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Desegregating our spiritual lives

Desegregating our spiritual lives

by Edwin Smit and Louie Crew Clay


The Presiding Bishop and General Convention have called on the whole church to respond to “systemic racial injustice” to end “the plague of racism in our society and church.”  We wanted to examine racial patterns in the Episcopal Church as reflected by diocesan staff, church membership and social media to understand where we are now.

Diocesan Staffs

Of the seventy-two* Dioceses who show photos of their staff on their websites, sixteen have staffs where at least 20% are persons of color – four have staffs where persons of color are greater than the percentage in the US population as a whole.  The challenge though is that half of all dioceses show no persons of color on their staff at all!

POC Staff


*Others may merit commendation as well (or merit the challenge).  Two dioceses do not have a staff page on their website and 25 others show no pictures of the staff.



Ordained Leadership


In addition to our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, there are only six diocesan bishops of color serving in the ninety-nine domestic dioceses.



Why only 6 [6.06%]

We would expect more than twice as many if our episcopal leadership were to reflect the US population proportionately. 

 There should be seven more if we were to just reflect the Episcopal Church!

 The US population is 62.6% white; the Episcopal Church is 86.2% white



Why are there no women bishops of color serving as ordinaries? 

And why are only 3% of ordinaries women?  Females are 50.8% of the US population.


Canons and Deans

Only one Canon-to-the-Ordinary is a person of color, the Rev Canon Gregory A. Jacobs, Diocese of Newark.

Of the Deans of our 87 cathedrals, only four (4.6%) are persons of color.

  • The Very Rev Walter B.A. Brownridge, Cathedral of St Andrew, Honolulu
  • The Very Rev Miguelina Espinal-Howell, Christ Church Cathedral, Hartford, CT
  • The Very Rev René R John, Trinity Cathedral, Trenton, NJ
  • The Very Rev Will Mebane, St Paul’s Cathedral, Buffalo, NY

It would take three times that many to be proportionate with the membership of persons of color now in the Episcopal Church




What would it take for us to be the change we seek in the world?  What would it require for the Episcopal Church to reflect in our membership the diversity of the neighbors God has given us?



The numbers, Province by Province…

The chart below shows in a red the total number of members who are people-of-color in each province now and in green the number of people-of-color each province would need to add to reflect the percentage of persons-of color-in that province.

POC Provinces


Though some provinces are closer to meeting the goal of reflecting the diversity of their population than others


Congratulations to Province 6 for so closely reflecting the population there – but why is there such disparity across Provinces?  Racial reconciliation is highly personal. It does not happen just by believing in it, As Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said in a NY Times interview, racial reconciliation requires specific actions and intentions.

“Rather than creating just another program, we said we have got to go deeper. Because laws can change behavior, and must change behavior, but laws don’t change hearts. We’ve got to be about the work of changing and transforming hearts. And that happens by deepening real sustained relationships, and listening to and telling and sharing of our life stories.” — the Most Rev. Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop in an interview with The New York Times, March 18, 2016




On Social Media

We also examined the racial diversity of a public sample of those with whom bishops already have conversations on social media platforms. Sixty-six percent of the bishops use Facebook, and they average 1,416 Facebook “friends” each.  A random sample revealed that bishops on average have 16.84% people of color among their Facebook friends.  Additionally, forty-six percent of the bishops are active on Twitter. They average 882 tweets each and average 954 followers each.


Twitter also reveals a choice that Facebook does not: it shows pictures of all whom a user is following. We examined a random sample of these photographs to see to what degree bishops choose to follow persons of color.



On just these two social media platforms, bishops engage more persons of color than the Episcopal Church has in its pews on an average Sunday morning, though 20.32% fewer than are in the United States. Still it is a start.


Seventy-eight percent of the bishops use social media. That is one way to model the engagement they have asked the Episcopal Church to have with others. Facebook and Twitter are the largest discourse communities in the history of the world since the Garden of Eden. Both Facebook and Twitter give all users access to the whole world.


Surprisingly, 22% percent of the bishops have not yet availed themselves of this singular opportunity to reach out to so many people. They participate in neither Facebook nor Twitter and they are the spiritual leaders of 27.8% of the folks in the pew on an average Sunday.




General Convention has recognized and called out racial reconciliation as being central to our witness as followers of Christ;

“Resolved, That the Church understands and affirms that the call to pray and act for racial reconciliation is integral to our witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ and to our living into the demands of our Baptismal Covenant….”                      From Resolution C019 of General Convention 2015


So how do we move forward from here?  What concrete options are available to us?





Our exercise with the photographs on Facebook and Twitter intrigued us, but no such sample can measure the human heart. The data from social media is merely symptomatic. The question behind this exercise is life-giving: How may I most authentically love my neighbor as I love myself?


