Presiding Bishop Michael Curry recently said, “One of the most important statements of our time was given by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., when he said we must learn to live together as brothers and sisters or we will perish together as fools – the choice is ours: chaos or community.”
He went on to say, “(King) was right when he said that in the late 1960s and the sentiment is even more profoundly true now. We must learn to live together even in the midst of intense disagreement and profound diversity. We will either create beloved community or a horrific catastrophe. Religious faith must be a positive force toward that end – and that is what Jesus of Nazareth came to show us.”
Our diocese has a long history of addressing the issues around race. For over 40 years we have been a leader in acknowledging complicity to racism and strategizing on how to resolve it. As a result of our own analysis, this diocese, under the leadership of Bishop Blanchard and Bishop Krumm, began addressing the underlying causes of racism and began work on a radical process of healing.
Years later, the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church formed the Anti-Racism Committee and created a church-wide training program, Seeing the Face of God in Each Other. Former committee chair, the Rev. Dr. Sheryl A. Kujawa-Holbrook, had this to say about racism and the training program: “This anti-racism training and action is offered to the church in the spirit of hope. Though often resisted as a ‘negative’ term, when examined from the perspective of the Gospel, anti-racism is indeed a positive term. It represents an intentional turning away from a Church defined by racism to a vision of community in which one group is not dominant over another. Those engaged in anti-racism are participants in the development of a ‘beyond-racism’ church tradition and part of a change process seeking reconciliation on the personal, interpersonal, institutional, and cultural levels of society. The truth sets us free. It is ultimately our resistance to the Spirit that divides us as a people – not race, or ethnicity, or religion, or nationality. May we all live in the hope that the Episcopal Church will continue to strive to become an institution where we see – and honor and respect – the face of God in each other.”
The diocese has continued its work through that training program. Our Anti-Racism Training Task Force works tirelessly to provide several trainings each year. We are one of only a few dioceses that require all elected and appointed persons to diocesan offices to have anti-racism training. Our number of participants continues to rise, slowly, and congregations are beginning to provide studies on their own trying to understand the continued racial dissonance that permeates this world.
The Church has continued to fight racism in all walks of life. Recently, the Trinity Institute sponsored a weekend of examining racism and where we are now. This offered opportunity to everyone across the Church to be engaged with each other in listening, hearing and learning various and unique ways in which to continue this work. The 78th General Convention approved two significant resolutions around this work. One provides $2,000,000 to expand efforts on reconciliation and the other is for dioceses to encourage a book study on Michele Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. These and other resolutions are designed to help the Church to move one step closer to achieving God’s purposes.
It is the hope of the Task Force that the people of this diocese continue to support the efforts in understanding race and its impact on society, through attending the trainings offered throughout the year, by attending the yearly diocesan celebration of the life and ministry of Absalom Jones, the first African American ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church, and by giving thanks for the significant role our diocese played in the establishment of the Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati. More importantly, we hope that all will take the time to:
- Understand our identity, which is complex. We are constantly changing – who we are today is not who we will be tomorrow. Be honest in this assessment.
- Listen! Listen! Listen! It is so important for us to listen to the other. Hear their stories, and begin to understand how and why decisions are made.
- Make new friends with those we do not know. We all know that we have more compassion for those we know and our resources become more fluid, so take the time to meet the other.
- Stay in the present. The past is important so that we will not repeat it, and the future is what we look forward to. But if we are to make a difference, we need to stay in the present.
- And, finally, love as Jesus loved. Open your eyes and see the other as Jesus saw them.
So which will it be – beloved community or horrific catastrophe?
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Debby Stokes is the chair of the Anti-Racism Task Force for the Diocese of Southern Ohio and a member of St. Philip’s, Columbus. If you want to learn more about Anti-Racism training offered through the diocese, contact Debby at firstname.lastname@example.org.