If we are being truly honest with ourselves, I am not sure there’d be a single American that could say their relationship with race is simple. My relationship with race and racism are extremely complicated and that’s because I’m an American. I spent the first years of my life living in the city of Norwood, Ohio a small, poor and predominantly white city contiguous to Greater Cincinnati. And right across the literal tracks was Evanston, Ohio; Norwood’s mirror image but majority African-American. Poor whites and poor blacks competed for skilled and unskilled jobs coupled with a kind of racism that was antagonistic and often violent. White property values never rose and African-American property values always fell. Both school systems declined, and if you could get out, you got out. And so about the seventh grade, my father moved our family to the white suburbs east of Cincinnati for better schools and a safer neighborhood. Some would call it “white flight.” Some would call it “the American Dream.” Maybe it was both.
There’s more to tell, but that’s enough to make the point: each of us has a story of race. And, just to be clear, the web of stories of race that make up our nation’s story are stories that run from lifegiving to horrific. Each of us lives a life formed in some way by race by virtue of being Americans. Each of us has a story to tell, and that means we each have the responsibility to listen. I don’t mean listening in that nice way that’s just waiting for a turn to speak. I mean listening in that way that takes seriously the story of the person standing right in front of us. I mean a kind of humble listening that doesn’t judge, doesn’t fix, doesn’t interrupt, and doesn’t get angry. I mean a listening that understands the story being told to us is true because that’s how the person telling us their story wants us to understand it. We are our stories, and race is an essential part of the story that must be heard.
The murder of George Floyd has turned the ear of America to listen in a way hitherto unknown. The callous violence of George Floyd’s death at the hands of those trusted to serve and protect him has finally woken many from their silent indifference. Last night, the wardens and I met with a thoughtful, prayerful and eager group of Redeemer parishioners desirous of taking good steps in understanding the problems of race in ourselves, our parish, our city and our nation. This will be a long work that will ask much of us as a parish, but the gospel message is clear that Christians are agents of God’s reconciling love to all people. Racism stands in the way of Christ’s Great Commission, and we must address it in a prayerful spirit of hope, honesty, repentance, charity, and reconciliation.
This group will begin its work by creating a parish statement on race and racism. This statement will be the subject of prayer and conversation for the next several weeks. The statement will be sent along to the Vestry for their consideration and adoption as a theological and philosophical outline of our work as a parish. Contemporaneously, a parish-wide book group reading Waking up White by Debby Irving will begin in the coming days. This will serve as a jumping off point for those desirous of “putting their toe in the water” and those ready to “jump in with both feet” on these important matters. From there we will look at implementing the “Becoming Beloved Community” curriculum of the Episcopal Church to give us an opportunity to dive deeper into these troubled waters. In addition to these, we will look to creating real and honest relationships with our three local partner ministries commoncathedral, St. Stephen’s Youth Programs and the Epiphany School looking to joint fellowship and worship opportunities to deepen our understanding and our empathy for the broken world in which we reside. We need to hear the stories of race from our black and brown brothers and sisters in Christ.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ calls us to proclaim the reconciling love of God demonstrated in Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension. We bear the light of Christ into a world desperate for God’s light and life. This requires of us a spirit of contrition, confession, absolution, and dedication to proclaiming Christ’ Gospel in word and deed to those far off and those near. I ask you to consider joining us in this work and journey. It will be painful at times, but it is a journey of promise in Christ’s name.