To the Beloved Community of the Convocation and our friends everywhere:
At our convention this past October, the assembled delegates responded to the report of our Task Force on Race, Reconciliation, and Beloved Community by adopting a Covenant for Dismantling Racism, Advancing Racial Justice, and Building Beloved Community in Europe That Covenant calls on us, as individual Christians and as Episcopal congregations, to “commit ourselves to the sustained and arduous work of dismantling racism, advancing racial justice, and building beloved community in Europe.”
That work takes many forms, and happens in many forums. Yesterday, in the United States—a place from which our church, as a distinctive expression of the Anglican idea, took root—that forum was a courtroom.
It was not, of course, a case that took place in Europe, and it did not concern a crime committed in Europe. But that gives us no permission to veil our eyes from systemic forms of injustice based on race present in our own societies—and unconscious biases present in our own hearts. Our churches here exist in a variety of places with a variety of histories, and with varying cultural understandings of the idea and significance of race. Yet that is, in the end, beside the point.
We know that humans are hard-wired to observe difference; that fact about us turns out to be part of how we succeeded at adapting to survive and flourish. We also know that we are quick to project meaning and significance on the differences we observe, creating narratives for how these differences somehow translate to differences in the character and worth of people.
And we know that we end up seeing the world through the lenses ground by those assumptions, in ways that tend, not surprisingly, to the self-justification of our biases.
The anthropologists teach us that this is how we formed communities and defined our identities over and against others. But we have a different language for it. We speak of it as human fallenness—or, in an old formulation, original sin. It is something we are naturally inclined to do, but that consistently leads us into error, and into the sin of mistreating and denigrating those who differ from us.
God knows this about us, because God made us. And God knows that the work of justice will not be done, indeed will not fully have begun, until we both acknowledge this fact about ourselves and undertake the spiritual discipline of addressing it. It is not that some of us are racist and all of us are not; it is that each one of us is liable to this misleading way of thinking, because it simply comes with being human. And the only way to transform it is to acknowledge it—and work consciously to overcome it.
Jesus knew, and spoke directly to, this aspect of our nature. He saw the sinful alliance that we make between the differences we observe and imagine are meaningful, and the systems of power we construct to shape how privilege, wealth, and opportunity are shared. He knew that Samaritans had equal integrity and dignity with the people of his own community—even though his closest friends were made deeply uncomfortable by that idea. He spoke directly to sin as a social, not just an individual, evil. He saw that the structures of power humans create are too often designed to negate rather than to nourish our common life in God and the equal dignity of all people.
And he saw that those who benefit from those systems do what they can to preserve them even when their injustice is revealed, forgetting the higher claim of the law of love.
Justice was not accomplished in three verdicts delivered yesterday. It was advanced, yes, but not completed. As our Presiding Bishop wrote to the church yesterday, "May we learn, as the Bible teaches, to 'love not in word and speech but in truth and in action,' truth and action that leads to justice and healing.” Yes; and as we learn, may we encourage each other in the work of justice that always remains for us to do.
Heavenly Father, in your wisdom you have made your children in one likeness, which is your own; giving to each their unique gifts and skills. Take from us that pride of mind and self-will by which we seek to impress our image and the pattern of our life upon others; and grant us a desire to see in them only the reflection of you, who has created us all. Amen.