Social Justice and Advocacy Engagement

Social Justice and Advocacy Engagement

The Office of Social Justice and Advocacy Engagement executes creative leadership initiatives to mobilize Episcopalians on issues of social change, and seeks to build and enhance communities committed to transforming unjust structures in societies, and to accompany and enrich the ministry of Episcopalians working to be catalysts for equality, justice, and transformation within their communities.

The days immediately following July 4 left the nation wounded, heartbroken, and unsettled. On July 5, a police officer in Baton Rouge shot and killed Alton Sterling after pinning him to the ground. Alton had been selling DVDs outside a convenience store. On July 6, a police officer in a suburb of St. Paul shot and killed Philando Castile while he was in his car with his fiancée and her 4-year-old daughter. Diamond Reynolds live-streamed video of Castile dying in the car.

These two shootings are part of a larger pattern of police-involved killings that have become too common in the last couple of years. Since the death of Michael Brown in 2014, it has become routine to see images of black men, women, and children killed by police. What made the week of July 4 different? Was it that one shooting took place in the Deep South and the other in a state bordering Canada? No. The series of police-involved killings of black civilians has taken place across the United States, from California to New York and many points in between, including Ferguson, Missouri, and Cleveland.

In fact, the disproportionate killing of black civilians by police is in many ways mirrored in the disproportionate killing of Latino and Native Americans. I contend that the many days following this year’s Fourth of July were different because they intersected with the ambush killings of five police officers in Dallas and three officers in Baton Rouge.

Micah Xavier Johnson, a U.S. Army Reserve veteran of the war in Afghanistan, targeted the officers in Dallas (and seven others whom he wounded). Dallas Police Chief David Brown reported that Johnson told police negotiators he was upset about the recent police shootings and that he wanted to kill white people, especially white officers.

In Baton Rouge, Gavin Long, a veteran Marine, targeted officers in what was described as a classic ambush.

The juxtaposition of these deaths forced the entire nation to stop and take notice. These horrific events leave the nation, particularly the citizens of Louisiana, Minnesota and Texas, with heavy hearts. The premature loss of lives due to violence is a moral outrage and calls for a time of prayer, lament, and much more, from the “sanctuary to the street,” in the words of the Children’s Defense Fund.

Frightening statistics bring this sad reality into sharp relief. Specifically, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund reported that 26 police officers have died in the line of duty so far this year, compared to 18 officers who had died at this point in 2015. The Guardian reported recently that in 2015, 464 people were killed by American police; 102 of them were unarmed. Of the 102, 43 were black, 35 were white, 17 were Hispanic or Latino, two were Asian or Pacific Islander, two were Native American, and three were of unknown racial background.

The Washington Post recently reported that at least 385 people have been shot and killed by police in 2016. Of that number, 49 people were unarmed, 13 were carrying toy guns, and six were carrying weapons that were unknown or undetermined. The Post further reported that 171 whites have been killed in 2016 compared to 100 blacks, 54 Hispanics, six Asians, three “others,” and 31 people of an unknown race. Looking at these deaths in the larger societal context, blacks and Latinos are clearly overrepresented in police-involved shooting deaths. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention and the National Center for Health Statistics found that while Native Americans constitute .8 percent of the population, they represent 1.9 percent of police killings of civilians.

The Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas reminded me recently of Karl Barth’s counsel: “Take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But, interpret newspapers from your Bible.” If we take this charge seriously, she said, we have to recognize that racial justice and reconciliation must be on the Church’s agenda. It cannot be ignored.

Many Episcopal clergy used the lectionary readings of July 10 to preach about these dynamics. The Gospel reading that Sunday was Luke 10:25-37 (often referred to as the parable of the Good Samaritan), an ideal passage for reflecting on how we understand the meaning of neighbor.

As the Rev. Martin Luther King preached: “On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar: it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”

Against this backdrop, how do we make meaning of the events of this Bloody July? I find it helps to recognize that these events are not isolated. The police-involved killings of black, Latino, and Native American citizens are symptomatic of an American legacy of racial hierarchy and oppression. Like many radical white supremacists, Gavin Long had declared himself a sovereign citizen who need not answer to any laws.

I write as a newly ordained deacon whose journey includes time as a prosecutor, a defense attorney representing adults and youth, and a veteran Army Judge Advocate General attorney. A lifelong Episcopalian, I grew up in an Afro-Anglican parish in Virginia. I am a father of an 11-month-old black boy who was baptized in June. His development and flourishing is my main concern. I tremble at the world facing him. These issues have a lived and concrete meaning for me. My prior vocation allows me to understand the strengths and flaws of the criminal justice system. I respect the sacrifice and service of law enforcement officers. I worked with many professional police and state troopers. The elected prosecutor and staff judge advocate who mentored me were ethical, competent, and respected individuals in the community. I also recognize the brokenness of a justice system that incarcerates more people than any country in the world.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander provides a compelling analysis of the racialization of criminal justice in America. Suffice it to say that our current situation is grounded in the original sins of racism and manifest destiny embedded in the nation’s founding. Laws, systems, cultural and religious beliefs and practices continue to reinforce false assumptions of white superiority and the inferiority of black and native peoples. We can trace the implicit bias that assumes criminality in black bodies to a long history that continues to live today.

