Our Christian Responsibilities include Ensuring Voting Rights for All Eligible Voters

By Jim Dudley, St. Peter’s parishioner

Pastor Jim Wallis, President of Sojourners and an evangelical Christian minister, reminds us of the scandal of voter suppression that has occurred in our past and that is likely to happen again in the upcoming November election. Voter suppression is evident in any efforts to make voting more difficult for people who are poor, people of color, and other vulnerable groups. Also, to make sure that everyone’s vote counts equally. Specific efforts to suppress their vote in the past especially in the 2016 election include a long list of intrusions into every citizen’s right to vote. This problem all largely began in 2013 with the elimination of a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that was considered by many as the heart of this Act. A Supreme Court decision, in that case, freed nine states, including North Carolina, from changing their election laws without advanced federal approval. At the core of the disagreement was whether or not racial minorities could continue to face barriers to voting in states with a history of discrimination.

As a result of this Supreme Court decision, voter suppression efforts are more openly allowed including gerrymandering voting districts that end up favoring one political party over the other, and other efforts set up closer to elections. N.C. legislative districts currently have significant gerrymandering built into them and they are not likely to change before the November 2018 Election. Other suppression efforts include eliminating polling places in poorer areas, reducing polling hours and early voting days, excluding Sunday voting which is a traditional time of many African Americans who vote after their church services, and tightening voter ID requirements that exclude the only IDs that most poor people are likely to have.

Jim Wallis reminds us that such efforts are contrary to what we believe as Christians. Among the passages opposing such efforts in the New Testament is a familiar one in Matthew 25. “Jesus said, ‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ Jesus responded, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

The November election will soon be upon us and some of these obstacles to voting are resurfacing and others can still be added. Every county in N.C. has a local Board of Elections and almost all of them including Mecklenburg, Cabarrus, and Gaston, have submitted an Early Voting plan to the State Board of Election. They are currently waiting for its approval. Mecklenburg’s proposed plan so far seems reasonable if no changes are made to it (although the details are not yet available to the public), but very recent state initiatives can still make it more difficult for poor people and people of color to vote and to be informed about the complicated ballot that will be used. Time will tell.

We can become involved in many ways to ensure that the upcoming election is fair and accessible to all. Here are some of the ways we can help. We can register people to vote if they are not registered. The deadline for registering for the fall election is October 12. More broadly we can volunteer to educate people who are less likely to vote for numerous reasons including some of the voter suppression obstacles mentioned above. We can initiate or assist others in conducting educational campaigns to help people who are less likely to vote, including poor folks, people of color, and young people. These efforts should emphasize why both voting generally and voting in this important fall election are so important. Another possible effort is to volunteer at the polls during Early Voting beginning October 18 until November 3 and on Election Day, November 6, to help monitor for any possible wrong doing that interferes with election laws and the right of all citizens to vote. The Social Justice Committee will informally serve as a church resource to help St. Peter’s members and others find the best way for each of us to become more involved.  Above all, we urge everyone to become well informed and vote.

To learn more about voter protection issues and ways you can help, please plan to attend the Social Justice Film, “Answering the Call” on September 26 at St. Peter’s, at 6:00p.m. Our next article will list some of the local non-partisan organizations that volunteers can join to help address voter suppression and protection. In the meantime, please feel free to contact members of the Social Justice Committee for more information.

Commemorating the Life and Legacy of Absalom Jones, 1746-1818

Set us free, heavenly Father, from every bond of prejudice and fear: that, honoring the steadfast courage of your servants Absalom Jones and Richard Allen, we may show forth in our lives the reconciling love and true freedom of the children of God, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.   ­– Collect for the Feast of Absalom Jones, Lesser Feasts and Fasts, 2006.

The Episcopal Church Calendar of Saints Lesser Feasts and Fasts, contains the following biographical information for The Reverend Absalom Jones, first African American Episcopal priest (1746-1818): In 1786 members of St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia decided that black members of the parish should sit only in the balcony. Two African American Sunday worshippers, Absalom Jones and Richard Allen, whose enthusiasm for the Church had brought many African Americans into the congregation, learned of the decision only when ushers tapped them on the shoulder during the opening prayers, and demanded that they move to the balcony. Jones and Allen walked out, followed by many others.

Absalom Jones conferred with William White, Episcopal Bishop of Pennsylvania, who agreed to accept the group as an Episcopal parish. Jones founded St. Thomas African Episcopal Church in Philadelphia as lay reader, and, after a period of study, was ordained a deacon and priest to serve the parish as rector. Richard Allen went on to found the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the first predominately African American denomination in the United States.

