This morning I heard a story on NPR that got me thinking. A resident of Ferguson, Mo., said that she hoped change would come about because of Michael Brown’s death. First, let me be clear, I agree with her wholeheartedly. Change is needed, for sure. But I wonder how his family might feel hearing that comment. Is the death of a young man the price we pay for change? If so, I have to ask: “Why him? Why this one?” As a mother, I can’t see any good that would come from the death of my child. That cost is much too dear. Oh, I’m hopeful that as a nation we will take a much closer look at this issue. But are we short-changing the grief we need to experience by so quickly trying to find something positive to take away his death? In my book there’s nothing good to be found in the death of a child of God. It is a tragedy – and his family, his community and our country needs time to mourn the loss.
Michael Brown’s death does clearly demonstrate that racism is still alive and well in the US. Bishop Stacy Sauls, Episcopal Church chief operating officer, told The Episcopal News Service. “… in my opinion, race relations in the United States have been getting worse, not better,” and he is hopeful this [the shooting of Michael Brown] will be the wake-up call we need. Yes, we do need a wake-up call; this never should happen. But what should the Church’s response by? Sauls went on to say that Christian churches sparked the civil rights movement “and I think we’re seeing a very strong call for us to be involved again. One thing we can do, is bring people together to talk, not only on a local level or a regional level, but for a national conversation. That can have a very positive impact.”
On August 20, the Union of Black Episcopalians issued a statement calling on the UBE chapters across the country to carry the message “so that the prophetic voice of the Episcopal Church resounds in speaking against the legacy of institutionalized oppression in the United States and across our world.”
The Very Rev. Gary Hall, Dean of the National Cathedral and former rector of Christ Church Cranbrook, Bloomfield Hills wrote in his blog, “Ah, Yes,” on August 20:
This morning I do want to say, speaking for myself and I believe for the cathedral, that given this nation’s history of racial injustice, the issues and concerns in Ferguson really ought to be at the top of our prayer list and action agenda as a faith community. We here at the cathedral are quick to point people to the Canterbury pulpit and remind them that Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his final Sunday sermon here. We’re quick to appeal to Dr. King’s legacy and to claim a piece of it for ourselves. If we’re really serious about claiming that legacy, it seems to me, we will not only pray for peace in Ferguson, but we’ll also pray for justice. And so, as we go forward as a nation, I add my voice to the many faith leaders who are saying, ‘Yes, we appeal for peace, we appeal for calm, we appeal for healing in Ferguson, but we also appeal for answers’—so that the killing of Michael Brown and its aftermath will not be just forgotten in the next sweep of events, but will call us all into facing continually into God’s invitation to us to break down human boundaries and to ensure that all people find life safe, meaningful and abundant.
What can we do as the Church? Heidi Kim, missioner for Racial Reconciliation of The Episcopal Church said: “I really do believe that if we take seriously this notion that we are all members of the Body of Christ, then we have to behave differently toward one another. The first step is listening to people that think completely differently than you do.”
Our Church has a checkered past when it comes to race relations. Chester Hines, a trainer in the anti-racism workshops for the Diocese of Missouri, reminded that we had priests and others in leadership in the Episcopal Church who were slave owners and members of the Klan. It’s time to acknowledge our past, repent of our sins and seek forgiveness so that we can move on to healing and wholeness. Chester Hines is hopeful: “I think of this work as necessary and vital to the salvation of the Episcopal Church. We look at our history and then we look at our current events and then we identify for ourselves what we want to look like 10 years from now.”
What can you do as an individual? Have you taken our diocese’s anti-racism training? The Whitaker Institute has a class coming up September 13 in Grand Rapids (registration deadline is September 10). This day-long workshop develops and deepens your awareness of how we understand race, culture and systemic injustice in an effort to gain perspective on racism – both personally and institutionally. You can find more information for registration at the Whitaker website – http://www.edomi.org/whitakerinstitute/eliminating-racism/
Here’s the link to the whole article in ENS which is definitely worth the read – http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2014/08/21/church-sees-imperative-role-in-racial-justice-reconciliation/
Another related article in ENS: “Ferguson, Missouri: Church leaders aim to rebuild a community of trust” http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2014/08/15/ferguson-missouri-church-leaders-aim-to-help-rebuild-community-trust/
And the link to Gary Hall’s complete blog post: http://figbag.blogspot.com/2014/08/michael-brown-ferguson-and-faith.html
Let’s not let time pass without addressing our response to racism in our country. Let us speak out with a united, clear voice so these terrible tragedies do not continue. And, let us mourn with the family and community of Michael Brown praying that our God of all comfort will hold them close during this time.
Let us pray –
God, You are the source of human dignity,
and it is in your image that we are created.
Pour out on us the spirit of love and compassion.
Enable us to reverence each person,
to reach out to anyone in need,
to value and appreciate those who differ from us,
to share the resources of our nation,
to receive the gifts offered to us
by people from other cultures.
Grant that we may always promote
the justice and acceptance
that ensures lasting peace and racial harmony.
Help us to remember that we are one world and one family.
~ from The Australian Catholic Social Justice Council
~ Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council