Eddie Glaude, chairman of Princeton University’s Department of African American Studies, writes that a value gap in America’s racial hierarchy “reflects something more basic: that no matter our stated principles or how much progress we think we’ve made, white people are valued more than others in this country, and that fact continues to shape the life chances of millions of Americans. The value gap is in our national DNA.” This value gap is larger than the issue of policing; it minimizes opportunities for human flourishing by increasing disparities in housing, education, and health.

Reconciliation lies at the core of the Church’s vocation: 2 Corinthians 5:18 reveals the ministry of reconciliation given to us by God in Christ. Furthermore, the Church is uniquely positioned to co-labor with people, institutions, and communities in the work of racial justice and reconciliation.

While the Church has yet to fully live by its vocation, it has a theology and moral framework to contribute to the public square. Christians believe every human being is created in the image of God. Building on this knowledge, Episcopalians specifically commit through the Baptismal Covenant to respect the dignity of every human being. Every human being is a child of God. Each life is equally sacred. This theology and embodied spirituality counters the value gap lying at the core of America’s racial oppression and hierarchy.

Perhaps the greatest contribution the Church can make is to co-labor with others to reimagine the meaning of community. Working with others to adapt how we relate to each other and work for the commonwealth means looking at the way our neighborhoods, cities, and towns foster environments for every child of God to flourish. This work also requires us to broaden our definition of safety and protection. Engaging in this process will transform our understanding and practice of policing, criminal justice, public health, public education, and much more.

Christians profess to be followers of Jesus and his way. As people of the way, we recognize the truth of the gospel that Jesus preached. We look to his example to order our lives and the actions we take. Jesus taught and lived the Greatest Commandment, and he told us to love one another as he loved us. Jesus’ love ethic is one that transforms the hearts of people, the practices of communities, and structures of society. We witness this ethic from the beginning of his public ministry when Jesus says: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19). In Jesus we find our ministry of reconciliation and we see that justice is a critical aspect of reconciling to God and our neighbor.

The Gospels also teach us that Jesus understood that oppression operates on multiple levels. Jesus spoke to individuals as he walked in the street. He taught and labored with the disciples as a group. Jesus used his parables, miracles, and teachings to contest the oppressive systems, practices, and structures of his day. This level of engagement and commitment to justice and reconciliation threatened the powers of his day. Christians are called to mirror this challenging ministry in our times, in part by addressing racism and other forms of oppression at the personal, interpersonal, structural, and cultural levels. This practice requires us to integrate love, justice, compassion, and mercy into our way of being as individuals, congregations, and communities. It is one of the ways we can participate in God’s mission in the world. This, I believe, is what it means to be members of the Jesus movement. We co-labor with God to transform unjust structures and oppression. Let us resist the pull of silent collusion with the comforts of power and privilege. The work before us is significant and I believe we can do it, with God’s help.

Bishop Mariann Budde, during Washington National Cathedral’s broadcast of Racial Reconciliation: What the White Church Must Do, said that we must change minds, change hearts, and change lawsMy colleague Heidi Kim, the Episcopal Church’s missioner for racial reconciliation, contends that racial justice and reconciliation must be part of our spiritual formation. We have a good example of this approach in the work of the Diocese of Atlanta’s Beloved Community: Commission for Dismantling Racism led by Catherine Meeks.

Part of my charge from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry is to enhance our capacity to advocate, organize, and witness for racial justice and reconciliation in our communities. As members of the Jesus movement, we can have a profound effect on the public square if we advocate for policies and practices that transform our systems. We can do so while working for the conversion of hearts and minds. The church can help lead this movement by serving as a convener of people, communities, and institutions. We can use our moral foundation and spiritual practices to hold open safe spaces for dialogue and sacred conversation. People are crying out for a place to lament together. They want to connect with others to build a new vision of community.

As the Rev. Canon Ed Rodman counseled the Church during his many years of ministry: “Let there be peace among us, and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression.”

(Originally published by The Living Church http://livingchurch.org/bloody-july)

The days immediately following July 4 left the nation wounded, heartbroken, and unsettled. On July 5, a police officer in Baton Rouge shot and killed Alton Sterling after pinning him to the ground. Alton had been selling DVDs outside a convenience...

Last summer, I attended a Faith Rooted Organizing training hosted by held at the Highlander Center in Tennessee where generations of labor and civil rights activists like Rosa Parks have been trained in work for justice. The last workshop of the training, and the one that impacted me the most, was about revolutionary friendship.    

Over the years, I have been inspired by the many ways people engage in social justice and movement building throughout The Episcopal Church, and by participating in this training, I was able to learn how to do my best to carry out this ministry in my own organizing work.  Throughout the church, individuals, congregations, and dioceses are working to organize for positive change in their communities.  Just as there is diversity in the Church, the ways we work toward creating structural change are different, and speak to the needs of each community. We do this work because in our baptismal covenant, we promise to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being." 

The Faith Rooted Organizing UnNetwork training drew on the work of Rev. Alexia Salvatierra and Dr. Peter Heltzel, Faith-Rooted Organizing: Mobilizing the Church in Service to the World. http://www.ivpress.com/cgi-ivpress/book.pl/code=3661 The Faith-Rooted Organizing UnNetwork   helps put this effort to mobilize into practice.  The UnNetwork supplements the great work already being done in communities, helping those who are organizing through their faith to share best practices, foster relationships, and provide space to reflect.

