Dear People of God in Western New York and Northwestern Pennsylvania,
Like you, I have seen the video of a white police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd while three other officers stood by and watched Floyd die. Like you, I know about the peaceful protests and the spasms of destruction in cities across our country, including Buffalo and Erie. And, perhaps like you, I have wondered how those of us who say we are Christians should respond to the anger seeping through our communities and to the injustice in which it is rooted.
It is not enough to be outraged, but I am outraged. It is not enough to yearn for justice, but I do yearn. It is not enough to be fair and kind in our personal dealings with people of all races, although I hope that as Christians, we can manage this at a minimum. Our country is suffering from a disease that has infected it since its founding—the illness of white supremacy—and curing it, if such a thing is possible, will require primarily white communities and—I want to underscore this—primarily white churches such as ours, to examine ourselves, to acknowledge the ways in which we benefit from an illness that takes a devastating toll on our black and brown siblings, to repent, and to seek reconciliation.
Our dioceses are not new to this work. In 2018, the Diocese of Western New York relaunched its Commission to Dismantle Racism and Discrimination with a series of events featuring Dean Kelly Brown Douglas of Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary, whose statement on George Floyd’s killing and the protests that have followed, America’s Lost Soul, I commend to you. Last May, more than 500 people attended an event with Richard Rothstein, author of “The Color of Law,” who visited Buffalo to explain the devastating effects of redlining and other discriminatory housing practices on black citizens. Just last month, Justice Rose Sconiers, our commission’s co-chair, testified before the New York state legislature, and I wrote for the Erie Times-News about the disproportionate toll the COVID-19 epidemic is taking on communities of color. This is worthy work, but we can hardly behave as though the job is done.
If you, like me, are a white person who grew up in an overwhelmingly white environment, I urge you to educate yourself more deeply on the history of white supremacy in this country. The damage it has inflicted down through the centuries pervades every aspect of our society, and we must repent for the ways in which those of us who benefit from white supremacy have ignored this damage, believing instead that grotesque inequalities are ordained by nature, or that the victims of racism deserve their suffering. The Episcopal Church’s website includes numerous resources that seek to foster a deeper understanding of white supremacy including the book “Dear White Christians,” the film “Traces of the Trade” and the video-based curriculum Sacred Ground.
If you are a person of color, please know that I grieve with you the violence people of color endure, both that which has been on full and appalling display recently, and that which is woven so deeply into our daily lives that white people fail to notice it. If you are moved to share your experiences and wisdom in this diocesan effort, I would welcome that heartily. But if you want to wait and determine whether this effort is worth what you could bring to it, I honor that decision as well. And if you would like to talk to me privately, you can email me at email@example.com or call my office at 814-456-4203.
As we educate ourselves more deeply on the ravages of white supremacy, we must avoid the temptation to behave as though we can strike a blow against structural racism simply by reading a book. It is time for each of us to act. Next Saturday I will be joining Bishop Dwane Brock of Victory Christian Center and other clergy for a silent demonstration in Erie. I will have more details soon, and I hope the clergy of both dioceses who are able to join us will attend. The Greater Buffalo Racial Equity Roundtable, of which Justice Sconiers and I are members, meets tomorrow, and I hope to have more to report later this week.
I intend our participation in the silent demonstration and other community events that may follow not as one-time affairs, but as early steps in our dioceses’ long journey to repent of the sin of racism. We cannot succeed without your participation—not just your support, but your participation. Please join me as we work to liberate our country, our church and ourselves from the sin of white supremacy and all of its devastating effects.