Dear friends, I trust you have all enjoyed an abundantly happy Thanksgiving Day. This Thanksgiving has taken place against the backdrop of much suffering and uncertainty around the world. As Christians we don’t have to ignore all that to give thanks, since the gift of Christ in our lives emboldens us to look reality in the face, knowing redemption will win out.
I’ve been reflecting on the sad drama that continues to unfold in Ferguson, as our country witnesses the pain and anger of an African-American community with a long history of grievances. I am impressed and humbled by the presence and leadership of local clergy and lay leaders throughout this crisis.
As many have noted, what is being lamented in Ferguson is something African-Americans throughout our nation – especially young males – fear all the time. That fear is justified. Ohioans are still reacting to the killing of a twelve-year old Cleveland boy by a policeman just a few days ago. The boy was brandishing a toy gun in a playground. Just yesterday I was talking to a young African-American Episcopalian who said he encounters some form of racial profiling every day – and so must deal not only with constant fear, but with the anger this arouses in him.
There is no antidote to racism but to keep naming it and talking about it. Legislation and due process are important, but at the end of the day we are dealing with a spiritual problem deeply embedded in the American psyche. We must surface this sickness so that we can face it and ask God to help us with it.
I am grateful to Dr. Merelyn Bates-Mims, a parishioner of our cathedral, who has bravely pursued research into the pervasive reality of racial profiling, inviting and collecting personal accounts of profiling from all around our diocese and beyond. (Learn more about her work here) Persistent attention to the lived experience of racism on both sides of the equation is precisely what is needed, not only because self-awareness is the prerequisite for change, but because honest conversation about race can actually bring change about.
How is that? Because real conversation subverts the division racism seeks to foster. Division is not what we were made for, and it crumbles when we are genuinely present to one another. There is hope here. For example, St. Andrew’s in Dayton has for some years been home base for the Rwandan immigrant community, many of whom are Anglican. As you can imagine, most of these immigrants are survivors of the Rwandan genocide in the 1990s. More recently, members of the tribe that perpetrated the genocide have begun arriving. In the name of Christ, both sides have been recognizing each other as children of God and working toward reconciliation.
Advent is almost upon us. This is a season to reflect on what the Word was getting into when the Word became flesh. Certainly, the Word came into the midst of our conflict and exclusion. But Christ also entered into the essential unity that binds the human race as one. Because of that essential unity, the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus was and is able to spread out through all humanity, through the medium of our nearness to one another. We are the conductors of God’s love and mercy in Jesus Christ (if we don’t resist it).
I am not proposing an alternative to advocacy for justice. Far from it. The call for justice is where the state’s responsibility to maintain order and the church’s advocacy for the socially disadvantaged overlap. There can be no stable social order when African-Americans fear for their lives, or when undocumented immigrants dare not seek legal or medical aid. The same goes for long-time citizens whose livelihoods have been lost to cheap labor markets overseas. But the church is equipped to advocate for those left out in the cold precisely because it is in conversation with victims and perpetrators alike.