During my training, workshops were offered on many topics: using the arts in organizing, working with specific populations such as students, and working on active listening skills.  We learned about how to help decision makers become our allies in working for justice, and how to look at communities to learn what their assets are.

Most importantly, we forged revolutionary friendships with other people who are deeply moved by their faith to make the world a more just and peaceful place.  A number of Episcopalians from across the Church attended this training, and it was wonderful to connect with them and learn about their organizing efforts.  It was also powerful to connect with a diverse group of passionate, veteran organizers.  Some attendees were young students, and some had been organizing for decades.  They came from a broad range of faiths: evangelical, mainline Protestant, Roman Catholic, and other faith traditions.  It was a safe space for attendees to raise concerns about race, gender, orientation, and gender identity, and share each other's experiences with one another.  We shared morning meditation, evening songs and dances, and revolutionary friendship.

I was able to bring all of this back to inform my work in my community, where I know a lot of work around justice needs to be done.  I am grateful for this, and for the knowledge that everyone present brought my revolutionary friendship home with them as well.  I am excited to hear that The Episcopal Church’s Office of Social Justice and Advocacy Engagement is planning to co-labor with Dioceses and Provinces around the Episcopal Church to make the Faith Rooted Organizing Training available .  Together we can build a network of revolutionary friends committed to transformation, justice and renewal.

           

About the author: Erin Morey began her career as an attorney in the public defender's office in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  She currently serves as an advocate for local and national organizations that serve survivors of violence.  She serves as the Social Justice commissioner of the Vestry at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Mt. Lebanon, and helps coordinate congregational and interfaith organizing efforts to change unjust systems.

Last summer, I attended a Faith Rooted Organizing training hosted by held at the Highlander Center in Tennessee where generations of labor and civil rights activists like Rosa Parks have been trained in work for justice. The last workshop of the...

A single black woman. Confirmed in a small Episcopal church in rural Kansas. The year was 1900. Elizabeth May DeKonza was one of a very small number of African-American residents of the town , and she was a loyal Episcopalian. She never married, lived alone, and supported herself with a patchwork of jobs throughout her life. She was seriously disabled after being struck by a car in her mid-fifties. She attended worship services as often as possible, walking the 1½ miles each way during hot summers and freezing winters, using crutches in her later years. She wrote of her isolation, as she sat alone in a pew. A 1981 centennial history of the parish recorded that Miss DeKonza was “tolerated but not accepted” by her fellow parishioners, all of whom were white. She received the blessed wine of Holy Communion from a separate chalice reserved for her use alone. When she died in 1959, the rector presided over her burial in an unmarked grave in the local cemetery.

I had been serving as priest-in-charge of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Clay Center, Kansas for only a few months when a new parishioner came across the brief mention of Elizabeth May DeKonza in the parish’s commemorative history. Dr. James Beck, a psychologist and former faculty member of Denver Seminary, and his wife, Ginny, were deeply touched by the story and the image of a physically impaired woman of color being ostracized by people who tried to follow Jesus and aimed to do God’s work in the world but, reflecting the cultural norms of the time, failed to welcome and include her as a beloved child of God. At the very least, Jim and Ginny urged, we should give this unknown woman the dignity of a proper grave marker.

Thus began the search for the deeper story of Elizabeth DeKonza, who later began to call herself Mai DeKonza. Further digging – including a sheaf of letters to James Wise, the fourth Bishop of Kansas, revealed Mai’s active life as a writer, composer of music, and public speaker on issues of race and politics. As we learned more about Mai, we grew to feel her pain and admire her spunk. It became clear to all of us that God was gifting us with an awesome opportunity and responsibility. We felt called to hear and to heed the lessons of a faithful Christian who was overlooked and rejected by the good people of our own church, those just one generation ahead of some of our current members. We believed that God was inviting us to acknowledge and claim this sad bit of our history and to do what we could to make amends.

I researched services of repentance and healing in response to racial and social injustice and shared what I learned with vestry members, who enthusiastically endorsed a special service to honor Miss DeKonza. As Jim developed and circulated Mai’s story and plans began to come together, one of my main concerns as the congregation’s spiritual leader was that we would be able to honor this woman who had suffered much injustice and rejection during her life – without being just some white folks trying to feel good about ourselves or assuage our guilt. I reached out to seminary professors and classmates from the Episcopal Divinity School, seeking their reactions and perspective about our ideas and plans. With their encouragement and support, we moved ahead.

A set of “goals and intentions” helped us keep our focus on our sister, Mai, and on her gifts that our “parish mothers and fathers” had failed to appreciate when she was their neighbor. Our statement of intentions included our desire to give voice to a strong, creative, and sometimes cantankerous woman who refused to back down – and to look for the lessons she could teach us today. We wanted to encourage people to examine the issue of racism in our individual lives and in the nation as reflected by shootings in Ferguson, Mo., and Charleston, S.C. – and to ask how we can contribute to positive changes. We challenged ourselves to look for the “Mai DeKonzas” who live among us now, and to do a better job of opening our arms and hearts to fully include them in the life of our parish and the community. Finally, we hoped to open a conversation within the parish, the community, and the Diocese of Kansas about the sins of racism, past and present, and to participate in efforts to listen and to seek healing and wholeness.