The legacy of Absalom Jones is profound. Known for his speaking skills, he galvanized the Episcopal Church toward equality long before emancipation. The Feast of Absalom Jones is February 13, and there are several opportunities to celebrate his life at St. Peter’s.  The first opportunity is a Diocesan celebration at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Greensboro on Saturday, February 10 at 10:30 a.m. The second opportunity is the Sunday Parish Hall Forum at St. Peter’s at 9:30 a.m. The clergy will lead a presentation on the life of Absalom Jones, and the implications for us today.

The final opportunity this weekend is the God’s Tapestry Potluck and Conversation. Following the 10:45 a.m. Holy Eucharist, members of the community are invited to gather in the Parish Hall for lunch and conversation. Please bring a dish you would serve at a family holiday. If you are unable to bring a dish, join us anyway. We will engage in conversation using the Diocesan “Go Speak: Reconciliation” cards, which will invite us to reflect on the beautifully diverse tapestry of our community at St. Peter’s.

Whether you are able to engage in one or all three opportunities, please join me in giving thanks to Almighty God for raising up faithful witnesses and prophets like Blessed Absalom Jones.

God’s Peace,

The Reverend Jacob E. Pierce, Associate Rector

Reflections on MLK Weekend Events

1 Samuel 3:1-10: “Here I am, for you called me.” Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

During the past 15 years in my ministry with the youth at St. Peter’s, I have come to cherish the long weekend when this country celebrates and commemorates the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This year, it seems more important than ever to focus on his life and legacy: to continue more vigorously the civil rights work he started 50+ years ago. Many parishioners heeded the call from our Social Justice committee to represent St. Peter’s in the Martin Luther King Day Parade on Saturday. We walked with 2000+ Charlotteans from 100 organizations to remind ourselves and others that our work to eliminate systemic injustice is more important than ever. St. Peter’s also provided hospitality to the very cold parade marchers and viewers!

The readings appointed for this 2nd Sunday in Epiphany and Fr. Jacob’s sermon made me mindful that God’s call to be his hands and feet in the world has never been more important. Monday’s Center City Concert featuring the Charlotte Contemporary Ensemble, followed by Holy Eucharist, was a beautiful and hopeful way to complete the long weekend. I am more aware that the work we are doing here at St. Peter’s, in our oasis of love and diversity, is what God is calling us to do.

I am very excited that our youth are embracing this call as well. This summer we will continue the work we began in the summer of 2016 in Ferguson, Missouri: learning about and fighting against inequality and injustice, as we lead four other Charlotte Episcopal churches on a second Racial Reconciliation mission trip to Detroit in June. It gladdens my heart that our youth are focused on keeping Jesus’s call to work for justice, equality, and peace in their hearts and minds and are becoming beacons of hope for the generations who follow them. Stay tuned for a presentation of this continuing mission work from our outstanding youth.

Lyn Holt, Director of Youth Formation

Remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience.” Martin Luther King, Jr., Alabama, 1965

St. Peter’s is a community of faith that is committed to the prayerful and important work related to racial equity, reconciliation, and justice. Parishioners of all sorts and conditions often share this same observation with others and me. Indeed, The Episcopal Church, because of the “Jesus Movement” and Baptismal Covenant about which our Presiding Bishop speaks regularly, encourages us to do whatever we can to respond to the universal sin of racism.

In the coming days, millions will remember Dr. King, who did much in his life in the name of Jesus and for the welfare of all beloved children of God. As we consider the parts that we each might take on the trek to reconciliation, let us pray, reflect, and act courageously in ways that will point to change.

Almighty God, by the hand of Moses your servant you led thy people out of slavery, and made them free at last: Grant that your Church, following the example of your prophet Martin Luther King, may resist oppression in the name of your love, and may strive to secure for all your children the blessed liberty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

I hope that many will attend our 11:30 a.m. Holy Eucharist on Monday, January 16, followed by the Noon concert featuring Charlotte Contemporary Ensemble Gospel Choir, who will not disappoint. Gathering faithfully for such an occasion is bound to bless and inform our next steps.

God’s peace and blessings as we try.


The Reverend Ollie V. Rencher, Rector

Responding Faithfully to Fear – by parishioner Josephine Hicks

“Are you afraid?,” a friend asked. I am an openly gay woman who lives in North Carolina and in a country that just elected Donald Trump as its President.  Maybe I should be afraid. The Charlotte Observer recently published an article entitled Permission to Hate, which explored the open hatred that has been unleashed in North Carolina following HB2.  One story was that of a lesbian who was thrown to the ground and beaten in uptown Charlotte by a girl cursing her with homophobic slurs. Wow. It’s supposed to be safe to be openly gay in Charlotte in 2016.

