Social Justice and Advocacy Engagement

The Office of Social Justice and Advocacy Engagement is responsible for engaging Episcopalians in building, resourcing, and empowering advocacy movements and networks for social justice at a local and community level. Together with people in the pews, lay leaders, and clergy, the office develops and supports diocesan State Public Policy Networks, which build and support locally led coalitions for social change according to the policy positions of The Episcopal Church. 

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.

Dear Friends:

As you all know, this is an election year, and the campaigns for various offices are underway. Throughout my ministry I have tried to maintain clear boundaries between religion and politics. I do not think, for example, that it’s proper for me, as pastor of a congregation, to take the side of any particular candidate running for public office. I also think it is inappropriate for a congregation to endorse any politician or party. I am, however, a citizen and registered voter, and I have my personal opinions, which our faith informs. To that end, I want to offer some thoughts to consider for those of us who are committed Christians and eligible to vote in the upcoming elections.

There are a number of issues in contemporary politics for which there is no current consensus among Christians. Examples of these include the pro-life or pro-choice position on abortion, the support of same sex marriage and LGBT rights, the support of equal rights pertaining to women, the debate regarding the morality of the death penalty, the question of whether military force is ethical, the issue of whether or not the minimum wage should be raised, and the current discussions pertaining to gun control. While some denominations and congregations have taken stands on these matters one way or the other, there is NOT universal agreement on them within the worldwide Christian community. Beware, therefore, of anyone who would tell you otherwise. There are, however, certain standards of conduct about which I believe all Christians are of one mind. I would describe them as follows:

  • Hating others is not who we are as followers of Christ. We may disagree with them or not understand them, but hating them (and, in extreme cases, wanting to kill them) is inconsistent with the Christian faith and life. That applies even to our enemies, those who wish us harm, and those we perceive as threatening. It feels strange for me to say something so obvious, but with the amount of hateful rhetoric going on today, I think a reminder is in order.
  • Mocking, bullying, and belittling people is also not who we are. We may take issue with their viewpoints, but we are to treat others as we would want to be treated. Jesus was mocked by those who rejected and crucified him, but he did not do the same to them.
  • Expressing and demonstrating hostility toward strangers or foreigners is contrary to the Old and New Testament mandates that we make a place for them and show them hospitality in our land.
  • Categorizing specific persons or groups of people as inferior is not what Christ would do. The life that God has given to us is a gift to be used for God’s glory. It is not a competition to see who is number one. There are no winners and losers in the eyes of God. All are equally loved.
  • Acknowledging one’s sin and need for forgiveness is an absolute. Jesus came into the world because humanity is in need of a Savior through whom our sins are forgiven and we are redeemed. Failure to apologize when one is clearly in the wrong is not an option.
  • Affirming and helping the poor, the sick, the hungry, the disadvantaged, and those who are marginalized by society is an absolute. Jesus had a special place in his heart for such people, and those who would be his disciples must as well.
  • All people are to be respected, which includes women. Even those who still might see males as dominant must acknowledge that women are fellow human beings who deserve to be treated as such. Verbal abuse of women, such as making degrading comments about their physical appearance or clothing, is inconsistent with the Christian faith and life.
  • Children are to be loved and protected. Children were the least valued and most vulnerable of people at the time of Jesus, and he welcomed them, cared for them and blessed them.
  • Those with abundance are urged to pray and discern how those gifts may build the Kingdom of God. The objective of a Christian is not to become wealthy, particularly if it comes at the expense of others. Rather, it is to care for and help those who have less.
  • Fear is not to be our motivator. “Fear not” is a message found many times in the scriptures. As Christians, our inspiration is FAITH, not fear. Faith and fear are inversely correlated.
  • Jesus said that those who want to think of themselves as great must take the position of the lowly. “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12). Our greatness comes from God, not our ambition to be better than others. What we perceive as great is not necessarily great in God’s eyes.

I could probably list more, but these are the ones that come to mind primarily. I understand that one of the principles this country was founded upon is the separation of church and state. At the same time, we who are Christians are Christians first, and our country is, foremost, the Kingdom of God. As you exercise your civic duty, please consider these universal Christian values and ways of living as they reflect on the candidates you support and on us as participants in the electoral process.

Note: This letter was originally written in the Summer of 2016.  It was distributed to the congregation of All Saints’ Torresdale Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. It was also posted on the parish’s website and Facebook page.