The Service of Repentance, Healing & Reconciliation to honor the life of Elizabeth May (Mai) DeKonza was held September 20, 2015 at St. Paul’s. Prayers followed at Miss DeKonza’s gravesite, where a polished black marble headstone had been placed a few days earlier. A letter to the parish afterward from the Right Reverend Michael B. Curry, who was installed as Presiding Bishop a few weeks later, read in part: “What you have done in memory of Mai DeKonza, and in thanksgiving for her incredible faithfulness, is a ….testament to the power of Jesus Christ to heal the deepest wounds, to reconcile that which is broken and to make it whole. … People joining hands with each other, then placing their hands in the hands of the Almighty God of love can change the course of history.” We all have been deeply touched, reassured, and inspired by Bishop Curry’s words. We pray that we can move forward, loving and valuing each person we meet as God graciously loves us.

You can read about the service in an Episcopal News Service article. For more about Mai DeKonza’s story, visit the St. Paul’s website and look for the link at the bottom of the home page.

About the author: The Rev. Lavonne Seifert currently serves as associate rector of Grace Episcopal Church, an urban parish in downtown Providence, Rhode Island. Previously, she was priest-in-charge of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Clay Center, Kansas, a nearly all-white rural community in the heart of wheat country. The small congregation of St. Paul's organized a service of reconciliation and healing in September 2015, to honor the memory of Miss Mai De Konza, a single woman who was the only black member of the parish in the early half of the 20th century, and to ask God's forgiveness for failing to welcome her fully into the congregation. Rev. Seifert holds a master's degree from Episcopal Divinity School.

A single black woman. Confirmed in a small Episcopal church in rural Kansas. The year was 1900. Elizabeth May DeKonza was one of a very small number of African-American residents of the town , and she was a loyal Episcopalian. She never married,...

I was sitting in the nave of Trinity Wall Street, there for the Trinity Institute 2016  “Listen for a Change: Sacred Conversations on Race,” when Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, in his opening sermon, shared these words from Dr. King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, “Before you march, meditate on the life and teachings of Jesus.”

This struck me. I know what I’m marching for: I’m marching for quality schools for all children. And I do meditate on the teachings of Jesus that brought me to this work. I can even imagine how Jesus might march with me. 

He’s holding a child’s hand, so we don’t walk too fast for her short legs. He gets to know the people and details of her young life, even if doing so breaks his heart. Or makes him mad. He might weep. He might turn over a table or two. He wants her people, the ones who know and love her best --  her parents, neighbors, aunties and uncles, her siblings, her nana and papa, and her teachers – at the front of the march, so they can do the talking. He invites us to come too, for sure he wants -- and needs -- us all there, as allies and supporters.

And in this march of ours for quality public education for all children, it is true that race cannot be ignored. And yet it is. Often. Sometimes even by me. This brought me up short while sitting in that pew.  Hearing Bishop Curry quote Dr. King made me wonder, “What do I need so I can talk honestly about race? And what does Jesus’ life and ministry show me that can help me have this conversation?”

So I began to meditate on it.  I meditated on the energy that coalesced in 2014 into the All Our Children national network I now lead. This energy began in cities and towns across the country years before I was involved. In New York, Dallas, Richmond, Boston, and elsewhere, church leaders and volunteers responded to God’s call to turn away from internal church minutiae, out towards their neighbors and neighborhoods to serve the children and invest themselves in their communities by strengthening schools.

I meditated on All Our Children’s experience at General Convention last summer, where volunteers from all over the country gathered and met deputies and bishops who were seeking paths to greater congregational involvement and community service. We could feel the Spirit with us and among us as Resolution B005 passed supporting church-school partnerships as a path to congregational neighborhood service.

And I meditated on all the conversations I’ve had in between those two events, and since, about what draws people to march with me, and Jesus, and All Our Children for quality public education. And at the heart of all of these talks and all of our work is a hope for justice, equity, and reconciliation. I believe this hope is God’s dream planted deep in our hearts.

Note: General Convention Resolution B005 called on All Our Children to convene a symposium on the role of the church in addressing educational inequity. As this blog was going to press we learned the Presiding Bishop has accepted All Our Children’s invitation to speak at that event, so mark your calendars for Oct 4-6, 2017."

About the author:

Lallie Lloyd founded the All Our Children National Network in 2012 to connect with others who want to be part of a church that matters in the lives of children and communities. A life-long Episcopalian, Lallie has served The Episcopal Church on policy and ministry commissions at the local, diocesan, and national levels. From 2009-2011, she represented Trinity Church Boston on a community alliance that secured $70 million in state funding to transform a Roxbury middle school into a grade 6-12 STEM academy. A graduate of Yale College, Lallie holds master's degrees from the Wharton School and Episcopal Divinity School. 

I was sitting in the nave of Trinity Wall Street, there for the Trinity Institute 2016  “Listen for a Change: Sacred Conversations on Race,” when Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, in his opening sermon, shared these words from Dr. King’s Letter from...

The Episcopal Church has long opposed drilling in the Refuge not only because of our concern for and stewardship of God’s creation, but also because of our commitment to standing with the Gwich’in Nation, the indigenous people who live in the Arctic who are mostly Episcopalians. The Gwich’in depend for their daily sustenance upon the Porcupine caribou herd, whose birthing patterns would be disrupted by oil exploration in the Refuge, ultimately threatening the survival of both the caribou and the Gwich’in Nation.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a national treasure that stands alone in its wildness, ecological integrity, beauty, and unique recreational opportunities. As an Episcopalian, you have a powerful voice in the effort to protect this incomparable landscape for future generations to enjoy.