After reading the article, I remembered an incident that now gives me pause. A few months ago, as I was heading into the Ladies Room, a man said to me: “That’s the Ladies Room.” I just looked at him, smiled, and went on into the Ladies Room. Nothing happened. No one harassed me. I didn’t even think much about it at the time. But a quotation in the article jumped out at me: “It’s time to be afraid again.”

More than fear for my own safety, however, I feel chagrin for not really understanding the fear felt by people of color in this country every day. They have been subject to attack from just about anyone, including police who are charged with protecting all of us, for any reason or no reason, for centuries. I know of an African American woman who drives her husband or hires a driver whenever possible to avoid the risk of him being abused or shot by police for driving while black.  I know of another African American woman who is afraid to take her son to the park, because he is a special needs child who may not behave the way a police officer expects him to.  The stories are legion.

Donald Trump’s election has only made it worse.  A post-election photo shows the words “Trump Nation – Whites Only” scrawled across a church sign advertising a Spanish-spoken Mass. Permission to hate has been unleashed in a frightening way.

So what am I going to do about it? First, I will pray for forgiveness for my own blindness and complacent privilege. Second, I will learn more. I will listen to the experiences of people of color. I will read more of the remarkable resources available for me to get a better understanding. I have participated in anti-racism and diversity training in the past, but I am eager to go deeper.  I am going on a pilgrimage to Ghana, where I will see historic sites involved in the slave trade and work with my fellow pilgrims to grapple with what we are learning. Third, I will pray for an open mind and heart to know what else God is calling me to do. I will answer the question in our Baptismal Covenant with renewed vigor: “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?”  I will, with God’s help.

Racial Reconciliation Initiatives

Parish Racial Reconciliation Initiatives
Commitment to Equity and Justice

October 2016 At-a-glance

The Vision of St. Peter’s Episcopal Parish Church is to become a community of bold followers of Jesus, a crowd that effects good change for the world, a place known for radical love and welcome, and a beacon of hope in Center City Charlotte.

In keeping with our Parish Vision and the Baptismal Covenant in which Episcopal Christians vow to “respect the dignity of every human being, loving our neighbors as ourselves,” we have made a focused commitment to engage the prayerful and important work related to racial equity, reconciliation, and justice. Considered by many as the “mother church” of the region, we were the first Episcopal Church in Charlotte, organized in 1834, and recognized as a parish in the Diocese of North Carolina in 1844. Since 1895, the front doors of the church are unlocked, whenever the parish offices are open, as a place of prayer and respite for the city and a visible example of our call to radical welcome. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the parish established two hospitals, then called St. Peter’s Hospital for the poor and Good Samaritan Hospital for blacks; both were incorporated into what is now Carolinas Medical Center. During the Civil Rights Movement, the Rector and certain parish leaders were intentional about inclusion of all persons regardless of race and ethnicity. This commitment resulted in welcoming the first black member of the parish in the early 1970s.

Spring 2013 marked the beginning of a significant series of large and small inner-parish and community-wide events in response to the sin of racism, and what steps we, individually and collectively, might take on the “journey” to create equity and seek justice for all members of the human family, in the name of reconciliation.

February – March 2013. Parish-wide Book Read: Radical Welcome (Stephanie Spellers) with Group Discussions on 2/18 (Introduction: Journey, Defining), 2/25 (Dream of God, Living with Arms Wide Open), 3/4 (Be Not Afraid, Beyond Inviting, Radical Welcome Signs), 3/11 (Re-imagine Your Common Life, Check Your Reality), 3/18 (Reckon with Your Fear, Where Do We Go from Here?), and 3/25 (Conclusion: Joy in Struggle, Bread for the Journey).

November 6, 2013. “Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North” Community Viewing and Conversation. Documentary follows the steps of the largest slave traders in American history and explores racism in America; unearths a hidden legacy of slavery in America, tracing the family’s journey through the dark past of the slave trade, which enriched their New England family.

November 15, 2013. “Fifty Years Later: The State of Racism in America” Webcast. Community viewing and conversation about national historical event hosted at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Cathedral in Jackson, Mississippi, featuring The Right Reverend Michael B. Curry.

February  2014. “Good News: A Congregational Resource for Reconciliation” (Authored by The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston, drawing on the life and teachings of Jesus in the Gospels) 4-week Parish Hall Forum Series. 2/2 (Introduction), 2/9 (Justice), 2/16 (Compassion), 2/23 (Reconciliation).

Summer 2014 Reconciliation Movie Series on Sundays. June 15 (“Babies”), July 13 (“As We Forgive”), August 10 (“A Class Divided”). Afternoon viewing, conversation, and fellowship.

November 8, 2014 and November 14, 2015. “Seeing the Face of God in Each Other” Anti-racism Seminars. Offered by Diocesan Racial Justice and Reconciliation Committee for parishioners and non-parishioners.

