Bp. Dietsche Issues Call to Racial Reconciliation and Justice
September 3, 2015
In a letter sent by email to the people of the diocese today, Bishop Dietsche issued a resounding call to Racial Reconciliation and Justice. The text of the letter follows below, or may be read exactly as sent by clicking here.
September 3, 2015
My Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Two days ago the Episcopal Church received a letter from the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies, calling for all of our churches to participate in “Confession, Repentance, and Commitment to End Racism Sunday,” at the invitation of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. I receive this call with gladness, and I welcome the opportunity for our parishes and diocese to join with America’s historic black churches in common prayer against the scourge of white supremacy which has covered the history of our nation and church with shame, and which in our own day continues to diminish the lives of people and consign African Americans to a lower place. Yesterday we forwarded to you that call from our leaders and commended to you this invitation and opportunity.
I am not unaware, however, that this call comes just days before the scheduled event, that thoughtful liturgical planning and meaningful preaching requires time and preparation, that the planned event is to fall on a long holiday weekend, and that the call comes at a time when many of you are still finishing your vacations (as I am myself). Already I and those in my office have heard from many of you who share in the urgency of making this witness, but feel that this is simply not sufficient notice for the kind of substantive Sunday planning and program that this invitation deserves.
Therefore, while strongly encouraging the participation of every church in “Confession, Repentance, and Commitment to End Racism Sunday,” I want to free you from the expectation that this must, or can only, happen on September 6. For those who require more time to make this happen, may I suggest the following:
The first Sunday of September is Union of Black Episcopalians Sunday, honoring the feast day of blessed Alexander Crummell, and this year that is the 6th. Please remember in your intercessions the UBE and the essential witness they bring to the church against institutional racism as well as their legacy of raising up profound black leaders for the Episcopal Church. Pray that God will cleanse the church and the world from the evil of racism and white supremacy. Pray that God will strengthen us for our witness to racial justice and reconciliation. Note that the website for the UBE (http://www.ube.org) has a bulletin insert for the day, as well as a litany which can serve for the Prayers of the People.
The following Sunday, September 13, is the closest Sunday to the anniversary of the bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. In the wake of the shootings at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston this summer, and in a time when events have called us to again make our declaration that Black Lives Matter, the remembrance of the four young martyrs of the 1963 Birmingham bombing provides a fitting opportunity to join the “Confession, Repentance, and Commitment to End Racism Sunday,” with a little more advance notice for your preaching preparation, and liturgical and program planning. In any case, I would ask that you designate a Sunday before the end of September for this observance and this work, that every church may remain in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, who will be making this offering on September 6. The point is: find a time and a way to do this.
I commend to you the educational and liturgical resources of the UBE and the AME, all freely available on their websites, and I include links in this letter to a collection of several writings by your bishops published in different forms over the summer by our diocese:
[wpfilebase tag=fileurl id=434 linktext=’Response to the shootings in Mother Emanuel AME Church’ /]. (Bp Dietsche).
[wpfilebase tag=fileurl id=435 linktext='”Why Forgive?” Sermon preached on the Sunday following the shootings in Charleston’ /]. (Bp Dietsche).
[wpfilebase tag=fileurl id=432 linktext=’Reflections on the election of Bishop Michael Curry as Presiding Bishop’ /]. (Bp Dietsche)
[wpfilebase tag=fileurl id=431 linktext='”Love, Justice and Mercy After Charleston,” from the Episcopal New Yorker’ /]. (Bp Shin)
* * * * *
Last summer saw the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner on Staten Island, in our own diocese. The fall saw the decisions by grand juries in both places not to indict their killers and bring them to trial. It was my privilege to respond to those events on your behalf, and after my words were published, I received messages of disappointment from some very thoughtful and good-hearted people who saw those events as individual and separate law and order matters, and not indicative of larger patterns of racism in society. And indeed, I am very much aware of the many police officers who serve our communities and worship beside us in church, and who I know are worthy of our trust and committed to carrying out their responsibilities with justice and fairness. I am also acutely aware that we have seen the assassinations of numerous police over the same period. These deaths also horrify, these also impose bereavement on the innocent. They horrify me. In a climate of so much violence, it can be difficult to see the patterns, to discern the threads that run through history while we are living that history, so that one question I received again and again from those who wrote me was “why do you see racism where there is no racism?”
Those who asked that question were good, thoughtful people. And that is a real question, and I took it seriously. I hope I am always ready to have my convictions put to the test. But in the end I must say that it is indisputable that so much of the American story, and the story of our church, has been the failure to see racism when racism is rising up and screaming in our face. The year since Ferguson and Staten Island has seen week by week the continued shootings of unarmed black men by police across America, the suicide of Sandra Bland in jail after a routine traffic stop, the unspeakable horror of Charleston, and the controversy over the Confederate Battle Flag, with its attendant questions of how we understand our own history and whether we can ever learn from it. Through all of this violence have been the voices of people of color, telling their stories, relating the daily costs of living as a black man or woman or child in the America of our own day, the losses that so many must carry forever in their hearts, and revealing to the larger community the patterns of demeaning racism and the devaluing of human lives which has been their lived experience.