Dear Friends: As you all know, this is an election year, and the campaigns for various offices are underway. Throughout my ministry I have tried to maintain clear boundaries between religion and politics. I do not think, for example, that it’s...
A stone and bronze plaque unveiled Oct. 22 in front of the Douglass Theatre in Macon, Georgia, marks the location where in 1922 a lynch mob discarded the body of lynching victim John "Cockey" Glover. The plaque was unveiled during a pilgrimage by 175 people sponsored by the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta’s Beloved Community Commission for Dismantling Racism. Photo: Hala Hess White

A stone and bronze plaque unveiled Oct. 22 in front of the Douglass Theatre in Macon, Georgia, marks the location where a lynch mob discarded the body of their victim John “Cockey” Glover in 1922. The plaque was unveiled during a pilgrimage by 175 people sponsored by the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta’s Beloved Community Commission for Dismantling Racism. Photo: Hala Hess White

[Diocese of Atlanta] In an effort to confront racism and heal from it, 175 people made a pilgrimage Saturday, Oct. 22 to Macon and marked where a 1922 lynch mob dumped the body of John “Cockey” Glover.

“Telling the truth is the only path to real healing,” Catherine Meeks told the crowd assembled inside the Douglass Theatre, a historic landmark in Macon established by one of the city’s first African-American entrepreneurs. “People want to say that that the truth will lead to division, but it’s the lies that keep us divided.”

Meeks, a former professor of African-American studies at nearby Mercer University, led the pilgrimage on behalf of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta’s Beloved Community Commission for Dismantling Racism, which she chairs.

The pilgrimage grew out of the commission’s four-year effort to remove barriers to seeing God’s face in everyone. The commission last month hosted Alabama death penalty lawyer and “Just Mercy” author Bryan Stevenson, who drew a packed crowd at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Atlanta. “When you go to spaces where there has been abuse, trauma and horror, and do something reflective, you can begin to respond to the trauma,” he said.

The daylong pilgrimage began before dawn at Meeks’ home church, St. Augustine’s Episcopal in Morrow, where buses filled with people of various colors, ages, cultures, denominations and religions. Most were from the Atlanta diocese; others came from Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina, Massachusetts and California. Some are planning similar commemorations around race-related violence where they live.

In general, those on the pilgrimage were seeking to change the narrative of racially-charged violence—including modern-day police killings of unarmed people of color—by bearing witness publically to its wrongness, sanctifying the lives of all people and honoring Glover and others as martyrs.

“Why am I as a white person 50 times safer walking down the street than a black person?”  asked Chris Wight of Oak View, California, who works at a ministry devoted to social justice and was in Georgia to visit a similar one and support the pilgrimage. “In my local area, native peoples’ lands were built over by freeways and their histories demolished. We need to look at true histories, not whitewashed history.”

Recalling a violent death

An Oct. 22 pilgrimage of 175 people to the historic Douglass Theatre in Macon, Georgia, marked the location where in 1922 a lynch mob discarded the body of lynching victim John "Cockey" Glover. Built by African- American entrepreneur Charles Douglass, the theater was a popular gathering place for the community and Glover's body was dumped there “to make a statement,” said Theatre Director Gina Ward. The pilgrimage, sponsored by the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta’s Beloved Community Commission for Dismantling Racism, sought to heal from racism by bearing witness. Photo: Hala Hess White

The body of lynching victim John “Cockey” Glover was dumped in front of  the historic Douglass Theatre in Macon, Georgia, by a lynch mob in 1922. Built by African- American entrepreneur Charles Douglass, the theater was a popular gathering place for the community and Glover’s body was left there “to make a statement,” said Theatre Director Gina Ward. Photo: Hala Hess White

At the Macon theater, the group celebrated Eucharist with Atlanta Bishop Robert C. Wright, who said that racial reconciliation isn’t about guilt or defensiveness—it’s critical to loving others like Jesus loves. “We ground what is and could be in this common cup,” he said.

The sermon by Simeon Bruce, a fellow in Atlanta’s Episcopal Service Corps, urged listeners that remembering must be followed by repenting from judging others and learning from our mistakes.

For the offertory anthem, a Clark Atlanta University Quartet soloist sang the protest ballad “Strange Fruit”: Black body swinging in the Southern breeze /Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

The service continued outside the theater, where on Aug. 1, 1922, Glover’s lynched body had been dumped “to make a statement,” said Gina Ward, the theater’s director.

