Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?
In this moment – when the stain of bigotry has once again covered our land, and when hope, frankly, sometimes seems far away, when we must now remember new martyrs of the way of love like young Heather Heyer – it may help to remember the deep wisdom of the martyrs who have gone before.
The year was 1967. It was a time not unlike this one in America. Then there were riots in our streets, poverty and unbridled racism in our midst, and a war far away tearing us apart at home. In that moment, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote a book, his last one, with a message that rings poignant today. It was titled, “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?
One of his insights then was that a moment of crisis is always a moment of decision. It was true then and is true now. Where do we go from here? Chaos? Indifference? Avoidance? Business as usual? Or Beloved Community?
I’m a follower of Jesus of Nazareth because I believe the teachings, the Spirit, the Person, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus have shown us the way through the chaos to true community as God has intended from the beginning.
Through the way of love, he has shown us the way to be right and reconciled with the God and Creator of us all. Through his way of love, he has shown us the way to be right and reconciled with each other as children of God, and as brothers and sisters. In so doing, Jesus has shown us the way to become the Beloved Community of God. St. Paul said it this way: “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself” and now he has entrusted us with “the message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19).
I know too well that talk of Beloved Community, which Jesus was describing when he spoke of the kingdom of God in our midst, can be dismissed as nice but naive, idealistic yet unrealistic. I know that.
But I also know this. The way of Beloved Community is our only hope. In this most recent unveiling of hatred, bigotry, and cruelty, as Neo-Nazis marched and chanted, “The Jews will not replace us,” we have seen the alternative to God’s Beloved Community. And that alternative is simply unthinkable. It is nothing short of the nightmare of human self-destruction and the destruction of God’s creation. And that is unthinkable, too.
We who follow Jesus have made a choice to walk a different way: the way of disciplined, intentional, passionate, compassionate, mobilized, organized love intent on creating God’s Beloved Community on earth.
Maybe it is not an accident that the Bible readings for the Holy Eucharist this Sunday (Genesis 45:1-15; Isaiah 56:1,6-8; Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32; and Matthew 15:21-28) all point toward and bear a message of God’s passionate desire and dream to create the Beloved Community in the human family and all of the creation.
This Sunday and in the days and weeks to come, as we gather in community to worship God and then move about in our homes, neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, social circles and more, we will be faced with a choice. I ask and invite us as congregations and individuals who are together the Episcopal Church of the Jesus Movement to intentionally, purposely, and liturgically rededicate ourselves to the way of Jesus, the work of racial reconciliation, the work of healing and dismantling everything that wounds and divides us, the work of becoming God’s Beloved Community. Resources that can assist us in doing this work are included with this message, including an adapted version of the Becoming Beloved Community vision that our church’s key leaders shared this spring. I urge you to spend time reflecting with them individually and in your churches.
Where do we go from here? Maybe the venerable slave songs from our American past can help us. In the midst of their suffering, they used to sing …
Walk together children
And don’t you get weary.
Cause there’s a great camp meeting
In the promised land.
We will walk there … together. We will make this soil on which we live more and more like God’s own Promised Land. So God love you. God bless you. And let’s all keep the faith.
The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church
A word from Bp. Sean:
Last weekend, white supremacists marched and then rioted in Charlottesville, Virginia, while the country looked on in horror. We have been conditioned to fear terrorists from other countries who speak different languages and practice different religions, but these violent, hateful extremists were mostly young white men, and mostly Christian. Those of us who are Christians need to acknowledge this, and we need to respond.
The League of the South, one hate group that participated in Unite the Right, as the Charlottesville rally was called, advocates establishing a white Christian theocratic state. In February the league called for the formation of a “Southern Defense Force,” a militia to combat the “leftist menace to our historic Christian civilization.” It is com-forting to assume that our faith never truly took hold in the hearts of people who are so hateful and so given to vio-lence. But history makes plain that we are not entitled to such comfort. In 1493, the church “granted” to Spain the lands where Columbus had landed. The assumptions that this land rightfully belonged to white European Christians and that the church ruled the Earth in God’s stead were symptoms of the catastrophic theological arrogance that would have devastating consequences for indigenous people around the globe who would be sacrificed on the altar of Christian empire. The decree that promulgated what became known as the Doctrine of Discovery gave the church’s blessing to colonization which, in turn, brought about the need for slave labor to make the colonies economically viable.
Nearly two years ago, I stood in the slave dungeons of the Cape Coast Castle on the coast of Ghana. Beginning in 1664, the enormous fort was in the hands of the British, who used it to send nearly 3 million enslaved Africans to the New World. The soldiers and sailors who lived in the castle and traded in human beings built their Anglican chapel directly above the men’s dungeons. My own church, the Episcopal Church, is directly descended from these Anglican slave traders.
There are many more recent examples of the church’s complicity and active participation in racism, prejudice and bigotry. Most churches in the United States split over the issue of slavery, with Southern churches supporting the Confederacy during the Civil War. But even in Union territory, segregation often prevailed. Here in our Episcopal cathedral in Erie, black people were made to worship separately from white people well into the 20th century.
During the Nazi regime, Christians belonging to the German Evangelical Church supported Adolf Hitler and the extermination of Jewish people. Even the Confessing Church in Germany, often lauded for its resistance to Hitler, spoke primarily about the church’s independence from the state and, with few exceptions, did not speak or act in support of Jews being deported to their deaths in concentration camps. And in South Africa, the Dutch Reformed Church actively supported the racist system of apartheid that finally fell in 1991.
It is possible to argue that those whose hearts are filled with racially motivated hatred have never understood the true teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, but only if one acknowledges that the church itself has misunderstood these teachings. It may, however, be more accurate to say that churches, for centuries, have denied the radical egalitarianism of Jesus’ teaching for their own self-interested reasons.
If contemporary Christians are to oppose the racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia that have asserted themselves with renewed and appalling vigor since the election of President Donald Trump, we must look beyond our self-interest. We must not be as timid as the Peter who denied Jesus on the night of his arrest, but as bold as the Peter who, after the Resurrection, proclaimed that “God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”
The president continues to send what can be described, with an excess of charity, as mixed signals on issues of racial, religious and ethnic intolerance. The church, with a humility born of its own sins, but a boldness born of its faith in Jesus, must challenge any ambiguity with the clarity of the Gospel. It is our duty to speak out, to engage the civic organizations of our communities on behalf of those who are being persecuted, and to name evil where we see it — whether it is in our leaders, or within our own equivocating souls.
The Rt. Rev. Sean W. Rowe
Bishop of The Diocese of NWPA