1)Following the lead of the Presiding Bishop, we suggest that each us of us deepen and sustain relationships with others racially different from us.

How racially diverse are your friends? It is not difficult to enlarge our experience. Once we shed white supremacy, the world of the spirit resurrects and surprises us with joy again and again.

Although social media may help us desegregate our social and spiritual lives, they are not an adequate replacement for frequent face-to-face sharing. Often we have authentic and deep relationships in quite simple and old-fashioned ways: make a local telephone call; walk across the street; ride to another part of town; chat with an open heart to a stranger on a park bench.

Sometimes the uttermost part of the earth is the short distance between my heart and the heart of someone I have treated as “other.”

It is easy to enlarge our understanding of our neighborhood if in our heart we give that a high priority. The Good Samaritan enlarged his neighborhood to include the Jew who had fallen among thieves. The priest and the Levite were too busy. Jesus told this story when asked, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29)


2)Guilt is a terrible burden. That is why we have altars: leave guilt there. Let us redeem guilt with love. Let us be in solidarity with any at whose expense our race or gender or class has been unjustly privileged.

Segregation is systemic in much of the United States and in much of the Episcopal Church. Communities inherit their identities generation after generation. It is not surprising, nor necessarily evil, that most of those close to us look like us. We may or may not like the systems already in place, but we are rarely responsible for creating them.

Yet Jesus tells us to pray that the world we live in will be arranged the way God arranges heaven. Who seriously believes that heaven is segregated socially and spiritually? Why not live together on earth as we will live in heaven?


3)We suggest that we build these relationships to change ourselves, not to change others.

Engagement differs from toleration: “”‘Toleration’ is merely another form of condescension, a less odious way of expressing one’s superiority. It is like lowering oneself from a fourteenth-floor penthouse but still looking down from a third-floor suite. The angle may not be as steep, but the operative word is still ‘down.'” — Gary Commin in Becoming Bridges: The Spirit and Practice of Diversity.

“We don’t get to choose our family; but we do choose our friends,” some say. Jesus was more radical: “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked; and he answered his own question not by referring to his family of blood, but by referring to his family of intention.




Actions reveal what is in our hearts more poignantly than words:




Jesus said, “God’s realm is very near.”


Edwin Smit, an intern for the Episcopal Service Corps (ESC), works as a grant writer and program assistant for United Community Corporation, a group that serves Newark’s poor. He is improving a tracking system to document their need for more funding.

Louie Clay is professor emeritus at Rutgers University. He has served The Episcopal Church as a deputy to six General Conventions (1994-2009), as a member of Executive Council (2000-2006), and as a member of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Newark.

Louie and Edwin decided to collaborate on this article after they met at an ESC breakfast. In 2000 Louie drafted a resolution that, with drafts of others, led to the legislation that created the Episcopal Service Corps.


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Susan Champion

This is a very timely and important reminder for the Episcopal Church of just how far we still have to go. Thank you for giving us this detailed information. May God grant us the will to respond by working to change things.
the Rev. Susan Champion, Christ the Lord Church
Pinole CA (Diocese of California)

Gloria Payne Carter

To God Be The Glory (TGBTG)!
THANK YOU so very much for doing this great and necessary work. If the Church (bishops, standing committees, search committees, diocesan councils, vestries) would take heart and read, mark, learn, inwardly digest and act upon your recommendations, then perhaps we might stand a chance of seeing change in this lifetime. Pray God move in our hearts to make this so.

Troy Haliwell

I believe part of the problem is that we as a country are still majority caucasian/white in certain regions, such as mine (Pacific Northwest) where greater than 80% of the population is non-Latino caucasian/white.

You have to pull from the population as a whole.

But there are also solidly “black churches” such as the AME and others, which for a long time were the only churches open and affirming of blacks. So we have to remember the faiths of the people in the pews when we account for the lack of minority representation.

If your population is not diverse, you cannot expect those called to serve the church to be diverse.

Scott Fisher

Perhaps we should simply refer to our tradition as we seek to relate properly to our fellow man. The Baptismal Covenant in the Book of Common Prayer is helpful here.
Celebrant: Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons,loving your neighbor as yourself?
People: I will with God’s help.
Celebrant: Will you strive for justice and peace among all people,and respect the dignity of every human being?
People: I will with God’s help.
This is how we change our hearts which only then leads to true behavioral change. What happens when we backslide into our old ways which happens a lot? The Baptismal Covenant has the answer for us.
Celebrant: Will you persevere in resisting evil,and,when you fall into sin,repent and return to the Lord?
People: I will with God’s help.

Gary Roberts

Thanks for this great data-driven analysis! It’s a great start for conversation and action. Louie has always been a thought leader for faith metrics (see his home pages). It’s good that younger folks are joining him…welcome Edwin! As Deming said, “Opinion is the enemy of quality.”

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