In 2015, Representative Jared Huffman (D-CA) and Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) introduced legislation (HR 239 and S 2341) that would designate 1.5 million acres of wilderness along the coastal plain of Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as a component of the National Wilderness Preservation System.  Such a designation would protect the Refuge against oil and gas development, preserving its pristine, fragile ecosystem from the roads, pipelines, and oil derricks that accompany such exploration.

Take action today to protect the Arctic Refuge!

  • Sign the Faith Petition for the strongest possible protection for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Go to http://www.faithforthearctic.org/ to add your name. This petition will be shared with the President and members of Congress!

Learn more

 

The Episcopal Church has long opposed drilling in the Refuge not only because of our concern for and stewardship of God’s creation, but also because of our commitment to standing with the Gwich’in Nation, the indigenous people who live in the...

The Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta, which includes Macon and  several parishes beyond Macon will be launching a three year cycle of pilgrimages next year to sites where lynchings occurred. The purpose of these events will be to place historical markers at these sites along with acknowledging those who were martyred.

On August 15, 2015 over 1500 people gathered in Hayneville, Alabama to remember the 50th anniversary of the death of Jonathan Myrick Daniels, a young seminary student who was killed there in 1965. We remembered him along with several others who were killed during those days when white violence against blacks was a common practice. There were about three hundred of us from this Diocese and that glorious day will be remembered for years to come, but we must go beyond it to explore martyrdom in Georgia.

Our Diocesan Commission for Dismantling Racism has the intention of making sure that all of our work leads us forward as we keep our feet marching toward racial healing and reconciliation. Lynching is a part of our collective history and we have tried very hard to put it aside. But it continues to haunt us as we see its mean spirit reasserted in mass incarceration, the enforcement of the death penalty and of late in state sanctioned murders of hundreds of black people who happen to be mostly young males. The type of disgust for the black body that led to the horrors of lynching and the mutilations that were often a part of those lynchings continues to provide the foundation for the ways in which black people are profiled and unfairly handled in the legal system and in the mass killings that continue to this day of young black folks at the hands of some law enforcers under circumstances that are questionable at the very least.

Lynching was often state sanctioned as is the death penalty and the extrajudicial killings of today. It seems to us on the Commission for Dismantling Racism that there is something to be learned from the past that can help us and that there are some loose ends from the past around this part of our history that need to be recognized. Most of the folks who died at the hands of lynchers were never acknowledged as the martyrs that they are. It does not matter to us what the reasons were that resulted in their deaths because we know that most of the stated reasons had little to do with the truth of why they were being killed.

In addition to the pilgrimages to the sites that we will be planning for next year, we will develop a curriculum of study to accompany our three year pilgrimage cycle. We will have book studies, lectures, film series and art exhibits which will help us to foster the conversations that we expect to have across this Diocese.

The Equal Justice Initiative recently released their extensive study on lynching across the south and a copy of that publication can be obtained without cost by simply contacting them. The rage and grief of the 21st Century is partially rooted in the attempt to deny past acts of dehumanization such as lynching and it is a good time to turn our attention in that direction to see if we can open up dialogue and create enough consciousness to lead us to a better place as a culture. Knowledge can be liberating if people are willing to embrace it. Speaking about the unspeakable can be freeing as well but we have to be willing to put forth the effort to march in that direction. We are marching on toward freedom with this effort and would like to issue an invitation for everyone who is interested creating a possibility for healing to join us in the fall of 2016 for the inauguration of this journey toward racial healing and the possibility of reconciliation.

Catherine Meeks, Ph.D, Chair, Beloved Community: Commission for Dismantling Racism, Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta

 

The Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta, which includes Macon and  several parishes beyond Macon will be launching a three year cycle of pilgrimages next year to sites where lynchings occurred. The purpose of these events will be to place historical...

This was originally delivered as a sermon at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Charlotte, NC on Mother's Day by Charles Wynder, Jr., Missioner for Social Justice & Advocacy Engagement. Here is an excerpt of the sermon. Please see related link at the bottom of this page to access the full sermon.

Our Gospel hymn this morning, Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?, brings back the memory of the image of the Pieta, as well as, the scripture and tradition that reminds us of Mary and the women who were not only present at Jesus’ crucifixion, but also being their presence when they accepted his body, and we know they were later present at the empty tomb.  O’ the power of presence!  The words of this hymn, Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?, brings it home.  A Negro Spiritual composed by enslaved Africans in the United States, I learned in my sermon preparation that it was included in the Episcopal Church’s hymnal in 1940 and was the first Spiritual to be included in any mainline American hymnal.   A favorite of Mahatma Gandhi’s, it asks us to grapple with profound questions as it focuses on the death of Jesus by crucifixion.  It forces us to recognize the cross that we sometimes dress up as a piece of jewelry or art for what it was in Jesus’ day - an instrument of oppression by the Roman Empire of Jewish bodies.  This hymn refocuses our eyes, our hearts, and minds anew on the suffering and the passion of Christ.  For some of us, it brings to mind the relationship between the cross and the lynching tree.