After this year of violence and witness, it must be said: racial injustice is not a black issue. It is an American issue. It is a Christian issue. It is an Episcopal Church issue.
In the midst of this broken and tragic year, I discovered that this last May 17 was the fiftieth anniversary of the final time that Dr. Martin Luther King preached in our Cathedral of Saint John the Divine. The first time was exactly nine years earlier, and both occasions were commemorations and celebrations of the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education decision (a case argued by Thurgood Marshall, warden of Saint Philip’s Church in Harlem). In 1956 King’s sermon in the cathedral was followed that same evening by a speech given at the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan, and from the late spring and through the summer I have been living with the two sermons and the speech on those several May 17ths (the transcripts of which we will make available to you before September 13).
On May 17, 1956 King spoke on “A Realistic Look at Race Relations.” In reading such wisdom, it is astonishing to think that he was only twenty-seven years old, and newly on the national stage. He spoke of what he called the optimistic approach to race relations, which views racial justice and reconciliation as simply inevitable, and of the pessimistic approach, which views that justice and reconciliation as utterly impossible, and rejected both. Instead he proposed a realistic approach to race relations, which recognizes and celebrates genuine and true progress, while always acknowledging the work that still must be done. On the second anniversary of the Brown decision, there was reason to celebrate, but it is important to remember that in the 1950s racial violence and lynching was still commonplace in the north and the south, and it is poignant to think that the violence of Birmingham and Montgomery and Selma still lay ahead, and that the many civil rights martyrdoms we now commemorate were still mostly in the future.
In 2015 this is very much worth thinking about. What costs will yet be exacted from people of courage and faith for the witness we must make to our God of justice and our Gospel of Christian love?
From August 13 to 15 some 60 people from the Diocese of New York, evenly divided between teenagers and adults, were part of a 1500-person pilgrimage to Hayneville, Alabama to remember and honor the sacrifices of Jonathan Daniels and the Martyrs of Alabama. We walked through a different Alabama than the one of 1965. To immerse ourselves again in the apartheid state of pre-civil-rights America, to look again on firehoses and biting dogs and bombs planted under church steps, to stand on earth watered by Jonathan Daniels’ blood, was to remember in sorrow and to give thanks in gladness that the sacrifices of many who came before did indeed make a different America. They were black and white together; they were Christian and Jew arm in arm.
To fail to see the transformation of America over this half century would be to dishonor the self-offering and sacrifices of those who gave everything they had, even their lives, to make a new world. But to fail to see the current of white supremacy that still soaks through our society and touches everything, and to fail to see how long the road before us still stretches, is to dishonor those yet to come who are already counting on us, and to dismiss the work that God is already placing before our feet. Dr. King’s reasoned analysis sixty years ago feeds me yet, makes me glad, but I hear in it again a wake-up call for our own day. On this day which the Lord hath made, we people of faith must step up.
On the final day of our pilgrimage, Julian Bond died in Florida. He was a founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He was the president of the Southern Poverty Law Center. He was the chairperson of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Amelia Boynton Robinson died eleven days later. She was an organizer of the “Bloody Sunday” march in Selma in 1965, and five months ago, at 104 years old, she recrossed the Pettus Bridge with President Obama. Time is taking from us the prophets of another day, the heroes who lighted the way for those of us who follow. Indeed, “there were giants in the earth in those days.” And one by one, we remember, we give thanks, we commend. And in their name we recommit.
The General Convention of the Episcopal Church, just past, brought forth some significant and substantive resolutions for our own commitment to racial justice and reconciliation, and the charge and the opportunity contained within that work will be coming to our own convention in November. Resolutions of our last convention to guide our churches in this work are still before us. I am meeting somewhat regularly with a group of our African American clergy to develop norms and policy to ensure that our own processes of ordination and deployment may better serve the diversity of our diocese, the love of God for every person, and deserved opportunities for clergy and congregations of color; to identify and name the de facto segregation under which we live and worship God, and to make with God’s help a better church for a new world a-borning and still in its infancy. These are beginnings.
I am afraid that my letter to you is a long one, though there is much more that I could and would say. But now, and please, accept the invitation to “Confession, Repentance, and Commitment to End Racism Sunday.” Carve out a place for it in the life of your parish, join hands with our AME brothers and sisters, and may this season be for all of us a re-embracing of the love of God in Jesus Christ which binds us as a people, and requires of us that we never make peace with evil but choose the good. And never forget that you have and cannot lose the love and loyalty of your bishop in all that you do. With every good wish, I remain
The Right Reverend Andrew ML Dietsche
Bishop of New York
August 26, 2015