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Bishop’s Good Friday Message

Good Friday, April 3, 2015

Dear People of God,

As we contemplate our Savior’s trial and crucifixion today, our attention turns to the unavoidable presence of real evil in this world. Under the cover of night, the rulers of Jesus’ day sent officers to arrest and subject the Christ to a series of hastily assembled tribunals. Jesus’ message of peace, justice, and God’s love for all had threatened the political stability of the Roman-occupied land. The crowd’s fear led to calls to crucify the man sent to save us all.

In today’s world, the calls to crucify are only uttered in church liturgical drama. Sadly, we practice an equally tragic form of injustice in our structures of inequality, privilege, and racism. As a white, professional, privileged male, I recognize first and foremost that I have personally benefited from those structures. I am a part of the problem. This year, Good Friday must be for me, and really for all of us, a day of deepest sorrow and repentance on the road to restoration and reconciliation.

Recent events make it clear that now is the time for such transformation. We live in two Americas: an America where hope is abundant for a few and at the same time increasing numbers, particularly persons of color, find their lives evermore bereft of hope. Justice is too often parsed along racial lines. The recent federal investigation of the Ferguson police department revealed a justice system more committed to revenue generation than public safety. For example, when individuals could not pay their fines, more than three arrest warrants were issued per household in 2013 alone. The weight of this effort fell predominantly on African-Americans. We know it is time to repent and change

In the city of San Diego, the district attorney is testing a new legal approach to convicting members of gangs for crimes they did not commit and of which they were not aware; Section 182.5 of the California Penal Code may allow prosecutors to imprison individuals for the crime of “conspiracy” in crimes conceived and committed entirely by others. This first-ever application of Section 182.5 has ominous implications for racial minorities living in communities where it is all too easy to be labeled a gang member, as the case of Aaron Harvey demonstrates. In a time when African-American males make up 40% of the male prison population (13% of the total population is African-American), we know that the sins of slavery, Jim Crow, and racial stereotyping continue to have their grip on us. It is time to repent and change.

Racial bias in our justice system is not new. But it is being exposed in ways that force us to confront the reality of racism in America in the 21st century. The video of a racist song chanted by University of Oklahoma fraternity members makes me wonder if indeed we are still teaching – even growing – racism in America rather than effectively dismantling it. It is time to repent and change.

Dear ones, today is a heavy day for the Church. May our contemplation of the crucifixion lead us to a greater willingness to face the reality of the cross that we put on others. May we acknowledge the ways that many of us, knowingly or not, have benefited from a society that still privileges people based on “the color of their skin, rather than the content of their character.”* It is time to repent and change. It is time to respect the dignity of every human being regardless of ethnic background.

Our God is mighty, forgiving and just. The tomb cannot hold God’s goodness and love. Guide us, O Lord, into your good graces; grant us hope that you might soon deliver us from the suffering and injustice of this world; and give us the courage to work together alongside those of good faith to overcome the ugliness of racism in America.

The Rt. Rev. James R. Mathes


* The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Racial reconciliation resources from The Episcopal Church
• Episcopal Public Policy Network racial reconciliation resources
Talking about Ferguson in our congregations from The Episcopal Church
• The Center for Racial Justice Innovation: Moving the Race Conversation Forward

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