 

It should also focus our hearts and minds on the suffering of Black men and a woman living under the threat of police violence and the threat of violence from private citizens like George Zimmerman: all because we are perceived as different, dangerous and fundamentally and less valuable than others in our society.   We call this Othering.  When we fail to really see our neighbor and see the divine in them, we fall into the trap of viewing them as abstract: a thing, an object to fear - Other.  We all can fall into this trap regardless of our race or ethnicity.  It is, however, in really seeing our neighbor as a child of God and in the image of God, that we are able to understand Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel from John, “This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you.”

 

You may ask why I share these words and message on Mother’s Day.  I do so because it affords us the chance to acknowledge the grieving and a groaning of the mothers of the young, men, young women, and sometimes children who were killed in this most recent wave of police involved deaths. People like Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and the 12 year-old Tamir Rice. Tamir Rice, twelve years-old, was playing in a toy gun in a park. The police drove up and shot him in three seconds. Twelve years old. And, they said they thought he was 19 years old. Twelve years old and three seconds.   And then there is Tanesha McBride, Freddie Gray and so many others.  These mothers are women who understand the wailing and the grief of Mary when she received the body of Jesus and cradled him in her arms. 

 

I challenge us to grapple with this pain and these issues because they lie at the heart of the Gospel reading today.  Scripture which asks us to confront the question of whether we believe the children in West Baltimore, in Ferguson, MO, and in Black and Latino Charlotte are “all of our children.”  Or, are we so far removed that we can’t see their humanity?  Or, are they (these children) such an abstraction that they are only accessible to us through the news?  This is why it is important for us to raise up the image of Mary today, it is why we it is important to raise the image of the mother’s in our times who have lost sons to the official violence of the state. For that is what Jesus’ death also was, death by the state.  We participate in these losses and violence through our silence. This silence runs counter to the words of Jesus, and his example.  You may ask again, but why Mother’s Day?  Because Mother’s Day was created by Julia Ward, an abolitionist and author of the Battle Hymn of the Republic who was appealing to all women to create a space for reconciliation following the Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War.   She wrote an appeal to all women of the world because women and mothers know what happens when we don’t have love, justice and reconciliation.  So, the challenge to reclaim this day for Love, Justice and Reconciliation lies at the heart of today’s history and founding.

 

This is why Bishop Marianne Budde has issued a letter to the Diocese of Washington writing, “All mothers worry about their children's well-being. Yet we cannot deny that the painful truth that children of color are at far greater risk than white children in every category of danger and vulnerability.  In particular, children of color are more likely to be victims of violent crime or subject to mistreatment and abuse in our criminal justice system.  Whenever a child, even an adult child, enters our collective consciousness because of the violence perpetrated upon them, we hear an anguished mother’s (and father’s) cry. On Mother’s Day, I ask that we join in prayer and collective witness on behalf of all mothers’ children, and especially children of color who are disproportionately at risk in our land.”  I think it is profound that Bishop Marianne has several women of color preaching around the Diocese about this topic and invited all the congregations of the diocese regardless of their demographic make-up to make a collective witness on Mother’s Day.  She invited them to “commit to praying for all mothers’ children, especially mothers of color, in public worship.”  She encouraged them to “invite a mother of color to speak, to preach, or to share her experience in church.”  She asked them to consider, “organizing a public procession, after worship, around your neighborhood or town in prayerful witness to the truth that (in her words) all mothers’ children are priceless in God’s sight, but only some are treated that way.” 

 

Bishop Mariann suggested that the people of the diocese “commit to learn more about racial disparities among other actions.”  She wrote, “We intend to make our public witness known.”   You may ask, we may ask, why a white woman Episcopal Diocesan Bishop married, mother with two adult sons, would make such a statement?  Well, she must have anticipated our question.  She wrote in her statement, “Should anyone ask why we are taking these actions, please say this:  Until the killing of black and brown mothers’ sons become as important to the rest of the country as the killing of white mothers' sons, we who follow Jesus cannot rest. Faithfully, Bishop Mariann.” 

 

Her words echo those of Ella Baker in 1964. Ella Bakers words that form the basis of Sweet Honey and the Rock’s Ella’s Song.  More importantly, they speak to the words in our lessons today and they echo the actions of Jesus.

This was originally delivered as a sermon at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Charlotte, NC on Mother's Day by Charles Wynder, Jr., Missioner for Social Justice & Advocacy Engagement. Here is an excerpt of the sermon. Please see related link at...

With all of the surfacing videos of police brutality towards civilians, especially civilians of color, I have become very disappointed with our law enforcement as well as the justice system itself. When the Ferguson shooting occurred back in August of 2014, I was on my honeymoon and disconnected from the world of technology. When I returned home to Washington State, all I was seeing on television and Facebook was information about Michael Brown’s death.  Not knowing what had happened, I looked into it and discovered that this 18-year-old black man had been shot and killed by a white Ferguson police officer. My mind automatically began to think about the Civil Rights Movement and how the law would unjustly incarcerate and "control" people of color. Could this really be history repeating itself?  

This, along with the events that followed, made me begin to lose faith in our law enforcement and justice system because, regardless of what had happened prior to the shooting, this man had been fatally shot instead of being shot in the arm or leg to stop him. I was definitely upset over what happened because although I am not black, I am of color. I am brown, and this could happen to me, my family, or someone in my community.

