospect, remind me of others. Then it came. “He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble and meek. He hath filled the hungry with good things.” I knew then that I must go to Selma. The Virgin’s song was to grow more and more dear in the weeks ahead.”
That moment for Daniels was a kairos moment. Kairos time is a time of crisis and a time of decision. The present time in America is a kairos time. Kairos time is God’s time. Scripture tells us that the acceptable time is now. As heirs of the Anglican tradition, we hold that our prayers express our theology. And our prayers are clear that the whole human family is one. Let us resolve to pray the words and live into the spirit of the prayer for social justice provided in the Book of Common Prayer:
Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart, [and especially the hearts of the people of this land], that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Revs. Carolyn J. Foster and Thomas Osborne, Deacons
Co-Chairs, Commission on Race Relations in the Church