June 17, 2020
Dear East Tennessee Friends,
I write to you today on the fifth anniversary of the Mother Emanuel AME Church massacre. After being welcomed into a Bible study at Mother Emanuel, a young white man, fueled by racist hatred, killed nine members of Mother Emanuel, including their pastor, and wounded three more. Many of us hoped and prayed that the blood of these martyrs would be enough for us to make the changes necessary to be a different kind of nation, to live more fully in opposition to systemic racism and white supremacy beliefs.
These past few months, however, have revealed to us again that we continue to live in two different worlds, where the color of our skin can determine who lives and dies, who flourishes while others are wrongly diminished. Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor should all still be with us, living and moving and breathing in this world, not already in the next.
As a bishop and Diocese, we have determined to be a people of reconciliation, to take on the core Gospel work of reconciling all things in the Risen Christ. What that work looks like in individual lives and parishes may vary according to local context and will be embodied and fleshed out as the Holy Spirit moves.
But, personally, I am convicted that we all need to confront the enduring legacy of systemic racism and white supremacy that is still too much rooted in the American story. In the Episcopal Church, this is not simply the work of Black Episcopalians. This is a work, primarily, for me as a white man to more boldly live as an anti-racist. I do this in a spirit of non-violence, knowing that the Jesus Way of Love is a love that purifies and heals deep and generational infection in our bodies and in the Body of Christ. This is a soul work we need to do.
I will be reconstituting a Task Force on Becoming Beloved Community so as to join Presiding Bishop Curry’s call from his Pentecost 2020 sermon for “making the long-term commitment to racial healing, justice and truth-telling, knowing that without intentional, ongoing intervention on the part of every person of good will, America will cling to its original racist ways of being.”
In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus performs a two-stage miracle, having to touch the blind man twice before he can fully see. My prayer is that we, as the Diocese of East Tennessee, will allow the Spirit of God and the stories of our brothers and sisters who experience the brunt of racism and white supremacy to touch us and transform us and change us.
Pray for our country. Pray for the Church. Pray for me.