What really hit home for me was when, in my own backyard of Washington state, Antonio Zambrano-Montes, a 35-year-old Mexican man who picked fruits from orchards, was shot 17 times as he ran away from law enforcement in Pasco, Washington. This happened on February 10, 2015 and I didn't find this out until February 13, three days later. At first, at least in my eyes, it wasn't broadcasted like the Ferguson shooting of Michael Brown. I have family that lives in the Tri-Cities area and it could have been them, so news of Antonio’s death struck me close to my heart. Unfortunately, this man died due to the lack of judgment by three Pasco officers. Not one, not two, but three officers. How many officers does it take to subdue a man that is unarmed in the middle of an intersection during rush hour? Are three guns really necessary? I don't believe so. I watched the video multiple times and tried to piece together what could have led them to react this way. When I watched the video, all I could see that Antonio threw a dirt clod and ran away. The officers fired, ran after Antonio, and continued to shoot at him. When the already-dead Antonio was lying on the ground, they proceed to handcuff him. Why? Not only that, but as backup arrived at the scene, the involved officers were whisked away.

A march was organized in Seattle the following week and I attended with hopes that more people, especially Latin@s would show up. Sadly, I was wrong. I was so upset that we as Latin@s didn't stand up for one of our own and represent our community. This came after the Superbowl. I know many Latin@s attended the Superbowl parades and events. How could the Superbowl be more important than the safety of our streets, holding law enforcement accountable, and justice?

I am blessed to be attending The Evergreen State College in Tacoma and learning about the various ways we can become more proactive citizens and create sustainable behavior. These events have led our school to become more informed, question questionable actions, stand up, and show others how to stand up for what is right as well. Our program this year is called "The Power in Our Hands: Pathways to Social Change." As Antonio's hands helped provide for others and his death sparked more interest in social change, I intend to use my hands to educate our communities of color on how to protect themselves and stand up for what is right. The path to social change is in our hands and if we want things to change in our nation for a better future we need to be proactive about it.

My heart goes out to all families affected by the injustice done on behalf of the law enforcement officials. Especially to the most recent known victim to police brutality, Walter Scott of South Carolina.

 

 

Guadalupe Macias Rivera is currently a Junior at The Evergreen State College - Tacoma. She is pursuing her Bachelor of Arts in Social Justice and Law all the while doing community service at St. Matthew/ San Mateo's Jubilee Center working primarily with the immigrant community and DREAMers such as herself. In 2014 she received her Early Childhood Education & Diversity Studies Associate in Applied Science along with her Montessori Certificate allowing her to be a preschool teacher at a Montessori School. Guadalupe intends to stay committed to the community, be a voice for them as well as help them bring their voices out. In her website http://elucidationbylulu.weebly.com she clarifies points about education, beauty, health & food, and life.

With all of the surfacing videos of police brutality towards civilians, especially civilians of color, I have become very disappointed with our law enforcement as well as the justice system itself. When the Ferguson shooting occurred back in August...

In a cooperative effort the Episcopal Networks Collaborative have announced a joint social justice education program.  The three networks are the Episcopal Network for Economic Justice (ENEJ), the Union of Black Episcopalians (UBE) and the Episcopal Ecological Network (EpEN).  The first phase of the joint education program consists of a series of webinars covering issues of race, gender, and social inequality. 

Join the upcoming webinar on Saturday, February 7, at 3:00 pm Eastern (To register, go to http://www.anymeeting.com/PIID=EB54DC88864B3F) on the subject of worker justice and inequality.  The presenter will be the Rev. Timothy Yeager, an Episcopal priest and former labor organizer. 

Other webinar topics will include environmental racism, homelessness, indigenous immigrants from Latin America and alternative community investment strategies. The second phase of the Collaborative’s joint education will be a series of issues papers designed for use by action groups in Episcopal Congregations. UBE President, Annette Buchanan, says “This is part of a continuing effort to improve the effectiveness of our networks by getting out of our silos and working together to empower Episcopalians to promote social justice.”

In a cooperative effort the Episcopal Networks Collaborative have announced a joint social justice education program.  The three networks are the Episcopal Network for Economic Justice (ENEJ), the Union of Black Episcopalians (UBE) and the...
Tagged in: Ferguson

Sometimes I feel like a Motherless Child… A long ways from home.

I begin this reflection on the Church’s call to “pursue justice… love mercy… and walk humbly…” with the plaintive words of that Negro Spiritual because it encapsulates in perfect, plaintive tone my disposition as of late. The events in Ferguson (and as of a few nights ago, also St. Louis), Missouri and all around this country, depicting the vicious assault on Black bodies, normalizing the media assault on Black identity as a “threat” and “thug” and therefore requiring lethal force to subdue or control, and the “soul murdering” assault on the Black male by a society ill-equipped, and even threatened by, the depth of Black grief has brought the words of the Negro Spiritual to the forefront of my consciousness. To be clear, the American assault on Blackness is not new. The “imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchal culture” described by bell hooks in her book We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity has been systematically lynching Blackness (and frankly, all things non imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchal) since the first enslaved Africans arrived in the Americas some four centuries ago. In order for the American slave system to work, an entire culture had to be annihilated in order for enslaved Africans to accept their new role as slaves. Though the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America may have removed the physical shackles, the Black consciousness of men and women is still held on the bonds of psychological slavery. Carter G. Woodson describes this phenomenon as the “Miseducation of the Negro” and suggests that “If you can control a man's thinking you do not have to worry about his action. When you determine what a man shall think you do not have to concern yourself about what he will do. If you make a man feel that he is inferior, you do not have to compel him to accept an inferior status, for he will seek it himself. If you make a man think that he is justly an outcast, you do not have to order him to the back door. He will go without being told; and if there is no back door, his very nature will demand one.” In my opinion the constant assault on Black bodies – perceived as threats for wearing hoodies and walking in the middle of the night, for listening to music too loudly, for refusal to move out of the middle of the street in broad daylight, for carrying a toy gun in a discount department store – is a reminder that, to some, we do not deserve to occupy the same social spaces as others. That is why I feel “like a Motherless Child… a long ways from home…”

