At the antiracism forum he hosted Sunday evening, Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold said that, as a white male, he was not immune from the state of unawareness found at the root of all racism.
“It is not discreet acts of naughtiness that are the true evil,” he said to the crowd of about 700 attendees, who represented an array of races. “It is the state of unawareness that we lie in that is the ground of all evil that occurs.”
Griswold said racism “is one of the patterns of sinfulness that afflicts us — especially me, as a white male — so I think … this entire [antiracism effort] we have committed ourselves to as an Episcopal Church is about awareness, it is about repentance, and it is about moving into that act of reconciliation where all walls are broken down.”
The Very Rev. George Werner, the president of the house of deputies, shared his experiences with racism growing up in New York City.
“In New York City, if a kid could play shortstop you didn’t care what [color] he was,” Werner said.
But when Werner arranged for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to preach at his Bridgeport, Conn., parish, discomfort about King’s skin color resonated through the parish.
First, Werner said he “caved” and cancelled the guest preacher. When he found the courage actually to bring King to Bridgeport — not long before King’s murder — members of Werner’s community spit on him.
But Werner’s interactions with King and antiracism training provided by the Episcopal Church revealed inborn prejudices from which he might never escape.
“There will not be a day for the rest of my life where I can’t think consciously that part of my sin is ‘isms’ of all kinds,” he said.
After Griswold and Werner shared their experiences, attendees heard testimonials from victims of racism in the Episcopal Church, who shared their struggles in a 35-minute video.
Mississippi resident Linda Tolliver said she remembered leaving for her Episcopal church — which welcomed black worshipers — long before the service started, in hopes that she and her family would be able to walk on the sidewalk.
If they left late, she said, the “other” Episcopal church would have dismissed its service and the streets would fill with white people, forcing her to walk in the street.
Alex Montez from Houston, Texas, said he experienced racism one summer while visiting an Episcopal church in Georgia. Montez’s family was unable to find a hotel room to sleep in, which meant they had no place to rest or bathe. Montez’s young son was sweating and hot, and Montez asked an Episcopal priest if he could bathe his son at the priest’s house.
The priest sent Montez to a small house behind the church — even though the priest’s house, located next to the parish, was closer and larger.
“It not only angered me, it saddened me,” Montez said.
The Very Rev. David Chee, rector of St. Gabriel’s Church in Monterey Park, Calif., said many of his Asian parishioners felt rejected by other parishes.
“There is a sense of betrayal,” Chee said. “”A lot of [my parishioners] thought the church should be a spiritual home, and a lot of them were disappointed.”
But the Right Rev. Chip Marble, from the Diocese of Mississippi, said Episcopalians don’t always realize the discreet, divisive attitudes they incorporate into their lives.
“Our freedom is bound up in the freedom of those different from us,” Marble said. “Awareness is the gift of the Spirit, and as we help people really be aware of the subtle forms of racism, we have the potential of making really significant strides [toward better race relations within the Church].”
“It is really a matter of: How do we share power of minority groups? How do we bring people to the table?” Marble said.