Crises expose divisions. This has never been clearer than in the current moment: the pandemic has disproportionately affected people of color and people living in poverty. “Essential” workers are seen as expendable, receiving low pay and risky working conditions, while they work to ensure that others can live. Our country is mired in disagreements of all kinds, from the simplest act of mask-wearing to searing frustration, anger, and despair over racial inequities. And once again, those racial inequities are in the news, with the video-recorded deaths of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and of George Floyd in Minneapolis – unacceptable and inexplicable injustices against people of color.
As protests erupt in Minneapolis and elsewhere over the killing of George Floyd, I am reminded that “the mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 855). Jesus commanded us above all to love God and to love our neighbor. Therefore, our Christian vocation is to learn, understand, and speak out for our neighbors who are on the margins. For many people in our society, including many Episcopalians, their skin color means that they are not safe even when engaging in ordinary activities that others take for granted. Such a situation should be unacceptable to any Christian. Our faith says that no one is expendable. All people are essential. Indeed, all people are beloved and precious in God’s sight.
Before Jesus was born, his mother Mary sang out the meaning of what God was doing in him, in her Song of Mary, the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55):
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel, for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
The promise he made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children forever.
For a person like myself – white, educated, comfortable – reading the words of Mary’s song reminds me that God cries out for justice for those who live without such privilege. Our vocation in the church is to join Jesus, a member of an oppressed people himself, in lifting up those who are oppressed. Violence is never the answer, but passively accepting the injustice and racial inequities in our society is not an answer either. Christians must act according to Jesus’ Way of Love.
Many Episcopalians in our diocese are currently engaged in Sacred Ground groups, where we learn about the history of racial oppression and division in our country. I am engaged in a Sacred Ground group myself, and have learned and benefited from the readings, the videos, and the group discussions that call us to explore deeply our own vulnerabilities and the ways we have contributed to injustice. I encourage you to start by joining a group if you don’t know what to do about racial divisions, or if you don’t understand the frustration that you are seeing in the news.
For today, as we watch with concern the protests flaring across the country, I ask you to pray, in the words of the Prayer for the Human Family (Book of Common Prayer, p. 815):
O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
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