The Episcopal News Service's February 10 "Call for Comment" on race relations in the Episcopal Church generated a variety of responses from its readers (a sampling of emails follows below).
Nearly 50 emails were received, the majority resonating with a recent statement from Executive Council's Anti-Racism Committee (for full text, see http://www.episcopalchurch.org/3577_71727_ENG_HTM.htm). Readers also cited the importance of on-going anti-racism education in congregations and dioceses, and the need to continue raising up people of color in church leadership. Also reaffirmed was the churchwide anti-racism training work led by the Rev. Jayne Oasin, social justice officer at the Episcopal Church Center (further information on this work is posted online at http://www.episcopalchurch.org/social-justice.htm).
"My hope is that it will not be primarily the burden of people of color and the powerless and those traditionally dedicated to justice to tell the stories of racism and classism, of disparity and neglect that Katrina held up before us," said Anita Parrott George, co-chair of the Executive Council's Anti-Racism Committee. "My hope is that there is a new cadre of powerful, privileged, transformed people who will help all within the spheres of their influence -- all Americans -- to see, hear, confront, and commit to bring to an end to individual, cultural, and institutional racism in our country and in our Church."
The mandates of the 1991 General Convention of the Episcopal Church resolution (D113) called the church to a nine-year commitment to address the sin of racism within the church, world and our 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.
"In anti-racism training of the Episcopal Church, participants and trainers regularly engage in dialogue within the framework of well-planned workshop designs," said George. "The dialogue of training addresses theoretical, theological, experiential, and political dimensions of various oppressions, particularly racism. In addition to the abstract, training also includes scenarios adapted from real life that allow participants to identify the powerful and powerless, the privileged and the underprivileged [or unprivileged.]"
George also said that "successes notwithstanding, some participants leave the training not fully convinced that the harsh realities of racism and classism continue to burrow deeply into our lives together in our communities, dioceses, and parishes, even within our tragedies."
"The tragedy of Hurricane Katrina washed away all pretexts that all is well in our country for all its citizens and that we all operate from a level playing field," said George. "Perhaps, through the realities of Katrina, we may observe racism and classism with a clarity that our simulations could never provide."
This year's General Convention, held June 13-21 in Columbus, Ohio, will see two resolutions that passed at the October 2005 Executive Council meeting calling on General Convention to look squarely at the role of slavery in the life and history of the Episcopal Church.
The first asks the Convention to declare slavery a sin and acknowledge its history and the injury that the institution inflicted on society and on the church. The second directs the Committee on Anti-Racism to collect information on the church's complicity in slavery, segregation and discrimination; the economic benefits derived from it; and how the church can share those benefits with African American Episcopalians.
Sampling of Responses:
I believe that racism has been always with us. Making choices is making choices and that taken to the extreme, creates true discrimination, even more so for blacks because they are a minority. I believe that the solution is to control the way we make choices, more common sense, and if it is necessary, seek redress and protection from the courts. ---- Gerardo Appolloni
We would be missing a wonderful opportunity not to endorse the following statement...Sad to say, it takes a great tragedy like Katrina to spotlight what should be obvious to all. They are our brothers and sisters so this is our problem. ---- The Rev. Joanna White, Cockeysville, Maryland
The Executive Council Anti-Racism Committee observed, quite accurately, 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."
The overlapping forces of classism and racism have intensified divisions within our culture even as more people experience inter-racial contact and even friendships as normative, and as some people of color have gained in status and wealth. The reality is that anti-racism advances have been token gains, and that public and corporate policies alike have produced a mounting wealth gap that drove the class wedge in deeper than ever and that have made it more difficult
for people to advance in education, skills development, and out of poverty.
A profound challenge is faced by the church in living out the anti-racism commitment made by a series of General Conventions and many Diocesan Conventions. A Pew survey reported last year that 5.5 percent of American churches have a dominant racial membership of less than 80 per cent. This is a clear measure of tokenism, and it probably understates the segregation still present in Episcopal congregations.
In dioceses whose bishops or conventions have mandated anti-racism training for clergy and, sometimes, lay leaders, some participants invariably express resistance. The ECUSA training addresses issues of race and class. We must bridge these barriers, erected by the culture and history of our church as well as American and Western society, if we are serious about our faith and trying to live out the Great Commandment. ---- Lou Schoen, Minneapolis, Church of Gethsemane
The Episcopal Church should walk the talk.
I have been compelled to respond to this since the Katrina incident was not an isolated one. It was a widespread reaction and was there for everyone to see what was going on.
This was ogling! This was obvious! The Katrina case could not be schemed! It could not be subverted. It could not be dealt with shrewdly by lawyers and legal language. It could not be dealt away by the Equal Employment Opportunity Court that is mostly by whites some of whom have skewed ideas and judgment. Everyone irrespective of age, color or gender (girl, boy, man, or woman) could see everything happening in black and white. There were no gray areas.
Coming back to the Episcopal Church, there are some fundamental questions those who are in leadership, whether lay or ordained should ask themselves.