March 6-8, 2015. “God’s Tapestry” Lenten Retreat based on the Parish-wide Book Read, God’s Tapestry: Understanding and Celebrating Differences (William M. Kondrath). Co-facilitated by the book’s author, The Rev. Dr. Bill Kondrath, and the Episcopal Church’s Missioner for Social Justice and Advocacy Engagement, The Rev. Chuck Wynder, Jr., to assist the parish in its desire to co-create the “beloved community” with God.

Summer 2015. God’s Tapestry Conversations. May 31 – Parish clergy-led conversation about race and God’s mission of reconciliation. June 7 – Former Charlotte Observer Editor and Racial Justice Leader Fannie Flono and Charlotte Historian Tom Hanchett join clergy-facilitated conversation about race matters and reconciliation opportunities in Charlotte.

June 25, 2015. “Reflecting on Charleston and The State of Racism” Prayer and Conversation in the Church after the massacre that occurred on June 17th at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Charleston, S.C.

August 2015. Parish Social Justice Ministry Team established three initial areas of prioritization: Racial Reconciliation, Assuring Democracy, and Community Justice.

Spring 2016. Outreach and Social Justice Parish Hall Forums: Being a Beacon of Hope in Center City Charlotte. February 14  (Celebrating the Life and Ministry of the Reverend Absalom Jones, the first African-American Episcopal priest). May 1 (Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Assignment, Segregation, and Justice).

Spring 2016. Pub Theology Conversations. March 3 – “People of Color and Racial Reconciliation in The Episcopal Church” at Rock Bottom Brewery facilitated by The Rev. Ollie V. Rencher. April 7 – “Our Call to Racial Reconciliation” facilitated by the Reverends Ollie V. Rencher and Joslyn Ogden Schaefer at The Liberty Restaurant.

Eastertide – Pentecost 2016: March 27 – May 22. Parish-wide Book Read: Between the World and Me (Ta-Nehisi Coates) with Group Discussions on April 12, May 3, and May 22.

June 7, 2016. “A Community Dialogue on Racial Justice, Equity, and Community in Charlotte.” Local thought leaders, Fannie Flono (former Charlotte Observer Editor), The Honorable Harvey B. Gantt (Charlotte’s first black mayor), The Rev. Dr. Paul Hanneman (former program director at Charlotte’s Urban Ministry Center), Rosalyn Allison-Jacobs (community organizer and organizational consultant), Oliver Merino (Levine Museum of the New South), Amy Hawn Nelson (UNCC School of Public Policy), and The Rev. Ollie V. Rencher (Rector) serve on panel in the church for a conversation to examine racial justice, equity, and community through the lens of Between the World and Me (Ta-Nehisi Coates).

June 25 – July 1, 2016. Teen Mission Experience in Ferguson, Missouri. Eleven parish high schoolers, four adult Journey to Adulthood leaders, and friends from Charlotte area parishes, St. Martin’s, St. Mark’s St. Patrick’s, and All Saints’ travel to Ferguson and St. Louis, Missouri, seeking to understand and make a difference in race relations and systemic injustice.

August 6, 2016. Co-hosted “Forgiveness and Justice: A Town Hall Meeting” with First United Presbyterian Church at the historically black First United Presbyterian Church, St. Peter’s new partner in equity, justice, and reconciliation ministry.

September 21, 2016. St. Peter’s joined Charlotte Convocation of Episcopal Congregations at St. Martin’s Parish in the nearby Elizabeth community for “Evening Prayer, Service of Light, and The Great Litany” following the September 20th death of Keith Lamont Scott and subsequent riots, protests, and violence. Ordained and lay parishioners participate in community protests, religious and other thought leader sponsored events, and a variety of racial justice initiatives. St. Peter’s Rector and Associate Rector are members of Charlotte Clergy Coalition for Justice (CCCJ), directly involved and/or offering support to further the commitment of the coalition.

September 25, 2016. Parish Youth Presentation on Summer Missions that included time in Ferguson, Missouri, with the Episcopal communities involved in racial equity and justice work.

October 9 and 16, 2016. Beacon of Hope in Center City Charlotte: Conversations with Parish Clergy. After-worship conversations about how St. Peter’s has been responding and can respond to the most recent unrest, cries for justice, and need for healing and reconciliation in our city. How might we become a beacon of hope in Center City Charlotte as our Parish Vision suggests? For related reflections and more, visit our website’s God’s Tapestry blog.

updated October 16, 2016

Marching to the Polls – by Parishioner Walt Hutchinson

Fellow Episcopalian Bill Bishop penned The Big Sort, a fascinating work describing the increased clustering of America into like-minded communities, in 2008 following years of observation and social science research.  Startling demographic data reveal that over the past several decades, Americans have situated themselves into sameness at increased rates.  It’s happening with little regard as to the adverse consequences for community.

