Dear Friends of the Redeemer,
I write to you this afternoon from a crossroad within my soul. On Saturday night as I was putting the final touches on my Sunday morning sermon, my phone (like yours) alerted me of the murder of ten black Americans at the hands of an angry and young white supremacist. Those murdered people just like us going about their daily routines providing for themselves and their children. Celestine Cheney, grandmother of six, was grocery shopping with her sister. Andre Mackniel was shopping for a birthday cake for his three-year-old son. Hayward Patterson was just waiting in his taxicab to pick up a shopper when he was murdered. This violence was horrific and numbingly predictable. It was that story we continue to hear about a mentally unstable young white man hatefully fueled to violence by racially charged lies and sentiments. And like all of these terrible stories, these murders were preventable. Had this young man's parents, his friends, his relatives, or his systems of education and justice acted in concert on the information they all had, these innocents would have been saved. I could not gather my soul in a way to address it, and I am still at a loss on how we might confront the sick sin of white supremacy that cancerously infects our national soul. What strikes me today is how American Payton Gendron is. Gendron hailed from Conklin, New York, a rural town on the border of New York and Pennsylvania. With a population of just over 5,000 people, Conklin's citizenry represents the kind of majority white small town America that is worlds away from the cosmopolitan and diverse worldviews of our East and West Coast realities. Relegated to the limited and narrowing economic horizons of much of America's hinterland, the positivity and possibility of upward mobility is being dragged down by factors far beyond our control. And, when the optimistic stories of America no longer move someone to hope and possibility, other narratives filled with lies and hateful sentiments begin their pernicious work of radicalizing the young and impressionable. There is no excuse for the murders committed by Payton Gendron, but the seeds of his hate were sown in the soil of isolation, watered by hopelessness, and fertilized with anger, cruelty and hate. These too were all preventable.
What then can an Episcopal Church and its community of Christians do in light of this great field of thorns growing in our midst? Every piece of our life as the Church stands against the forces that created Payton Gendron. We are a community. Isolation is inimical to us. We are called to gather from across the panoply of the human experience breaking the divisive barriers of economics, ethnicity, education, gender, sexuality, and all of the dividing walls that keep human beings apart. We are agents of the Gospel and its message of hope. We believe that in raising Christ from the dead, God has broken the power of sin and death that drag people into hopelessness. Ours is the most hopeful story that can be told. And, we are called to love. Love is not just avoiding behaviors that are wrong, it is actively seeking out those that are alone and estranged so that they might experience God's abiding love with and through us. Through God's own Gospel story and God's own Gospel love, we can and will starve the seeds of hate planted all around us.