To an extent, we are all a long way from home. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on the night before he was killed by an assassin’s bulletin, prophetically uttered these immortal words – “He’s [God] allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.” As a human family we are all on a cosmically-divine journey to God’s completion of Creation when “…they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken.” This prophetic longing for the Reign of God isn’t new, but reflects the presence of a destructive pathology in the human condition that we in ourselves are powerless to change. St. Augustine called this “Original Sin,” a fundamental flaw that binds the disparate human condition with one common sickness.

So how do we get home? In the words of Bishop Michael Curry, how do we live “into God’s Dream?” First, we have to understand that there is a dream in the first place. Among the many lessons that the Story of Creation can teach is that before was was, God’s dream was. God’s dream was that Word upon which stood the pillars of the universe. God’s dream was that Word which spoke perfect light out of virgin darkness and illuminated all of Creation. God’s dream is that Word that created order in chaos and spoke life into the emptiness of space. And tt some point “…the dream of God, God’s deepest intention, God’s most profound purpose, God’s greatest yearning, was to become flesh and dwell among us.” Long before Dr. King had a dream, God had one, and unlike Dr. King’s dream which is “deeply-rooted” in a limited “American Dream,” God’s Dream exudes from an infinite power, suffused with infinite love, and shines with infinite goodness.

After tapping into God’s Dream, it is imperative that we engage that Dream through the age old Christian practice of prayer. To many, prayer is seen as an opiate, a way for the church to avoid the messy work of “doing righteousness” and “maintaining justice.” It is my belief, however, that anyone who thinks of prayer in that way “just ain’t doing it right.” Prayer is a deeply subversive practice wherein we confront a world spinning counter to the Dream of God with the truth of God. The preeminent example of this is the “Lord’s Prayer.” Jesus and his homies were together on the mountain and one of the said, “man, teach us to pray.” Jesus said to them, “when pray, pray for God’s reign to overturn the kingdoms and systems of this world, pray for God’s provision to end the physical and spiritual hunger of humanity, pray for reconciliation and healing to overwhelm the world, and pray for strength to stand up against oppression and to stand firm in liberation.” I think that this prayer has been said so much that is subversion is overlooked. The opening petitions “Our Father in Heaven… your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” is making the same declaration over and over – Your name be hallowed, your Kingdom come, your will be done – essentially petitioning God to set up God’s reign in creation and to supplant the nightmare thereof with God’s Dream. In offering this prayer, Jesus wasn’t seeking to escape from the world, but to turn the world upside-down, which is really right-side-up.

The Episcopal Church has long held the belief that “what we pray becomes what we believe.” Through intentionally engaging in the subversion of prayer over and over again, speaking God’s dream into being regularly, it begins to take root in our bones, and produce fruit in our actions. If it’s one thing that the saints teach us over and over again, it’s that faithful action must be preceded by, steeped in, and birthed from faithful prayer. The art of intentional prayer is lost in a modern context of over-scheduled busyness and “too much to do,” and as a result Evil runs amuck and responds to the impotent petitions of the Church by saying “Jesus I know, Paul I know, but who are you?” As a common aphorism states, “no prayer, no power. Little prayer, little power. Much prayer, much power.” The power to co-create the Dream of God with God is only wrought the relationship to and communication with God.

Prayer is the subversive act of having the audacity to recognize mere “creatures of bread and wine…” as “the bread of heaven” and “the cup of salvation.” Prayer is the power to look at slain children and police brutality and speak “the Peace of the Lord…” “…which passes all understanding.” Prayer is the faith to look at broken and corrupt governments and to declare God’s Reign into being. Prayer is courage to look little Black boys and girls in the face and, against the “soul-murdering” assault on who they be, demand that they are “fearfully, and wonderfully made.”

I still “feel like a Motherless child… a long ways from home” many days. I am constantly on my guard against a system that demeans my existence at every turn. I am constantly seeking ways of waking up my consciousness and being a “consciousness-raiser” to those around me. However, although I may feel “a long ways from home,” I, like Dr. King, know intuitively that I am homeward bound. Jesus promises us that when he says “I go to prepare a place for you.” As another Negro Spiritual says: “When you hear me praying… I’m building me a home… this earthly house, is gonna soon decay, and my soul gotta some place to stay.”

The Rev. Marcus Halley currently serves as Pastor for Young Adults and Families at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church – Kansas City, Missouri. He is a graduate of the Interdenominational Theological Center with a  Master of Divinity and is currently pursuing his Master of Sacred Theology from the School of Theology at the University of the South. His current theological interests include the intersectionality between Liberation Theology, Anglican liturgical expression, and Afrocentric cosmology.

Sometimes I feel like a Motherless Child… A long ways from home. I begin this reflection on the Church’s call to “pursue justice… love mercy… and walk humbly…” with the plaintive words of that Negro Spiritual because it encapsulates in perfect,...