Local historian Andrew Manis said Glover appeared at a poolroom drunk and waving a pistol, and when law enforcement responded, he fatally shot a white policeman and two white customers. He went into hiding as police searched and harassed the African-American community and the Ku Klux Klan put a $100 bounty on him. The Douglass Theatre, which had been built by African-American entrepreneur Charles Douglass, usually was a safe place for the community, but during the manhunt, Douglass himself received death threats.

As an American, Glover was supposed to have the constitutional right to equal protection under the law and a fair trial, guaranteed by the 14th Amendment passed in 1868. Still, in the years following the Civil War, rights were not applied equally. From 1886 to 1992, after the end of Reconstruction, at least 15 people were lynched in middle Georgia.

Two days after the poolroom shootings, Glover was apprehended 50 miles north in Griffin, but his police transport ended before he got to Macon.

“Just north of the city, they were stopped by a mob of an estimated 400 angry white men, who grabbed up Glover from the back floorboard of the car. [They] emptied shotguns into his body, left him lying face up in a small swampy ditch … then decided to dump the body in the back of a truck and take it into Macon,” Manis wrote in “Macon Black and White, An Unutterable Separation in the American Century.”

In downtown Macon, the biggest city in central Georgia then and now, “the mob jerked Glover’s remains out of the truck and dumped it in the street, where his clothing was cut to shreds and sold as souvenirs,” Manis wrote. “Later, the nearly nude body was dumped in the foyer of the Douglass Theatre. Someone shouted, ‘Get the gasoline,’ but the police arrived just before the body could be incinerated inside the theater. By that time hundreds of whites had converged on the area and overwhelmed police. Pushing and shoving, many shouted, ‘Burn him!’ or ‘Hang him up.’ Others yelled, ‘Let’s get a look at him.’”

On the spot where that happened, the service Saturday continued under a bright autumn sun.

Wright unveiled a stone and bronze marker embedded on the ground with Glover’s name and “martyred brothers and unknown others” lynched from 1886 to 1922 in middle Georgia, with the date and seal of the Atlanta diocese. Although almost a century has passed since Glover’s death, one purpose of the pilgrimage was to present lynchings in the context of injustice toward people of color, which many see continuing today in instances where police fatally shoot unarmed African-American men.

The Rev. Kimberly Jackson, an associate rector at All Saints Episcopal Church in Atlanta, led a litany of remembrance.

“We remember these martyrs who were targeted by racial terrorism and stripped of their humanity,” she said before reciting the names of Glover; James Moore; Owen Ogletree; Charles Gibson; Jack Hilsman; Charles Powell; William Bostick; Alonzo Green and his unnamed son; Paul Jones; Willie Singleton; Amos Gibson; John Goolsby; Henry Etheridge; John Gilham; and those unknown. “We lament the historical silence that surrounds their lynching and buries the truth,” she recited.

“Today we commit to break the silence, to uncover the hard truths of our history and to face the legacy of racial terrorism,” the congregation responded.

“We are poets and prophets, protestors and protectors, committed to dismantling racism in our homes, churches, schools, and beyond… Let us go forth in the world until justice, real justice, comes,” concluded Jackson.

One of the first offerings was a cluster of white sage. It came from Wight’s front yard, a sacred herb for native people in his part of California and his way of marking the sanctity of life across cultures.

Recognizing the civic and personal importance

The event attracted the blessing of the Macon-Bibb County government, which declared Oct. 22, 2016, “Reclaiming Hope through Remembering Day.”

“No resolution or ordinance means more than what we are to do today,” Elaine Lucas, a local elected official for 25 years, told the pilgrimage audience. “Even though we don’t know all the names and we never will know all the names of the martyrs, you are remembering them, and we are remembering them. I salute you, and we salute you… This gives me real hope that we can come together and do what’s right for everyone in this country.”

Berkeley Divinity at Yale Student Paul Daniels II sings a renewal of baptismal vows at the Tubman Museum in Macon, Georgia, during an Oct. 22 event to commemorate the life of lynching victim John "Cockey" Glover. The pilgrimage of 175 people sought to confront and heal from racism, and was sponsored by the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta’s Beloved Community Commission for Dismantling Racism. Photo: Hala Hess White

Berkeley Divinity at Yale Student Paul Daniels II sings a renewal of baptismal vows at the Tubman Museum in Macon, Georgia, during an Oct. 22 event to commemorate the life of lynching victim John “Cockey” Glover. Photo: Hala Hess White

The pilgrimage continued at the nearby Tubman Museum, which focuses on African-American art, history and culture, where participants viewed historical photos of lynchings across the country, including Minnesota, Wyoming and Oklahoma. Facilitators worked with small groups to continue the dialogue before the pilgrimage ended.