It is as if we are ‘ants marching mindlessly to a nearby anthill.  Musician Dave Matthews of the Dave Matthews Band captured the essence of this notion when he composed his widely acclaimed Ants Marching in the 1990’s.  A read of some of the lyrics suggests that we are so consumed by ourselves and the hurry of everyday life, that we are losing touch with the importance of community.

And all the little ants are marching.  Red and black antennas waving.  They all do it the same. They all do it the same way.

The central theme of Bishop’s work is that Americans have become masters at sorting themselves into communities of the like-minded.  Strategic choices are made when we’re deciding where to live; whom and what issues we support politically; and yes, even where we’re going to worship.  We not only sort our beings; we also sort our ideas – a phenomenon described in Bishop’s work as idea segregation.  Such skilled organization and manipulation of ourselves and our ideas has resulted in this ‘big sort’.

“People in every direction.  No words exchanged; no time to exchange.”

As we cluster into homogeneous groups, we struggle to find the time and space to come to know and understand others.  Clouded by the minutiae of our own busyness, in our haste we may not realize that the person asking “how are you” may actually be receptive to a response varying from the all too typical “good” or “fine”.  Most have desires to connect with others in some way; however, it’s awfully difficult to do so when encounters with those dissimilar from us amount to little more than chance.  We’re people of a holy God, yet sometimes we behave like we belong to warring tribes.  At the very least, often we seem indifferent to difference.

But we never say a thing.  And these crimes between us grow deeper.”

The calendar year will soon be in the rear-view mirror, and my hunch is Bishop would observe we are more impeccably well-sorted than before.  It’s no wonder why we can’t all just seem to get along.  Our differing cultural and political perspectives, reinforced by the segregation of spaces and ideas, give way to increased polarity.  Suspicions about one another are heightened by media and social media channels, which indeed are designed to encourage our sorting tendencies.

Bishop cites political scientists’ findings that Americans have become even firmer in their convictions.  This works to expand the gap between moderate and extreme worldviews – which then yields less opportunity for tolerance and understanding.  We perceive that we are far more different than we are similar.  Even in times of tragedy and intense national despair — when most reasonable minds might agree that it is time for unity to prevail over division — we retreat into our comfortable corners, despite our Lord’s commandment to love others.

Take these chances.”

Soon, ballots will be cast for the political candidates that align most closely with our interests and worldviews.  Come Election Day, some will excitedly arrive at their local precinct, while others will be less enthused about their options.  Some may be compelled to cross traditional party lines, while others may be more eager about the prospect of casting a vote against candidates, rather than for candidates.  Whatever your position this time around, please just be mindful that this song and dance doesn’t happen just anywhere.  Great as our democracy is, there are still only so many chances afforded to us to make our voices heard, and our votes counted.

March on up to the polls, not monotonously like our frantic little ant friends, but rather with purposeful and community-centric intentions.  Take this particular chance to stand up for what you believe is most right.  For what is right now, and for what might be right for the future of our beloved nation.  No matter what transpires come this November, ultimately my prayer is for community and unity to outlast self-centeredness and division.

Treating the Wound: Theological Reflections on our Charlotte Protests

“From the least to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for unjust gain; and from prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely.  They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace.”  Jeremiah 6:14

On Thursday morning, two days after the police-involved shooting of Keith Lamont Scott and the violent protests in the University area, one day after the shooting of protester Justin Carr during in Uptown, I gathered with other leaders at the Galilee Center on Central Avenue for our monthly council meeting.  One white woman said, “I just can’t believe this happened in Charlotte.”  A black woman responded, “I don’t understand the surprise.  This issue [frustration over inequities that tracks largely by race] has been festering in Charlotte for such a long time.”

These two reactions from compassionate, engaged Charlotteans epitomize the “two Charlottes” that I have come to know over my last three years serving as an Episcopal priest in Uptown Charlotte.

Like many cities in the so-called “new South,” Charlotte have been proud of how it responded to racial unrest in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  A prominent narrative among Charlotteans is that (unlike the “old South” where there were protests and riots and resistant white people) white business leaders in Charlotte had relationships with black business leaders and were able to “work things out” during the Civil Rights era, even as historically black neighborhoods like Cherry and Brooklyn and First Ward were dismantled in favor of “development.”  The story one part of Charlotte tells itself is that the city was a national leader when it came to desegregation of schools and the city’s response to Swann vs. Board of Education.

