Dear Deputies and Alternate Deputies:
For the past several weeks, reading the news has registered like a series of body blows. First, a cluster of mass shootings by white men in California, Texas, and my home state of Ohio killed more than 30 people, most of whom were people of color. Then, while the vigils and funerals were still underway, ICE conducted a series of raids that arrested 680 workers in poultry processing plants, separated parents from their terrified children, and left schools and child welfare authorities overwhelmed.
These horrific events have renewed a national discussion about how white supremacy and toxic masculinity fuel the fire of epidemic gun violence and the inhumane treatment of immigrants, both of which bring shame on the United States. We know that hate crimes motivated by racism and xenophobia are on the rise. We see heartbreaking images of children separated from their parents in Mississippi and know that we have failed to reach even the most basic threshold of human decency and compassion in our immigration policies. We hear the president’s inflammatory rhetoric directed at people of color and we read tweets that until recently we could not have believed would emanate from the highest office in the country.
This relentless daily cascade of injustice, loss of life, and loss of dignity can seem like too much to bear. It is tempting to be overtaken by bitter sadness and despair.
But even when it is clouded by our current reality, we Christians live in the hope made possible through God’s reconciling love. This hope makes our prayers real as we work to dismantle systemic racism and misogyny, as we advocate for sensible gun safety legislation, and when we refuse to allow our faith to be deformed by Christian nationalists.
The actions of General Convention bind us together as Episcopalians and give us tools for our witness and our advocacy. At General Convention, we have committed to dismantling the sin of racism, to demanding the humane treatment of all who seek refuge in this country, and to confronting gender-based discrimination, harassment, and violence against women. You can search by topic the resolutions of General Conventions from 1976-2015 on the website of the Archives of the Episcopal Church, and you can find the resolutions we acted on together last year in Austin in the virtual binder.
In particular, I commend to you Resolution 2015-C019, passed just days after a white supremacist man shot and killed nine children of God at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. In that resolution, we acknowledged that “the abomination and sin of racism continue to plague our society and our Church at great cost to human life and human dignity” and that we are complicit in it both historically and in the present. We also acknowledged “that the Church understands and affirms that the call to pray and act for racial reconciliation is integral to our witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ and to our living into the demands of our Baptismal Covenant.”
I also commend to you the many actions of General Convention that have addressed gun violence. The Episcopal Public Policy Network has compiled a list of church policies directed by General Convention about gun safety and reform. These include support for common sense legislation like criminal background checks for all gun purchases and banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Bishops United Against Gun Violence, a network of nearly 100 Episcopal Church bishops working to curtail the epidemic of gun violence in the United States, also provides resources on their website and the Episcopalians United Against Gun Violence Facebook page.
Even as we commit ourselves to this work, we remain a predominantly white church, bound up in historic privilege and wealth borne of colonialism and imperialism, the enslavement of black bodies and the genocide of native people. And so even as we mourn and pray and advocate, those of us who benefit from white privilege must especially listen to and amplify the voices of people whose lives are most directly endangered by the increasingly bold and public racism and xenophobia gripping the United States.
One action you can take right now is to join Presiding Bishop Curry and me in signing this statement opposing Christian nationalism, a hateful ideology that gives cover to white supremacy and fuels gun violence in the United States, including the massacre at Mother Emanuel. I am grateful to the Office of Government Relations for ensuring that Episcopalians are represented in this important movement.
I hope that in the months to come, you will continue extending the work of General Convention to your dioceses by ensuring that your colleagues know about the resolutions cited in this letter and the commitments we have made to make the church and the world more just and diverse. If my office can be of any assistance to you as you prepare for your diocesan conventions, I hope that you will email firstname.lastname@example.org to tell us how we can help.
Thank you, as always, for your work on behalf of our beloved church and the mission of God in which we share.
The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings
photo: Deputies Devon Anderson and Julia Ayala Harris at the Prayer of Vision, Witness and Justice outside the Hutto Detention Center in Taylor, Texas, in July 2018.