On Friday, as clergy and lay leaders gathered for a newly forming Justice Circle*, we were reminded of our history as a church, of the patterns that must be disrupted if we truly want to follow Jesus and bring love and justice into our world. Dr. King’s 1963 Letter from a Birmingham Jail grounded us in this history, as we listened to profound disappointment in the white church. We must the face the truth if we are to change it.
It is important to acknowledge that the strategic vision of Becoming Beloved Community, passed as Resolution C019 at General Convention in May 2017, follows 60+ years and 30 previous resolutions. We must ask ourselves with clarity and an open heart: What will make this time different?
Over the past year and a half as clergy and lay leaders have joined together in formation around Becoming Beloved Community, we have asked ourselves this question again and again. We have examined The Episcopal Church’s historical response to race and racism and placed ourselves and this effort within that story. There have been many attempts to address this sins of racism! And many made invisible (those organized by Black leaders). It has been both painful and compelling to add our organized effort to this timeline—seeing that this effort also represents the reproduction of institutional racism. Doing it together, in community, also offers us a chance to wake up and act with insight and compassion…to be the church in which we have faith.
In his letter, Dr. King reminds of the historical church, the “church within the church” that was unafraid of nonconformity. A church and its people who demonstrated and acted with moral courage. He writes:
“There was a time when the church was very powerful. It was during that period that the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was the thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Wherever the early Christians entered a town the power structure got disturbed and immediately sought to convict them for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.” But they went on with the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven” and had to obey God rather than man. They were small in number but big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” They brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contest.”
He goes on, “I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour.”
How might we Become Beloved Community right now? How will we ensure that we are not simply another cog on the timeline? It is up to us, each of us to determine the will of the church, to be the church.
Review the timeline, here.
For more on the history of The Episcopal Church’s Anti-Racism:
- Union of Black Episcopalian’s Faithful Journey Booklet
- The Church’s Contemporary Response to Racism
- The Sin of Racism 1994 Awakening Pastoral Letter
- Telling the Truth, Proclaiming the Dream Stories of Leadership, Racial Injustice, and Healing from Deputies, Bishops, and Leaders of Color in The Episcopal Church Diane D’Souza and Donna Bivens (Fall 2018)
- The Episcopal Church’s Becoming Beloved Community
*Interested in joining the Justice Circle? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.