The Presiding Bishop, the Rt Revd Michael Curry, and President of the House of Deputies, the Revd Gay Clark Jennings, each addressed Executive Council regarding the current movement for change and justice at the opening of its online meeting yesterday, HOD President Jennings concluding, “There is nothing more important than this on our Executive Council agenda.”
Presiding Bishop Curry referred to the current protests against deadly racism and injustice, and invoked the prophet Isaiah to encourage his listeners to continue the work even after the cameras are gone:
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up on wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.
When the cameras are gone, when public attention has moved elsewhere, we must not be distracted. The work goes on. The struggle continues. God is still God. And we must keep the faith. …
Earlier this week, I was being interviewed and I’ve forgotten who the interviewer was, and they caught me off guard with a question I hadn’t actually anticipated. The interviewer said, “In light of all of this in, in light of the fact that, that George Floyd was a black man just like Barack Obama, one was president of the United States and one was killed by an officer of the United States. In light of that horrible paradox of our reality, what gives you hope?” And for a second, I didn’t have an answer except that I remember my grandma used to say, “God will always have a witness. God will always have a witness.”
And I’ve seen a few witnesses. I’ve seen witnesses in those protestors. Most of them peaceful, non-violent, exercising their constitutional right for freedom of assembly and to give voice to their concerns. I’ve seen them. But more than that, we’ve protested before. This is not the first time there have been… There were protests after Ferguson. There were protests after Eric Garner. There were protests after Trayvon Martin. There’ve been protests before. But something’s different about this one. This time it’s not just black folk and a few white folk protesting. This time it is the rainbow children of God. This time they are black and white and Anglo and Latino. It’s amazing. They’re gay, they’re straight. They’re Mitt Romney, a Republican. This is something different going on. And that gives me hope. God’s got a witness and it is a multiethnic, it is e pluribus unum. It is the rainbow children of God coming together to bear witness that we don’t want to be like this anymore. We want a better world. We want a better America. Let the true America rise up. Let America really be America. One nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice, not for some, but for all.
But even if the crowds and protestors weren’t there, even when the cameras have gone away, even when the public attention has moved elsewhere, God will still be God, and our work goes on. Our struggle continues. And we will not quit. We will, like Simon of Cyrene in the New Testament, who when Jesus fell under the weight of the cross, picked up that cross, followed him, and carried the cross.
President of the House of Deputies, the Revd Gay Clark Jennings reflected on her visits to Cape Coast, Ghana, to an Anglican church built over a dungeon where enslaved Africans were once imprisoned before they were exiled to America:
At this moment in the United States, when people across the nation are rising up against racial injustice, police brutality and systemic racism, we must not turn away from this deeply painful history, our history. There in that fort, our church literally stood on the bodies of enslaved black men, and white people on both sides of the ocean who proclaimed our faith profited mightily, building fortunes that have benefitted our church for centuries. …
Too often, we are too proud that eleven presidents have been Episcopalians, that presidents and members of Congress and Supreme Court justices worship at our churches, and that we bury them with pomp and circumstance when they die. We are proud that, in Episcopal pews across the country, you can find civic leaders and business tycoons and media superstars. We still like our access to power and wealth. …
Last week, we published on the House of Deputies website an essay(https://houseofdeputies.org/2020/06/02/a-pentecost-lamentation/) by Dr. Reuben Varghese, a member of the Task Force of the Theology of Social Justice Advocacy, created by General Convention Resolution 2018-A056(https://www.episcopalarchives.org/sites/default/files/gc_resolutions_2018/2018-A056.pdf). Reuben is also a member of St. John’s, Georgetown in the Diocese of Washington. In this essay, Reuben says that too often, white Episcopalians behave as if our baptismal promises—which all concern ways to dismantle systemic and institutional racism—are a choice, not a mandate.
“The question for us,” he writes, “is how we as members of the Episcopal Church help each other to strive for justice, not making it optional to do something to help dismantle systemic and institutional racism.”
“Lamentations are part of our tradition,” he continues. “God has heard this lamentation from the oppressed over millennia: ‘How long, Lord, how long?’ I am changing this,” he writes, “to ‘How long, white Episcopalians, how long?’ That is, how long before white Episcopalians take on the emotional labor of those oppressed by white supremacy in the church and outside of it because it is your bound and right duty as part of the baptismal covenant, as baptized persons. There are many who are weary, including me. So I ask again: ‘How long, white Episcopalians, how long?’” Thank you, Reuben.
It has been a long time since Anglicans worshipped in that church built atop the slave dungeon. Let us not take our eyes off it until we have repented of the evil done there, and countless other places much closer to home, on our behalf. There is nothing more important than this on our Executive Council agenda.