But clearly there is a different story told by others in the city.  Often I’ve not heard that other story, maybe because I’m not black, maybe because I haven’t been places to where it is told, but I’ve seen it.  I see it when I look at a map of Charlotte’s high poverty areas or of our food deserts or of our lower performing schools and notice they are also the places where people of color live in higher concentrations. I see it when I go to the Urban Ministry Center and the large majority of our homeless “neighbors” are black.  I see it when nearly every person who comes to St. Peter’s begging for a bus pass, money for hotel night or food is black.  And I’ve seen it in the anger and outrage on our Uptown streets these last two nights.  There is more than one story about the Queen City and race.

Over these last days, it has become harder to believe that only the first story is true.  One wonders if some in Charlotte have developed a habit of saying “’Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6.14).  But even before that, the truth of the second story and its consequences on human lives was starkly revealed when Charlotte came in 50th out of 50 largest metro areas in a study measuring economic mobility.  In this city, the third largest banking center in the United States, if you are born to parents whose income is in the bottom 20%, you only have a 4% chance of rising to the top 20th income percentile.  Through serving on the Housing Opportunity Foundation board, I’ve learned that our city lacks 30,000 needed units for affordable housing, meanwhile there is high-rent apartment boom in Uptown.  There just aren’t market incentives to build affordable housing or even mixed-income housing.  Kudos to the City for mandating some affordable housing near Uptown in the plans for the redevelopment of Brooklyn Village, but that barely scratches the surface of the need and certainly doesn’t address the underlying structural issues.

The truth of this second story reveals “the wound” of God’s people in this city, and I suspect some of us have “treated the wound carelessly,” as the prophet said.  The wound hasn’t been acknowledged, treated, healed; it has festered.  But now as a result of spilled blood, with the deaths of Carr and Scott, the economic cost of effectively shutting down Uptown for three days, and our public image tarnished, perhaps the wound will be tended.

Honestly, I suspect things might get worse before they get better.  This Sunday we hear again from the prophet Jeremiah for our Old Testament lesson (32: 1-3a, 6-15).  Jeremiah is a prisoner in the court of King Zedekiah of Judah, a King who has proved impotent in light of huge Babylonian force. The mighty nation of Babylon has already invaded and deported many Jews from Judea.  Earlier Jeremiah cried out: “Is there no balm in Gilead?”  (Jeremiah 8:22) The answer appeared to be no.  Things were about to get worse.  Babylon’s troops were right outside the city walls, poised to besiege, ruin and destroy Jerusalem.

But before Jerusalem is destroyed, Jeremiah does the strangest thing.  He purchases land.  Signs the deed right in front of the king.  Makes sure the deed is preserved in an earthenware jar that will survive the impending destruction.  Jeremiah won’t ever return to Jerusalem; he won’t build a house or tend that soil.  It is going to get worse before it gets better.  But Jeremiah enacts hope – in the public square.  He doesn’t just feel hopeful; he acts hopefully.  He demonstrates outrageous hope because the Lord told him, “Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land” (Jeremiah 32:15).

Acts of outrageous hope: that is what I think we are called to as God’s people.  Folk who can stand to see the wound; folk who know it might get worse before it gets better, but still listen for God’s promise of healing and act like they believe it – even if it won’t be fully realized in their lifetime.  What does that look like for each one of us?  What does it look like for St. Peter’s?  What does it look like for our city?

Bloody July

The days immediately following July 4 left the nation wounded, heartbroken, and unsettled. On July 5, a police officer in Baton Rouge shot and killed Alton Sterling after pinning him to the ground. Alton had been selling DVDs outside a convenience store. On July 6, a police officer in a suburb of St. Paul shot and killed Philando Castile while he was in his car with his fiancée and her 4-year-old daughter. Diamond Reynolds live-streamed video of Castile dying in the car.

These two shootings are part of a larger pattern of police-involved killings that have become too common in the last couple of years. Since the death of Michael Brown in 2014, it has become routine to see images of black men, women, and children killed by police. What made the week of July 4 different? Was it that one shooting took place in the Deep South and the other in a state bordering Canada? No. The series of police-involved killings of black civilians has taken place across the United States, from California to New York and many points in between, including Ferguson, Missouri, and Cleveland.

In fact, the disproportionate killing of black civilians by police is in many ways mirrored in the disproportionate killing of Latino and Native Americans. I contend that the many days following this year’s Fourth of July were different because they intersected with the ambush killings of five police officers in Dallas and three officers in Baton Rouge.

Micah Xavier Johnson, a U.S. Army Reserve veteran of the war in Afghanistan, targeted the officers in Dallas (and seven others whom he wounded). Dallas Police Chief David Brown reported that Johnson told police negotiators he was upset about the recent police shootings and that he wanted to kill white people, especially white officers.

In Baton Rouge, Gavin Long, a veteran Marine, targeted officers in what was described as a classic ambush.

