In 1965, in Hayneville, Alabama, Jonathan Daniels, a young Episcopal Seminarian from New York, was shot dead by sheriff's deputy and construction worker Tom Coleman. He was stood between Coleman and a 17 year old girl, Ruby Sales, taking the fatal shot aimed at her. Daniels was white. Sales is black. Coleman was white.
The Episcopal Church has not always been vocal or even united against racism. During the years of settlement and into the Civil War, plenty of lay folk and clergy were slave owners. There are plenty of shameful stories which we would rather not remember, not to mention the contribution to the systematic oppression which minorities experience today.
George Floyd was not someone any of us had heard of. I do not know the exact details of the situation. I do know that he died when undue force was used to try to arrest and detain him. George Floyd was black, the police officers white. This incident follows tight on the heels of Ahmaud Arbery being killed, whilst running. Ahmaud was black, his assailants white, one of whom was a former police officer.
America is facing dark times as a surge of shame and blame, often aimed at minorities, is allowed to take hold. However strongly we might feel the flames are being fanned by Washington politics, all the more we have to work as individuals, in our communities, building trust and relationships.
As Episcopalians, we have been here before. We were and are at the leading edge of the Gay Rights and Pride movements. We were and are campaigning for migrant rights, immigration reform and the environment. Yet, the vast which majority of folk in the pews have little idea of the scope of the work the Episcopal Church is involved in. Every part of that work starts with a conversation, and all of us can converse.
I do not know how this plays out for everyone. I do know from the little time I have spent with the Boys and Girls club that young black children have, often, not been taught to hope. This is the work of the club, to build community to believe in children can achieve their dreams. Covid19 is showing the disparity between black and white starkly. The Guardian reported on May 20th that around half of those dying from Covid19 are black, a fifth white and the majority of the others are from Hispanic backgrounds.
The inequity in our society is real. There is economic, health and education inequity. Together these lead to lack of opportunity and the most devastating inequity, hope inequity. People cannot survive without hope, they simply die to being people. They find themselves devalued and, in a world where nothing makes sense, where nothing is fair, they often turn to anger or end up with worse health than their white counterparts. We are killing people, not violently as George Floyd but little by little, eroding away the hearts and hope of whole communities, our neighbors.
I will not condone violence, but I understand it. Words have run out for so many people. Words only work when someone listens, we can be that someone.
What can we do?
Speak up. We are a democracy, write to your representatives. Ask the local police force what their anti-racism training looks like. Challenge friends and neighbors who refuse to think that there is a problem.
Learn. Attend anti-racism training. Listen to all sides of the story, even the ones you do not like. Understand issues beyond partisan politics. Learn the history, accept where things have gone wrong
Act. Do you know people with different skin to yours? Listen to their point of view without judgement. When you see inequity or ill treatment, challenge it. You are all different but doing nothing is not a good option.
Pray. Pray for change, for hope, for deliberate action. Pray for those who mourn, hold those who are angry before God. Pray for yourself and your journey as a change-maker.
As a church it is high time we at Redeemer deliberately involve ourselves in conversation around racism and begin to understand our part in the solution. Listen first, allow trust, accept invitations and be a light-bearer in all that you do.
Interested? Let me know.