“This is so important at a time in which our nation is politically and racially polarized,” said Tubman Museum Director Andy Ambrose. “We need to do this.”

For Christian clergy and lay leaders in Georgia and the South, reconciliation efforts such as the pilgrimage represent a significant historical shift.

“One great irony is that as this region was simultaneously becoming the lynching center of the United States, it was also becoming the Bible Belt,” Manis told the pilgrimage participants. “So many of those ghastly affairs were presided over by Christian clergy…. The white Christians at the time were certain that the ritual [of lynching] was a sign of their purity.”

Confronting evidence of lynching

Many of the museum’s lynching photos featured bystanders, with their expressions ranging from smiling to disinterest. Katie Capurso Ernst, program manager of the Mission Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, wondered if their response was any different from most Americans who view a police shooting video today.

“I don’t know in the moment if people are aware when history is being made,” said Ernst, who is helping plan a similar commemoration in the Diocese of Massachusetts. “In a thousand years, would people look back at [current] videos of police shootings, how many views they got and things still hadn’t changed?”

Others said connecting the lynching evidence in Macon to present racial violence represents a powerful call to social justice.

“We are drawing a line between lynching and police shootings. Its an evolution of the same intention,” said Paul Daniels II, a student at Yale’s Berkeley Divinity School in New Haven, Connecticut, and part of the delegation from Massachusetts that is seeking ways to address racism in their area. “Just as theologians connect lynching to the crucifixion of Christ. He was impoverished, with brown skin and he didn’t do what he was supposed to do.”

“This helps you think more about faith and how to use it to help others,” said James Smith, 13, of Forsyth, Georgia, who attends St. Francis Episcopal Church and came with his sister and parents. “I didn’t understand how bad it was and I need to see how it is now and how I can relate so we can fix it for the future.”

In 2017 and 2018, the Beloved Community Commission for Dismantling Racism plans to offer similar pilgrimages to other sites in Georgia. For more information, contact Catherine Meeks, kayma53@att.net.

— Michelle Hiskey is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and member of St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church.

A stone and bronze plaque unveiled Oct. 22 in front of the Douglass Theatre in Macon, Georgia, marks the location where a lynch mob discarded the body of their victim John “Cockey” Glover in 1922. The plaque was unveiled during a pilgrimage by 175...

In April 2016, the Episcopal Network for Economic Justice (ENEJ) conducted a three-day symposium, featuring a keynote address by Southern Ohio’s Bishop Thomas Breidenthal, site visits to neighborhood centers hosting worker justice organizing and community investment activities. Hosted by Christ Church Cathedral the conference also featured workshops on asset based community development (ABCD), community investment, racism, and reflections led by theologian Walter Brueggemann and activist scholar Peter Block. We are posting two blogs that capture some of the content of the symposium.

Michael Maloney
Episcopal Network for Economic Justice

American Racism: Dream Versus Reality

By: Ariel Miller

“Black children with toy guns are shot while white men carry guns openly or concealed in grocery stores and churches. In 15 of the U.S.’s 60 largest cities in 2015, police killed only Black people.”

Speaking to a packed room in a breakout session of ENEJ’s April symposium on Community Building, Prince Brown, PhD, laid out the terrible dissonance between white America’s dream of its own goodness and the violent reality which began four centuries ago with the slave trade and continues to find new forms with impunity.

“U.S. history spans 250 years of legal slavery, 100 years of legal discrimination – Jim Crow, and 50 years of protected class status,” he said, and then immediately debunked even those short decades with the current realities of the criminal injustice system.

The U.S. has the largest imprisoned population in the world, holding 25% of all the world’s prisoners, Brown reminded participants. The epidemic of police killings of unarmed black men continues, with indictments almost never:

“The beat officer becomes the whole ‘justice’ system,” Brown grimly explained. “He apprehends, judges, and executes, and the courts say he is justified.

The violence by white against Black Americans takes myriad forms, from the intentionality of poverty in ghettos to the miserliness leading to the poisoning of the Flint water supply. 

