Friends in Christ,
This letter was going to be a survey to check on how you all are doing with the social distancing and to gauge your comfort with possible small group gatherings when the bishop gives permission, likely sometime in July. That topic will need to wait a bit because we have a more pressing conversation to have.
Our city, and cities all over the country, are experiencing protests instigated in large part because of the killing of George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis, by a police officer. The officer knelt on the neck of George Floyd while being deaf to cries of “I can’t breathe.” And so the nation has erupted into protest.
A couple of years ago at St. Mark’s, we had the opportunity to read Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. In her book, Alexander argues that, for Black people in this country, slavery did not stop completely at the Emancipation Proclamation. Indeed, through a pernicious campaign of government, business, and, sadly, the church, Black Americans found themselves in a world where they were denied access to political power, to credit, to property, to education, and to the ballot box. Many of you were alive during forced racial desegregation of schools in this country — a story and a reality not too far in the past. In our current climate, the Jim Crow era laws have been repealed, but the new forms of slavery are mass incarceration for Black and brown people, perilously underfunded public schools, urban blight, a militarized police force, gentrification, and the lack of serious reparations for a people who have been treated as second class citizens since before the founding of this nation.
And so, while the death of George Floyd lit the spark, the powder was dry and ready.
So where is God and where is the church? God has a flair for liberating the captive. Our foundational story from the Hebrew Scriptures is the Exodus — the story of God freeing the Hebrews enslaved by Pharaoh and forced to make bricks for monuments. In Jesus’ time, the Samaritans were considered lesser people who looked the wrong way and who worshipped the wrong way. And those very Samaritans were beloved by our Christ over and against the holy people in the temple. God focuses our attention on the plight of the captive, the sorrow of the oppressed, and the cries of the wronged.
The church has a spotty record when it comes to white supremacy. For every pastor you saw marching with Dr. King in Selma, there was a church building or seminary built with slave labor. For every Fr. Groppi, there are parishes who fled to the suburbs during white flight. And so we have vastly different models for how to actively be Christians, and I would hope we choose the right one.
Several of you have sent me messages about some action you feel like you can take to bring justice to the racial and economic divide in our city. The responses have been diverse — from giving money to the Southern Poverty Law Center, to getting involved in the Black Lives Matter protest, to advocating for appropriate mental health services in Black and other disenfranchised communities in our city. We have built a society on a great lie — that whiteness is by nature good, noble, hard-working, prosperous, and holy. This is not true nor has it ever been. For those of us who are white, this is a moment to interrogate our own privilege, listen to minority voices, and leverage our power for the betterment of this city.
God resources God’s vision. If a just city is the vision of God, then the resources are all around us. Open your checkbooks to The Gathering and the Riverwest Food Pantry. Consider finding ways to support local public schools that provide so much for children in poverty. Look around your life to see where you have some power or influence and use it to help repair the breach in our society. Listen to minority voices. They are crying out for their lives.
Yours in Christ,