It has been an intense couple of days in the national religious landscape. We, as the Episcopal Church, need to be honest about the role we play in the events that have unfolded.
Individuals who were not welcome in the Methodist and Episcopal Churches in the early 1790s founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church as a place in which they would be welcome. They left the Episcopal Church because we would not have them. It is shameful that in the face of the violence at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, which is directly related to our own history, the Episcopal Church has had an underwhelming response. President of the House of Deputies, The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, thankfully spoke to it in her opening remarks, garnering a standing ovation.
In the same way that a budget is a moral document reflecting our values, perhaps it is worth considering how the agenda for our time together reflects those same values. If one were to look at the proposed agenda, would it be clear as to where God is calling us to build the Kingdom of God in our communities throughout the world?
Gathered together for General Convention, there will be a great deal of debate on the Biblical legitimacy of gay marriage, and it’s place in our communion – an issue with which we had struggled for some time now. We will also spend exorbitant amounts of time debating our own structure, committee budgets, and nuances of legislative proceedings. This leaves too little room for those issues which we are still too fearful to directly address.
When you walk into a room, an individual’s sexual orientation is not blatantly obvious. No one outside of the Salt Palace Convention Center is going to take notice of the ways in which legislative business proceeded. Few Episcopalians in the pews will remain clueless as to where the national headquarters of the Episcopal Church resides. Yet, the color of one’s skin is readily apparent. The racial makeup of the House of Deputies and House of Bishops is still stunningly lacking in diversity. Race is a socially constructed concept that we have created to be able to distinguish ourselves as to what we are not. Race, by virtue of what we have created it to be, elicits a reaction immediately.
There is no shortage of individuals to whom the Episcopal Church needs to be reconciled. We seem to be much more comfortable talking about that which we cannot see, rather than that which stings the eyes every time you walk into the room at General Convention. We’re not trying to suggest that we should either take up the banner of justice for one group over another. Rather, perhaps we need to be called back to intention of the Gospel, which brings us together in the first place.
There is no easy way forward. The racially motivated violence that has unfolded throughout the United States over the last couple of months, culminating in the shooting during Bible Study at the Emmanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina last week, has hit too close to home. It’s about time we start paying attention. Each act of violence has raised a series of important questions. The bottom line is that we have a long way to go in being a racially reconciled people.
As we gather together as the Episcopal Church, perhaps we could step outside of the legislative comfort zone of passing resolutions and enter into the difficult work of honest conversations about race. Can we handle the painful question of who is not present in the room? What voices are missing from the conversation? Let us make the courageous move of beginning with acknowledging our need for forgiveness, both collective and individual.
Perhaps the Litany of Reconciliation, which comes to us from our brothers and sisters at Coventry Cathedral, would be a good place to start. If you find a spare moment today, join us in prayer.
All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
The hatred which divides nation from nation, race from race, class from class, Father, forgive.
The covetous desires of people and nations to possess what is not their own, Father, forgive.
The greed which exploits the work of human hands and lays waste the earth, Father, forgive.
Our envy of the welfare and happiness of others, Father, forgive.
Our indifference to the plight of the imprisoned, the homeless, the refugee, Father, forgive.
The lust which dishonors the bodies of men, women and children, Father, forgive.
The pride which leads us to trust in ourselves and not in God, Father, forgive.
Be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.