Dear People of El Camino Real,
As we approach this July 4th weekend, I marvel at our current place in the ongoing history of our country. We are in a time of contrasts, shaped by COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter. Some say we have been here before; others believe this is a new path toward the future. The issues raised are scriptural, theological, and have deep implications for how our society and our church find their ways forward.
Masking and Unmasking: COVID-19 has us all wearing masks to protect others from the germs that you and I may carry that could compromise someone else’s health. We call this “loving our neighbor.” By contrast, the Black Lives Matter movement compels each person to explore the topic of race in this country and unmask the face that we have put to our narrative—as a church as well as a country. This is also “loving our neighbor.”
Neither wearing the mask for COVID nor unmasking our systemic racism are convenient or easy. Both involve a holy offering for the sake of our common future as people of this country and citizens of the world.
Urgent and Measured: The murders of young black people call for a swift, energized response to issues around race. The phrase from our Baptismal Covenant, “Respect the dignity of every human being,” compels us to act as allies, as advocates, as fellow marchers, and supporters as we respond to the raw woundedness of our history around race.
Our work, however, must be measured if there is to be long-term impact. If we truly “respect the dignity of every human being,” we need to learn, study, listen, and dig deeply within ourselves, down into our own DNA, into our family histories and habits, in order to begin to change the racial landscape. This is hard work. It is painful work, listening to and learning from those who cry out to be heard, especially as some of us confront the truth of our own complicity—or the “sins done on our behalf.”
One of my greatest concerns is that we, as a church, as a society, and as a country, will be satisfied with removing statues or changing names of buildings or bridges without doing the hard work. There is great temptation on the part of our society to do so; as Christian folk, we must be leaders in taking the deeper dive into our racist past. When the marchers have gone home, and the cameras have moved on—which they are doing—we need to remain in the hard place of doing the ongoing work around race. As our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry says, “We’ll still be here.”
This July 4th, we are reminded that ours is a church with a checkered past around human rights, yet we are hopeful for the future—for there are truths to be told and truths to be heard. We are hopeful because we have seen God do amazing things in hard times. We are hopeful because there are new prophets and preachers, new voices calling for freedom, for justice and for peace.
So, yes, I marvel at our current place in history, and I also have great hope for our future. Thank you for sharing this amazing pilgrimage.