The juxtaposition of these deaths forced the entire nation to stop and take notice. These horrific events leave the nation, particularly the citizens of Louisiana, Minnesota and Texas, with heavy hearts. The premature loss of lives due to violence is a moral outrage and calls for a time of prayer, lament, and much more, from the “sanctuary to the street,” in the words of the Children’s Defense Fund.

Frightening statistics bring this sad reality into sharp relief. Specifically, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund reported that 26 police officers have died in the line of duty so far this year, compared to 18 officers who had died at this point in 2015. The Guardian reported recently that in 2015, 464 people were killed by American police; 102 of them were unarmed. Of the 102, 43 were black, 35 were white, 17 were Hispanic or Latino, two were Asian or Pacific Islander, two were Native American, and three were of unknown racial background.

The Washington Post recently reported that at least 385 people have been shot and killed by police in 2016. Of that number, 49 people were unarmed, 13 were carrying toy guns, and six were carrying weapons that were unknown or undetermined. The Post further reported that 171 whites have been killed in 2016 compared to 100 blacks, 54 Hispanics, six Asians, three “others,” and 31 people of an unknown race. Looking at these deaths in the larger societal context, blacks and Latinos are clearly overrepresented in police-involved shooting deaths. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention and the National Center for Health Statistics found that while Native Americans constitute .8 percent of the population, they represent 1.9 percent of police killings of civilians.

The Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas reminded me recently of Karl Barth’s counsel: “Take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But, interpret newspapers from your Bible.” If we take this charge seriously, she said, we have to recognize that racial justice and reconciliation must be on the Church’s agenda. It cannot be ignored.

Many Episcopal clergy used the lectionary readings of July 10 to preach about these dynamics. The Gospel reading that Sunday was Luke 10:25-37 (often referred to as the parable of the Good Samaritan), an ideal passage for reflecting on how we understand the meaning of neighbor.

As the Rev. Martin Luther King preached: “On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar: it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”

Against this backdrop, how do we make meaning of the events of this Bloody July? I find it helps to recognize that these events are not isolated. The police-involved killings of black, Latino, and Native American citizens are symptomatic of an American legacy of racial hierarchy and oppression. Like many radical white supremacists, Gavin Long had declared himself a sovereign citizen who need not answer to any laws.

I write as a newly ordained deacon whose journey includes time as a prosecutor, a defense attorney representing adults and youth, and a veteran Army Judge Advocate General attorney. A lifelong Episcopalian, I grew up in an Afro-Anglican parish in Virginia. I am a father of an 11-month-old black boy who was baptized in June. His development and flourishing is my main concern. I tremble at the world facing him. These issues have a lived and concrete meaning for me. My prior vocation allows me to understand the strengths and flaws of the criminal justice system. I respect the sacrifice and service of law enforcement officers. I worked with many professional police and state troopers. The elected prosecutor and staff judge advocate who mentored me were ethical, competent, and respected individuals in the community. I also recognize the brokenness of a justice system that incarcerates more people than any country in the world.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander provides a compelling analysis of the racialization of criminal justice in America. Suffice it to say that our current situation is grounded in the original sins of racism and manifest destiny embedded in the nation’s founding. Laws, systems, cultural and religious beliefs and practices continue to reinforce false assumptions of white superiority and the inferiority of black and native peoples. We can trace the implicit bias that assumes criminality in black bodies to a long history that continues to live today.

Eddie Glaude, chairman of Princeton University’s Department of African American Studies, writes that a value gap in America’s racial hierarchy “reflects something more basic: that no matter our stated principles or how much progress we think we’ve made, white people are valued more than others in this country, and that fact continues to shape the life chances of millions of Americans. The value gap is in our national DNA.” This value gap is larger than the issue of policing; it minimizes opportunities for human flourishing by increasing disparities in housing, education, and health.

Reconciliation lies at the core of the Church’s vocation: 2 Corinthians 5:18 reveals the ministry of reconciliation given to us by God in Christ. Furthermore, the Church is uniquely positioned to co-labor with people, institutions, and communities in the work of racial justice and reconciliation.

While the Church has yet to fully live by its vocation, it has a theology and moral framework to contribute to the public square. Christians believe every human being is created in the image of God. Building on this knowledge, Episcopalians specifically commit through the Baptismal Covenant to respect the dignity of every human being. Every human being is a child of God. Each life is equally sacred. This theology and embodied spirituality counters the value gap lying at the core of America’s racial oppression and hierarchy.

Perhaps the greatest contribution the Church can make is to co-labor with others to reimagine the meaning of community. Working with others to adapt how we relate to each other and work for the commonwealth means looking at the way our neighborhoods, cities, and towns foster environments for every child of God to flourish. This work also requires us to broaden our definition of safety and protection. Engaging in this process will transform our understanding and practice of policing, criminal justice, public health, public education, and much more.