First, what is the population of the ECUSA? Second, what is their racial make up? Third, what are the racial profiles of members not in leadership positions compared to those in leadership positions? Fourth, what is the total number of clergymen and clergywomen? Fifth, what is their racial composition? Sixth, how many vacancies are there in the lay and ordained ministries? Seventh, how many blacks get to know about those positions? Eighth, how many blacks apply for those positions? Ninth, how many blacks are interviewed? Tenth, how many are eventually hired? Eleventh, how many are filled up by blacks? Twelfth, how many of those positions are retained for periods of more than five years by blacks?
Then those who are members but not in leadership should also ask themselves the same questions and start making fundamental changes. Fundamental thinking leads to fundamental actions that lead to fundamental changes.
No wonder, blacks have found their own churches that provide opportunity for leadership, growth as a people, not being 'the other' to be watched constantly for any strange behavior, where they are not being stifled, where they can exhale, where they can be themselves and not pretend to fit in, where they are not misunderstood, where they don't have to seek the approval of some 'superior' people. In these spaces they have created, blacks can dream dreams and fulfill
them. They can see visions and bring them to birth. They can exhale and not be afraid of who owns that air.
Where they will not dress up, speak up and get strange looks or be asked to explain.
Beautiful statements and wonderful declarations have been made, but until our hearts work with our minds, righteousness and justice will not flow. We have to look deep into our hearts and come to a place where we can "Love your neighbor as yourself."
To God be the glory who created man and woman in His own image, in every color and shape, and saw that it was good. ---- Jessica Nakawombe
Racism is (=) a form of unfair discrimination which should be faced within and without the Church, and disposed of with all due dispatch.
Blindism is (=) unfair discrimination as well. There are anywhere from 0.2-3.0% blind persons in the general population. What is the population of the blind among the ranks of ordained ministers in the Church? Not even close to what should be statistically expected. Not because the blind cannot perform on a basis of equality, but the expectation is that the blind cannot do so and are not (=) to the sighted. ---- Michael Floyd
Without question, racism played a major role in the casual lack of concern shown by the Bush Administration in the Hurricane Katrina disaster and its aftermath. It is almost inconceivable that other communities, like Charleston, South Carolina or Miami would have experienced the same callous neglect.
I honestly do not know what the Episcopal Church would look like without racism. It is so tenaciously present in the attitudes of so many persons, especially persons of means, that it seems to me to be a utopian surmise that it could or ever will be eradicated. And increasingly it is difficult to distinguish racism from the disdain and distortion of personal estimation that characterizes the attitudes of the haves toward the have-nots.
One stubborn, though rarely referred to, piece of our current situation is that we continue to have and support entirely African American congregations, especially in the urban areas. In some of these churches, the congregation has largely or entirely moved out of the area where the church is located, but hold on to them as if they are family chapels. This makes it very difficult for anyone else, especially those of another ethnic origin, to become a real part of the parish family.
After all the anguish we have gone through since the sixties integrating our churches ( I am a Southerner and have worked to accomplish this integration in North Carolina and Georgia as well as New Jersey and Washington, DC), it baffles me that we perpetuate these congregations and seem even to encourage their separateness.
Racism has many forms and none of them bear witness to the transformation of out lives by our Christian experience. ---- The Rev. Phillip C. Cato, Potomac, Maryland
I am writing to respond to your call for comment on the issue of racism and the response of the Episcopal Church. The problem with racism in the Episcopal Church is the unwillingness to confront the institutionalized injustice in the governance of our country, in the economic system, in the entire fabric of the American society. The American social order is based on an amoral ethos of social Darwinism, the might and right of power and wealth, and the aggrandizement of powerful individuals and corporations over the well-being of community. We carry in our own souls the attitudes and meanness that sustain such a cruel social order.
The Episcopal Church is part and parcel of that social order. Until such time as we can live out the ethos of Christ, to be transformed into communities of human dignity, care, and justice, until such time as we are willing to pay the price of confronting the principalities and powers who rule in this world, we are not really followers of Jesus, but followers of our own selfish preoccupation. We worship at the altar of our false security and standing. We cannot live the undivided life that Jesus calls us to when individually and communally we are afraid to say and do what it right and just in the eyes of the Living God.
We are a self-referenced church, concerned with our own position in the social order, our own internal problems and how we might be viewed favorably or not, by the larger culture, and not fully consecrated to the love of God and our neighbor beside us, our neighbor in the streets, our neighbor in the suffering humanity
across the globe, nor our neighbor in Creation. And we therefore acquiesce not only in the injustice of racism and its manifestation in poverty, and in the destruction of the systems of life that sustain us, but we also acquiesce in inflicting the mass violence of war and the universal neglect of our brothers and sisters of diverse color and ethnicity around the world who suffer in want, deprivation and disease. And what we have done to the least of these we have done to our brother Jesus.
What I say applies equally to myself as a member of this church. That's my comment. ----- Bill Ryan, Prince of Peace Episcopal Church, Salem, Oregon
If the Episcopal Church is serious about its commitment to anti-racism there will be the same requirements as there are for safe church trainings. That's a start. Seeing more people of color in positions of power is critical. Evangelism is what we do, not what we profess. ---- Jane Cutting