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Racism: Conversations at the Cathedral

Racism: Conversations at the Cathedral

As tensions and protests and acts of violence continue, conversations continue too, including one earlier this week at Washington National Cathedral, reported in the Washington Post.

They began with church complicity in the nation’s original sins — genocide of indigenous peoples and the enslavement of Africans.

“We Christians — British and Americans — said we can’t do those things to people we believe are made in the image of God,” said the Rev. Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners, a D.C.-based social justice organization. “So we will throw away Imago Dei. And that’s what we did. We threw away the image of God and said that these indigenous and African peoples are less than human.”

The crowd numbered several hundred, and crossed racial and denominational lines, including Episcopal, Methodist and Baptist clergy.

“We are gathered where Martin Luther King Jr. preached the last Sunday sermon of his life, urging us to stay awake in the light of stained glass windows,” said the Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, the Episcopal bishop of Washington and interim dean of Washington National Cathedral. The controversial windows, she said, “glorify a way of life that was sustained by chattel slavery and even now demands that we take account of what resources churches like ours was built on.”

The Rev. Kelly Brown Douglas, the cathedral’s canon theologian, honed in on why the “white church” was being singled out. “Why not just ‘the church,’ ” she asked? “You say white racism is a sin. Why colorize it?”

Wallis, who is white, chimed in: “If white Christians acted more Christian than white, black parents would have less reason to fear for their children. That’s a fact.” He paraphrased a verse in the book of Corinthians that says when one part of the body of Christ hurts, all of the body feels the pain.

What conversations are taking place in your community? How are churches responding and engaging?


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Philip B. Spivey

I think it’s time for the Church, and our society-at-large, to acknowledge that the experiment, called the ‘United States of America’ has failed.

I joined the conversations about social justice as a youth in the 1950’s. Coming off the murder of Emmett Till, I was traumatized, with the rest of the nation, into the realities of race in this country. In my time, I’ve witnessed 60 years of ‘conversations on race’ and while we’ve come some way since that time, the fundamental systems and structures remain unchanged: Patriarchy continues hold sway over our social norms and practices. White supremacy, the spawn of patriarchy, continues to under gird all our institutions, including the Church.

So, we now see blood in the streets through out the world; most of the blood spilled is that of black and brown people. We must acknowledge that the other experiment, let’s call it the 21 centuries since Christ began his public ministry, has also failed miserably. I don’t fault the Church especially; the Church is as much in-the-world as any other human institution.

Until the human community can acknowledge that these experiments have largely been profound failures in providing safety and well being to the many, we will continue to lull ourselves into believing that another conversation, another conference, another commission will get us where we need to go.

In today’s conversations about race, unless we can come to terms with the fact that the lens through which our country sees everything and everyone— is the lens of ‘Whiteness”; its presence or its absence signifies whether one is acceptable or unacceptable. Whiteness derives its meaning and value from “not being the other”. Ultimately, nothing unifies a community better than creating lots of “others”. The 2016 GOP is a poster child for this phenomenon.

On a global scale, “the others” are most of humanity.

Marshall Scott

I would encourage of all of us to take a look again at Resolution A182 Using Education, Community Dialogue and Internal Audit to Respond to All Forms of Racial Injustice from our last General Convention, and especially the fifth paragraph. It lays out specific suggestions of opportunities for improving relationships as the critical step in addressing racism. I served on that legislative committee. It was our Chair and other persons of color who were members of the Committee who wanted to pursue steps for “racial reconciliation,” and not just “anti-racism.” Their thought was that our past efforts, while well intentioned, did often devolve into “echo chamber” conversations. The better approach was to think about what brings us together, and within that context to own our personal experiences, and better hear and know one another.

With that in mind, Brother Knapp, I appreciate the turn to talking about being Marines (not a privilege I share, and I honor yours). The fear, of course, is that we can focus on what unites us to the point as to ignore distinctions that, properly honored, can enrich how we understand one another and how we relate to one another. If your distinctiveness is something I appreciate, it doesn’t pull us apart: it improves how we can relate together. I would also note that as the Church we have to plan our approaches for the vast majority of the world that doesn’t have the discipline and group commitment of units of the Armed Forces.

We want to work together on this. That can happen well when we work side by side, as long as we also talk about our distinctive histories. If we don’t work side by side, we miss opportunities. If we don’t talk while we work side by side, we waste them.

Lee Cheek

WMA is hosting “Toward the Beloved Community: Holy Conversation About Race”. First gathering is September 24 All Saints’ Episcopal Church, South Hadley.

Register here:…

David Allen

That link leads to nowhere.

JC Fisher


Jay Croft

When I was in a southern diocese, we had a workshop on racism, with two people from 815.

In one exercise we sat in facing circles. The Black folk there talked about how tough it was to live and grow up in the South. The white folk, including the bishop, talked about how much they loved their Black maids and nannies.

Oy veh!

Leslie Marshall


Kenneth Knapp

I recall similar efforts at a small church in New England when I was in HS. Demographics were such that there weren’t any black episcopalians in town and the people who considered themselves racists had a previous commitment, so a bunch of reasonably well-to-do white episcopalians who didn’t consider themselves racists got together and had a very serious discussion about how they considered themselves morally superior to those whom they did consider to be racists. I thought about that when I read this article.

Ann Fontaine

The training has evolved a lot since then

Philip B. Spivey

I wouldn’t bet the farm on that, Ann. The training may have evolved, but lot’s of folks haven’t.

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