Christians profess to be followers of Jesus and his way. As people of the way, we recognize the truth of the gospel that Jesus preached. We look to his example to order our lives and the actions we take. Jesus taught and lived the Greatest Commandment, and he told us to love one another as he loved us. Jesus’ love ethic is one that transforms the hearts of people, the practices of communities, and structures of society. We witness this ethic from the beginning of his public ministry when Jesus says: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19). In Jesus we find our ministry of reconciliation and we see that justice is a critical aspect of reconciling to God and our neighbor.

The Gospels also teach us that Jesus understood that oppression operates on multiple levels. Jesus spoke to individuals as he walked in the street. He taught and labored with the disciples as a group. Jesus used his parables, miracles, and teachings to contest the oppressive systems, practices, and structures of his day. This level of engagement and commitment to justice and reconciliation threatened the powers of his day. Christians are called to mirror this challenging ministry in our times, in part by addressing racism and other forms of oppression at the personal, interpersonal, structural, and cultural levels. This practice requires us to integrate love, justice, compassion, and mercy into our way of being as individuals, congregations, and communities. It is one of the ways we can participate in God’s mission in the world. This, I believe, is what it means to be members of the Jesus movement. We co-labor with God to transform unjust structures and oppression. Let us resist the pull of silent collusion with the comforts of power and privilege. The work before us is significant and I believe we can do it, with God’s help.

Bishop Mariann Budde, during Washington National Cathedral’s broadcast of Racial Reconciliation: What the White Church Must Do, said that we must change minds, change hearts, and change laws. My colleague Heidi Kim, the Episcopal Church’s missioner for racial reconciliation, contends that racial justice and reconciliation must be part of our spiritual formation. We have a good example of this approach in the work of the Diocese of Atlanta’s Beloved Community: Commission for Dismantling Racism led by Catherine Meeks.

Part of my charge from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry is to enhance our capacity to advocate, organize, and witness for racial justice and reconciliation in our communities. As members of the Jesus movement, we can have a profound effect on the public square if we advocate for policies and practices that transform our systems. We can do so while working for the conversion of hearts and minds. The church can help lead this movement by serving as a convener of people, communities, and institutions. We can use our moral foundation and spiritual practices to hold open safe spaces for dialogue and sacred conversation. People are crying out for a place to lament together. They want to connect with others to build a new vision of community.

As the Rev. Canon Ed Rodman counseled the Church during his many years of ministry: “Let there be peace among us, and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression.”

The Rev. Deacon Charles Allen Wynder, Jr., is the Episcopal Church’s missioner for social justice and advocacy engagement.

Reflections on Racial Reconciliation Mission Trip

ferguson-youthThree weeks ago, 14 youth and 7 adults from 5 Charlotte Episcopal Churches drove to Ferguson, Missouri for our Racial Reconciliation Mission Trip. An extraordinary opportunity to serve, learn, worship, work, and play, which included engaging in serious dialogue between black and white youth from Charlotte and Ferguson. Here are reflections on the trip from two of our youth, Sam Morgan (rising 11th grader) and Max Reid (rising 9th grader).

From Sam:
Our high school youth mission trip to Ferguson was really a once in a lifetime experience for all who went. Our world is extremely troubled, and all this hate clouds our vision to find Christ in one another. I felt the trip reopened my eyes to see that some of current societal systems are ailing. I propose that through dialogue and accepting differing perspectives from our own, we can better understand the bigger picture, as well as our role in changing it for the better. Another thing that really struck me were the similarities between Ferguson, a place that has gained international attention for racial tensions, and our own city of Charlotte. Things like neighborhood school lines being drawn along racial and economic boundaries or militarization of the police are issues that are not hundreds of miles away, but just a few blocks away. It is our calling as Episcopalians to find and serve Christ in one another, as accords with our Baptismal Covenant, and this mission trip was an important step in my journey to do so.
From Max:
During our mission trip to Ferguson, Missouri, we learned about the concept of race and its effects. On our first night, after we getting to know one another, some of us gathered to discuss recent issues such as the killings of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Freddie Gray. We engaged in such meaningful conversation that I knew the bigger discussions that were coming would be very enlightening, and they were. On the second night, we learned all about oppression. The model that was used in the lesson was a table, which had four different legs supporting oppression and what keeps it going. Lessons and discussions like this continued throughout the trip and we gained more and more knowledge. I believe that this mission trip to Ferguson changed the minds of my fellow missionaries and I, in terms of how to help with racial issues and to support racial reconciliation work as we strive to change the world and break down the barriers of race.