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Call for Comment: Race relations in the Episcopal Church
Daybook

2/10/2006
[Episcopal News Service]  The Anti-Racism Committee of the Episcopal Church’s Executive Council, motivated by the stories and images of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and the profound poverty and racism it revealed, is praying that the Episcopal Church will recommit to addressing institutional and systemic racism.

In a recent statement, the committee expressed concern about the “apparent linkages between poverty and racism” and that “it was predictable that those who would suffer so much as a result of Katrina would be poor, forgotten, marginalized, and people of color.”

“Beyond the apparent lack of timely and humane response to traumatized people desperate for basics like food, water, and shelter, the ravages of Katrina exposed America’s lack of progress in addressing institutional and systemic forces, which continue to marginalize and oppress people of color,” the committee’s statement said.

The full statement is below.

Statement of the Anti-Racism Committee of the Episcopal Church’s Executive Council

At our meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, we devoted part of our agenda to reflecting on the plight and pain of the poor, exposed so graphically by Hurricane Katrina. Like all Americans, we were confronted with horrific media images of people in New Orleans, mostly African American, in immediate and desperate need.

In the context of our work, we are troubled by apparent linkages between poverty and racism. Our view is that it was predictable that those who would suffer so much as a result of Katrina would be poor, forgotten, marginalized, and people of color.

Beyond the apparent lack of timely and humane response to traumatized people desperate for basics like food, water and shelter, we believed, sadly, that the ravages of Katrina exposed America’s lack of progress in addressing institutional and systemic forces, which continue to marginalize and oppress people of color.

Through the first hand account of one of our members, we were heartened to learn of the generous assistance in the form of funds, materials, emergency assistance, and volunteers flowing from many Episcopalians. These are reaching those in need, and appear to be having a positive impact, and making a real difference throughout the Gulf Coast. At the same time, we were disheartened to hear anecdotes about some volunteers selectively asking demeaning questions of people of color seeking emergency assistance.

We have often asked, “What would the Episcopal Church look like without racism?” In reference to Katrina, we ask the larger question, “What would America look like without racism?” More specifically, what would the aftermath of Katrina have looked like without racism?”

We are convinced that the human situation would have looked quite different.

Katrina’s devastation and human toll played out before us through the media, making it impossible to ignore. We pray the Episcopal Church will recommit to addressing institutional and systemic racism, which, in the end, impoverish us all.

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ENS seeks its readers’ comments and observations on race relations today in the Episcopal Church and how related issues are viewed.

The ENS staff will appreciate any and all responses, ideally prior to February 28.

Please send responses to news@episcopalchurch.org including “Call for Comment” in the subject line. Thank you.

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SIDEBAR:

Looking ‘past the anger is where the healing begins’

Diocese of Louisiana anti-racism team member is more committed since Katrina

by Daphne Mack

[ENS] “I said that once I get situated, and because of what I do for a living, I would come back and volunteer my services to help ease the situation,” said Brenda Thompson, a member and social worker at Trinity Church, New Orleans for 16 years.

Thompson, co-chair of the Diocese of Louisiana’s Anti-Racism team, along with her daughter and four grandchildren, fled New Orleans the day before Hurricane Katrina. They then began “aimlessly wondering through the wilderness like the children of Israel,” she said.

The experience took them to Mississippi, Tennessee, Baton Rouge, and Hammond Louisiana and to Houston, Texas seeking assistance and medical attention. Thompson said the end result has enabled her to find greater purpose in the work of combating racism.

“At just about every place we ventured to, there were few who were culturally competent,” she said. “They all meant well, but did not know how to effectively serve others of different cultures.”

“When I first went there [St. James Episcopal Church,] some of the people who were volunteering weren’t too comfortable with the people coming in for help,” she said. “I don’t know what happened before I came, I imagine something frightened them. I [know] I was not getting anywhere until I started dropping names and they began to feel more comfortable.”

It was during this experience, that she had a chance to watch the reception that other people received as they arrived at the church seeking assistance.

“They [volunteers] were afraid,” she said. “I can understand because the news was reporting that criminals and gangs from New Orleans were converging on Baton Rouge, but I was still appalled at how people were treated when they came to the door. Some were even turned away.”

She added that “a people coming to the door appearing to be homeless or not members of the church were not treated the same as if they were.”

“There are times that you may not be able to help, but you can certainly listen,” she said. “This experience validated what our team had talked about.”

The team, TURN (Trinity Un-doing Racism Network), was created in compliance with the mandate of 1991 General Convention resolution D113, which called the church to a nine year commitment to address the sin of racism within the church, world and society. Two additional resolutions (A047 and B049) at the 2000 General Convention recommitted the Church to continue its work with particular emphasis on abuse of power and privilege, and required lay and ordained leadership of the church to take anti-racism training.

“TURN often talks about how people of color are treated differently when they come to receive services, attend church services or are just seen in general by white people,” she said. “When you don’t know people, you just believe what you generally hear.”

She explained that economic classification does not shield African Americans from racism.

“Middle class African Americans still face these same issues and it does not go away because of class,” Thompson said. “We are all grouped together and white people do not take the opportunity to get to know the individual.”

Thompson added many white people have said they should not be held accountable for the actions of their ancestors, but she said the original injustices are perpetuated when they hear disparaging remakes about African Americans and “allow it to continue.”

“You have to start having discussions with some anger,” she said. “But when you look past the anger, [that] is where the healing begins.”

Since returning to New Orleans, Thompson’s office has provided services to nearly 400 people each month. These services include phone calls, clothing, food, toys, limited financial assistance with utility bills, referrals and taking the time to listen to their concerns.

She expressed an interest in seeing the Episcopal Church and schools of social work in New Orleans collaborating in the near future.

“The Episcopal Churches are doing great things already, and I plan to meet with Bishop Jenkins soon so that the church can work even more effectively with the citizens of New Orleans from all cultures,” Thompson said.

--- Daphne Mack is staff writer for Episcopal News Service.