“Black people have been deprived of the product of their minds as well as of their labor,” Brown added. He offered resources for illuminating the dynamics and tools of racism in the U.S.:

The Souls of Black Folk, by WEB DuBois, as timely now as when DuBois wrote it over a century ago.

Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ 2015 book addressed to his young son “because this was the year you saw Eric Garner choked to death for selling cigarettes, because you know now that Renisha McBride was shot for seeking help, that John Crawford was shot down for browsing in a department store. And you have seen men in uniform drive by and murder Tamir Rice, a twelve-year-old child whom they were oath-bound to protect.” (p. 9)

With Coates and DuBois, Brown is striving to open the eyes of fellow Americans who are “white” so that they can see the violence that was founded in “capitalism, which was about transforming black bodies into cotton, sugar, rice and indigo. What are we to make of a society whose most esteemed founding father was a slave-owning philosopher of freedom?”

Brown recommended Jim Wallis’ America’s Original Sin, Derrick A. Bell’s classic law text Race, Racism, and American Law, and urged conferees to see American culture through African-American eyes by reading James Baldwin’s Nobody Knows My Name.

Unlike Coates, who can find no solace in Christianity, Prince agrees with DuBois that “religion as the sole refuge allowing enslaved people to survive.”

“African-American theology has always been liberation theology,” he added: “Christianity in the light of the experience of the poor.” Churches should equip their parishioners to see facts, through programs like Cincinnati’s Christ Church Cathedral’s recent four-week course on mass incarceration.

“Support Black Lives Matter,” said this dedicated scholar and loving parent of two sons, “because people are starting to demonize young black men.”

Ariel Miller is a professional writer and Christian activist based in Cincinnati. Her resume includes directing the Episcopal Community Services Foundation for the Diocese of Southern Ohio.

The Call for Transformation

By: Vicky Partin

After my November training as a facilitator for Asset Based Community Development (ABCD): Called to Transformation, I came away from Denver refreshed and encouraged by the possibilities of engaging the Beallwood neighborhood in a new way. This time the members of BAND (Beallwood Area Neighborhood Development) would ask all new questions.

After the Economic Justice Symposium in Cincinnati this April, I came away refreshed and even more encouraged about the possibilities. This time I have some new language to share for building relationships and watching the people take action.

BAND, a grassroots organization in Columbus, Georgia, is not a faith-based nonprofit, but they open and close every meeting with a prayer. They are spiritual and religious.

Bishop Thomas Breidenthal reminded us that our Christian energy ignites us and causes us to want to bear each other’s burdens. We need to ask the residents what their real burdens are and how our combined gifts can bring the social change they hope to see. Such talk, said Peter Block, can lead to an “economics of compassion” and free up “idle capital” in the church partnerships. Most churches and some BAND members have “idle capital” stashed away. Together we can ignite some Christian energy and compassion, for many residents in Beallwood dream of starting their own businesses.

Walter Brueggemann shared stories from the “Jesus movement” where the Lord spent time with tax collectors, and Paul spoke of redistributing goods and the pursuit of happiness rather than the pursuit of “more stuff.” Otherwise we are living in an economy of “extraction”. As baptized believers we are not allowed to extract in the neighborhood. The fruits of the spirit listed in Galatians are all about sharing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, and self-control. It’s all about relationships, not about extracting from others.

Pastor Damon Lynch III told encouraging stories of people transforming through the ABCD model of nurturing assets rather than “fixing” needs, focusing on the whole community where people are seen as citizens rather than clients.

I came away with some new language to offer my friends in Beallwood. I will not hesitate to say this can be a Jesus movement. The people know what they want and need, and they can fix it.  We all have access to “idle capital”. The glass is half-full and we can ask questions and nurture the gifts of the people. This is not easy work as Peter Block stated. It can be lonely work, but as Jesus people we need to see where our energy ignites us.

Vicky Partin is Vice President of ENEJ and retired as Lay Missioner with Chattahoochee Valley Episcopal Ministry in the Diocese of Atlanta, where she now serves as Diocesan Jubilee Officer.

In April 2016, the Episcopal Network for Economic Justice (ENEJ) conducted a three-day symposium, featuring a keynote address by Southern Ohio’s Bishop Thomas Breidenthal, site visits to neighborhood centers hosting worker justice organizing and...

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...